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The symbols in our city

Posted: February 3, 2012 11:16 a.m.
Updated: February 6, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Everyone knows what a red octagon with four white words in the middle held atop a pole stuck in the ground means. Stop, of course.

We know that roundish male and female figures on a wall or door denote men’s and women’s bathrooms. This -- $ -- is a dollar sign, helping us to know how much money’s in the bank. While this -- @ -- clues us in these days that we’re probably looking at someone’s email address.

The Stars and Stripes with its blue field of 50 white stars is the American flag. To us here at home it is a symbol of national pride and unity. Unfortunately, to some outside our country it has wholly other meanings.

There are other, more personal, symbols in our lives, of course. Wedding bands means marriage, but some other ring might tie us to our parents or another loved one. Plaques mean we’ve earned degrees or awards, but something else nailed to our wall might be an odd piece of artwork we treasure from our kids.

Then there are symbols that are, apparently, highly subjective. Sometimes our reactions to them can be vastly different from those of our neighbors.

During the last few years, Camden City Council has come under fire for several things it’s done. I’m not here to pass judgment on anybody’s opinions, including council’s. However, I want to point out that we all see things differently and we all might need to work harder at seeing things from other people’s points of view.

Let’s start with the Town Green. The Green is not just a physical space in Camden. To council, and I think I can safely say at least a portion of city staff, and its supporters, the Town Green is a positive symbol. To them, it is a symbol of progress and life. Progress, because it transformed an ugly parking lot into a beautiful, more useful greenspace. Life, because of its trees and grass and the events that can be held there.

Others, however, saw and may still see the Town Green in a different light. Some say its construction and use has interfered or continues to interfere with their businesses. Others see it as a waste of money, especially taxpayer money.

I made no secret of my joy at seeing the Town Green’s completion and experiencing the first concert last April. However, I understand where others are coming from. We can agree to disagree and move on, as I’m beginning to think most have at this point.

I don’t bring up the Town Green to reopen any wounds. It’s merely a first step along several to, I hope, bridge some understanding gaps.

For instance, there’s the city Christmas tree.

I admit to being confused when I first saw references to it on Facebook. I couldn’t understand what everyone was so upset about. As it turns out, my confusion came from not realizing people weren’t talking about the grand 2010 tree (which was temporary), but a much smaller one that had “showed up” more recently. (It was actually planted a year ago.)

Some took to calling it a “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree. Despite being raised Jewish, I knew exactly what they were talking about -- I’d seen and enjoyed “A Charlie Brown Christmas” when I was little and still enjoy it with my boys these days. So, I went and took a look.

OK, it’s not the grandest thing in the world. In fact, it might be about the puniest official Christmas tree I’ve ever seen. But that’s the physicality of it. I wondered more about its symbolic strength.

A good number of people derided the city’s choice, deriving negative connotations. They laughed -- much as Lucy, Schroeder and even Pig Pen had at Charlie Brown.

On the other hand, others saw it as a more positive symbol: there’s nowhere to go but up. As Urban Forester Liz Gilland pointed out in one of our first letters to the editor of the new year, it will take 15 years to grow to maturity.

So, is it a symbol of smallness or, did some even dare say, failure? Or is it a symbol of future growth, of hope that like it, the city will grow to be better, strong and more beautiful than it is now?

Again, I’m not saying which view is right or wrong, merely pointing out which view might be taken more positively.

These two examples inevitably bring me to the issue of council’s proposed sports complex.

I am not -- repeat, not -- going to express an opinion here. I am still writing that story, so it goes without saying that it would be imprudent of me to make a call on it.

What I can and will do is lightly sketch out for you, our readers, what symbolism is involved. I have faith in your intelligence and spirit to make your own decisions.

On the city’s side, I think the symbolism is likely the same as for the Town Green and Christmas tree: potential progress and hope for the future.

That doesn’t mean the “other side” sees this in a wholly polar opposite way. That would be saying the sports complex is a symbol of the past, of working backward to even more troubled times than we have now. What I do think is that “opponents” see the complex as a symbol of waste and hubris -- not the same thing.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion and I haven’t written the story’s ending yet.

What do I think? In recent days, I think the sports complex has become a symbol of opportunity for everyone to regroup, rethink and reestablish relationships that have unfortunately been torn apart.

It’s a symbol of opportunity that -- if everyone tries to see through each others’ eyes -- could potentially transform our community for the better.

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