What is Clarion's future?

By Bernard Vavrek

Clarion

"If it doesn't concern me or my family, I don't care." This was the answer I received recently from a service worker when asking about what was going on in Clarion.

It surprised me because I know it is not the prevalent attitude shared by borough, county and state officials, the business community, members of local service organizations, church groups, representatives of various educational administrations, our friends at Clarion University, and countless individuals who generously apply their time for the greater good, including next door neighbors and friends who buy groceries and other things for those staying at home.

But as satisfying as it is to recite current feelings of goodwill and community spirit, there appears to be only limited public concerns about what happens to Clarion in the future.

It might strike one as an oddment to worry about the future in the middle of a pandemic with businesses closed and people without jobs. Considering that some national observers are suggesting it may take three years to get back to some degree of normalcy, one should be concerned what will Clarion look like in two or three years.

In what fashion will it survive? The faculty, staff, and students of Clarion University are wondering the same thing. Even the casual reader of this newspaper knows the university is currently attempting to manage its survival. (All institutions are in survival mode.)

Presently, our campus colleagues are trying to figure out exactly what the future can mean. In any event, the rhythms of academic life, that have existed previously, will never be the same for the community of Clarion.

What we have is a "planning gap" -- to borrow what might have been a line in the classic movie, Dr. Strangelove.

Clarion presently lacks the overall planning and cooperative partnerships to be successful for the future. This kind of planning by necessity should include representatives from the Rotary, the Grace Lutheran Church, Daddy's Restaurant, the Boro Council, Clarion Free Library, the university, etc., -- all who have a stake in Clarion's future.

It isn't being mean-spirited to ask where is the economic growth in the immediate area. For the most part, it isn't within the borough's boundaries.

Judging from the development of health and medical services, Exit 62 may become the Cleveland Clinic of the Interstate 80 corridor. That's not as foolish as it may sound.

There seems to be a recent spurt of buying homes in Clarion, some that have been on the market for years. Maybe this is a modest example of what is happening nationally as people are moving from central cities to the suburbs and beyond to small towns.

It would be interesting to explore this along with other Clarion dynamics.

If someone takes the lead.

In an effort to encourage partnerships among organizations, a few years ago a small group of Clarion citizens started what it called the Renaissance Committee. All who would come, were invited. After conducting several modest community surveys, some notoriety, and a dozen meetings, activities stopped.

Its demise could be fairly attributed to several things, but it was clear there was little interest in doing things differently, i.e. groups planning together. Some who attended the meetings were actually antagonistic of the efforts.

So where does it leave us all as we deal with what we hope will be the future?

"If it doesn't concern me or my family, I don't care," then Clarion will continue to circle the drain. Life will selfishly plod on and residents will ask, "Why didn't they do something?"

While thinking the solution is to discover who is the "they," and there is practical sense in that, we are the they.

So maybe we can encourage the Small Business Development Center, the Clarion Area Chamber of Business and Industry, the Clarion County Economic Development Corporation, or the Blueprint Committee to take the lead.

In the past, it's been convenient to use the lack of a Main Street manager for the absence of multi-platform planning. This is legitimate, but mostly an excuse for not doing anything.

Hold on, some good news has just arrived as this opinion piece is being edited -- it appears the Blueprint Committee, Inc., has received a grant to partner with the Pennsylvania Downtown Center for a two-year revitalization project in Clarion.

In fact, a survey is being circulated asking citizens to comment about the business district.

This is great, and congrats to all involved. But Clarion is more than a business district so, hopefully, downtown planning will include extended partnerships with Clarion University, local churches, schools, and service organizations to achieve total success.

And what about the development beyond the borough? Is this to be part of the mix?

In any event, Clarion needs a renaissance, and everyone is responsible.