Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A lasting contribution

The city of Trenton’s decades old Heritage Days celebration is back again this year, but in a pared down version.

Touted as the Heritage Day (singular) Festival, the event will return to its point of origin in Mill Hill Park from Noon until 8:00 pm on Saturday, June 6.

For those not familiar with Heritage Days, the festival came to life in 1979 to commemorate the 300 years or so of Mr. Stacy and Mr. Trent’s quaint little village on the Delaware River. It was designed as a celebration of all the various ethnic groups that had come to settle in the region and call it “home.”

From a modest, multi-cultural food and music festival, held in Mill Hill Park the event soon spilled over onto Front Street and spread up Broad Street to “the Commons” along E. State Street and beyond. Originally organized and run by the Trenton Commons Commission and its successor the Trenton Downtown Association (TDA), Heritage Days at point encompassed a string of sites from the State House Complex, to the Barracks, the former surface parking lot at Front and Broad and Mill Hill Park.

Six or seven years ago, the city of Trenton took over the festival from the TDA. Concentrated on the block of W. State Street between Calhoun and Willow, the festival seemed to be running out of steam and many cried for its suspension. Over time, the event lost its connection with Trenton Heritage. Gone were the various booths highlighting traditional foods and crafts from the dozens of cultures represented in the populace of Trenton and the surrounding area. In their place came a homogenized mix of funnel cake/corn dog/cotton candy and t-shirt sellers that you can find at any baseball park or church carnival. There were more opportunities to spend money on junk and less to learn about and appreciate the many faces of Trenton. It became less a “family picnic” and more of a tacky pointless street fair.

In addition, it is not cheap to put on. The tents, attractions, entertainment all cost money. The overtime for cops and city staff to set up, manage, maintain and clean up added up.

Now, when the city faces the direst financial circumstances in a generation, the festival continues, albeit in a reduced manner.

Why?

Most old hands and many newcomers alike “don’t get it.” Heritage Day(s) Festival is not very festive and certainly has only the most tenuous of connections with the city’s heritage. A big noisy mess serves little purpose and costs the city money better spent elsewhere.

But for grants from various companies, Heritage Day(s) would probably have died of fiscal starvation four or five years ago. Instead, it has survived due to the largess of good neighbors such as Bank of America.

With the national economy in the bad shape that it is in, the large scale funding has dried up. Many had thought this was the final blow that would put Heritage Day(s) out of its and our misery.

But no. The city has seen fit to move ahead with the scaled-back version of the festival. And how can they afford it in the face of looming budget gaps for the essential services and personnel needed to keep the city barely functioning?

Through smaller sponsorships: one from Capital Health and one from McManimon and Scotland Heritage Day(s) lives. We find this interesting.

Mayor Palmer has had little good or kind to say about Capital Health since it announced plans to shutter the Mercer Campus and build anew in Hopewell Township. But the city did not have any problem taking money from the health care provider to keep this dieing event on life support.

Perhaps more interesting is the appearance of law firm McManimon and Scotland as sponsors of the event. While the firm has provided legal services to the city for a while, it most recently has been working on the proposed sale of the outside water utility system (OWUS) to NJ American Water. This lengthy process is now complicated by the citizen lead effort to halt the OWUS sell-off. And complicated legal work usually involves higher bills for services rendered.

Nice of them to “kick a little back” to the community by sponsoring the washed up Heritage Day(s) festival.

Wouldn't it be more useful and lasting a demonstration of community support if these entities shared some of their wealth with the library system? How about that for supporting Trenton's heritage?

1 comment:

DTV Deputy Cleän said...

I think it has plenty to do with Trenton's current heritage. Not that this is a good thing.