The first time I came to Chestnut Hill, a friend drove me up to the Avenue from Germantown. I remember being surprised by the number of trees and the large, historic homes. This didn’t look like the Philadelphia I had imagined.

What really struck me, though, was seeing the Belgian blocks of Germantown Avenue. The retention of those old blocks – a paving technology at least 100 years obsolete – was a great bit of incongruity that really represents Chestnut Hill and the rest of Northwest Philadelphia. It’s what gives the neighborhood character.

People who work for or are members of any one of the many local institutions here in Chestnut Hill spend a lot of time talking about character – or what makes this neighborhood and Northwest Philadelphia unique.

It’s an important conversation – one that has everything to do with the quality of life and economic well being for everyone up and down the Avenue. If I were to pick one thing that really stands out about the Northwest, it would be its history, particularly the preservation of that history.

In last week’s issue, I talked to Dr. David Contosta about his book on the Wissahickon. He was expansive on the history of the park and its place in the fabric of Northwest Philadelphia. In Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy and Germantown, the park blends into the neighborhoods making this one of the greenest urban areas anywhere.

In this week’s Local, Clark Groome, a long-time contributor to this paper, relates a piece of that history with an article on the 150-year history of Chestnut Hill Academy. The school has spent more than 100 years in the Wissahickon Inn, a historical structure that played an important part in the first move into the residential side streets of the Avenue.

Both point to that impulse for preservation that defines Chestnut Hill, Mt Airy and Germantown. This is a place where people work hard to preserve a wilderness river valley. It’s a place where an elite school doesn’t pick up roots and head for greener suburban pastures. Like Belgian blocks, they are pieces that make the neighborhood what it is.

Pete Mazzaccaro

A word about Arizona

A whole lot has been said about the tragic shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords last Saturday morning. Giffords was one of 19 people allegedly shot by 22-year-old Jared L. Loughner. Six people died in the shooting.

Plenty has also been said about the shooting and its causal relationship with the violent political rhetoric of our time. Not as much, though, has been said about what the shooting says about gun laws.

Forget about the problem that someone who appears to have been deeply disturbed is buying guns. As long as small, automatic pistols designed specifically for killing a high number of people are readily available, we will, as a culture, have to deal with incidents like this time and time again.

Gun proponents were quick to point out that had someone in the crowd been similarly armed, that armed individual might have been able to “put down” the shooter. By that logic, we should all be permitted to carry concealed explosives to deal with would be terrorists.

It’s way past the time to seriously reform gun laws in our country and keep weapons designed to kill people off our streets.

Pete Mazzaccaro

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