Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Summer Communities

Arden comes alive in summer. Readers may have noticed that my blog has slowed to a crawl. I am buzzing with the usual warm weather activities: pool, ACRA Summer program, walking, gardening, grilling, outdoor concerts and plays, backyard socializing, and dabbing my feet and ankles with salve to calm the itch of bug bites. I pull my bike out of the shed and take in more of Arden than I can on foot. As I ride by houses in various states of renovation, I can't help consider that Arden was initially formed as a summer community. People didn't winter here They lived in their idealogical centers of Philadelphia and Wilmington from whence their Georgist groups orbited and dreamed of a day when Arden could sustain their vision year-round.

The Arden Fair, always the Saturday before Labor Day, was a time when artists could sell off their summer inventory before returning to the city. Then, the Arden cottages and cabins, most without heat, would be shuttered until warmer temperatures once again prevailed. It didn't mean that Ardenites left their belief systems behind. But they did have feet in two worlds. I think about this when topics get heated and people rail at village meetings. I love that we all are so passionate here, but when Arden began, people experienced this concentrated community in 3 or 4 month doses. Doses that were tempered always with warm breezes and lots of fresh air. These days, we don't get that kind of break from one another. This is not to say, I am tired of this community. I'm not. I love living here year-round. But I am ready to take a vacation. Before this summer, I just wanted to stay here all the time and never miss an experience. Now, I know I can take my leave and come back to Arden with my juices flowing just as those first Arden residents did when they passed through the Arden "gate" on weekends and in the summer.

When I explain Arden to people back in Lancaster County, I often invoke Mt. Greta, a summer community in Lebanon County. They, too, have full-time residents now, but it is still a casual, wooded place with Victorian-style houses bumping up against one another on a hillside overlooking a lake, open air theater, bike trails, and The Jigger Shop--an ice cream shop with a hallowed reputation.

Mt. Gretna precedes Arden by a decade. It wasn't a Georgist enclave, but it was formed with the same jolt of intention by the Methodists when they identified it as a good place for a Chautauqua. The Pennsylvania Chatuaqua was modeled after the original New York Chautauqua Institute which was founded in 1874. At its heart, the Chautauqua movement was about offering adult education outside the bounds of college. Learning could be casual--of the vacation variety, like learning something new while visiting a unique location. Or it could be more in-depth. In addition, Chautauquas put great emphasis on the arts. Communities such as these boast theaters and large gathering places for lectures and classes. And while this movement came from the Methodists, it was meant to serve the larger Christian fellowship.

While Arden and Mt. Gretna have different origins and different styles of architecture, we do have some core values which, from the outside, look very similar. Both communities have huge arts followings and support lots of live performances and concerts. We both have educational type lecture series and activities for our residents such as yoga and house tours. We both have end-of-summer arts festivals and crazy narrow roads that really don't support the huge influx of visitors these festivals attract (but we make do--shuttling people from far-off parking spots). Mt. Gretna retains more of its summer feel. I am not sure of the percentage of residents that live there year round, but I know lots of families who have summer houses there, as opposed to Arden which has lost that summer community reputation. Still, it is a good fit for comparison and at least gives people a reference.

"Oh," they say and nod their heads. It is enough to contemplate on a summer's evening dizzy with fireflies and mojitos. I will save my spiel on Georgism for cooler weather.

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