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Saturday, October 29, 2005

What Heraclitus Overlooked

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., October 29, 2005.)
W. Edwards Deming said, "It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory."
It was 2,500 years ago that the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, "Nothing endures but change." I'm thinking he overlooked something. Surely there was something that didn't change back then and still doesn't change today. After all, we humans are fond of our comfort zones. We are highly motivated to keep the status quo. We must be succeeding somewhere.

But we aren't doing well at resisting change in the Warren area. The Warren Commons site in North Warren must be the single biggest construction project ever in Warren County. And the multiple projects in downtown Warren are no small potatoes either. A lot is going on. Our founding foreparents wouldn't recognize the area today. And perhaps the smaller thinkers among them -- if they could have foreseen what we now have -- would not have agreed that what we have is better.

Suppose the 1795'ers who established the town named after a Revolutionary War general had a crystal ball that was limited to the year 2005. Would they have favored a downtown parking garage? Would they have lobbied for something called "Breeze Point Landing"? Would they have advocated a giant big box retail complex 4 miles north of the confluence of the Allegheny and the Conewango?

What a tragedy that timber rafts and steamboats no longer navigate the Allegheny. It's a shame that the Carver House Hotel is gone. It's too bad that Piso's cure went out of business. It's unfortunate that Johnson Brothers' Dry Goods didn't survive the Great Depression and that Epstein's haberdashery finally closed up. And although Levinson Brothers duplicated the success of an earlier department store, theirs couldn't be reproduced.

Viewing Warren through that crystal ball, the timber and oil barons who built the mansions that line Market Street would be lamenting the fact that so many of these stately luxury homes now house businesses and offices. The commoners would be saddened to know that the railroad station that sent so many men off to the nation's wars (and welcomed most of them home) would be razed. Everyone would have something to mourn.

Most retail stores from only a generation ago are gone. Some institutions remain, such as the Warren State Hospital -- but with much less significance. And some have been or are being reborn. The National Forge and Blair Corporation come to mind.

We are where we are today and we have what we have today, both good and bad, because those who preceded us advocated change, or adapted to the fires, floods and economic earthquakes that forced change -- and because change is the name of the game of life.

Like the men and women who create them, businesses and whole industries have life cycles. They grow, they prosper, and they either die or they go through the pain of rebirth in order to accommodate new realities.

We are living in a day of renewal in Warren. It illustrates the life cycle. Much about Warren is good, and much that is good is yet to be. We have today the best roads we've ever had. We have the opportunities that come with technology. We have the attraction of a slower pace. And we have visitors who are amazed that they can't find lodging on the shores of one of the most beautiful lakes anywhere.

The downtown revitalization and the Warren Commons project, the new bridge and the best roads ever have all brought the heat of optimism to the iron of our community resolve. Perhaps the next step should be the development of a lodge to house tourists, offering them access to the forest and the water, inviting more to come and to stay longer, and to put their money into our economy. The iron is hot, and it's time to strike another blow.

What if we don't? American physicist W. Edwards Deming said, "It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory." Former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson said, "He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery." Come to think of it, that's what Heraclitus overlooked. Think about it, and get on board.


Anonymous steve c. said...

Steve, I didn't get a chance to find Saturday's paper but instead found your story here. Well said.

4:05 PM


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