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Oral history interview with Gioia Smith

  • 2014-Jan-16

Gioia Smith has lived in Ambler all her life. Her father worked at Merck Sharp & Dohme, and her mother was a companion. She worked for most of her life in the social service department at Head Start and is active in the NAACP, the American Legion, and her church.

Smith first became aware of Ambler's asbestos hazard when the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began its cleanup of the Ambler Asbestos Area. She began attending EPA meetings then; she thought the asbestos warnings were frightening, but they did not discourage anyone from moving to Ambler, and she thought the piles were permanently fixed. When a proposed high-rise on the BoRit site brought the asbestos fears to the forefront again Smith still worried more about displacement of the nearby poor people and about taxes. She has some extended family in South Ambler.

Smith laments the loss of the small-town feel of Ambler, what her grandmother called "the Village," describing all the old small businesses that are gone now. She says that the revitalization of the town is due mainly to restaurants and to outsiders who come mostly from Manayunk; she would like to see more Amblerites enjoy their town and get to know each other again.

Smith continues to attend meetings of the BoRit community advisory group (CAG), though it has moved its meetings from the American Legion hall to Upper Dublin Township. Her cousin, Otis Hightower, is also very active. She feels that the CAG does not reach out to the whole community, that those who are uninvolved need to be better informed; she has suggestions for how to reach them, emphasizing that face-to-face is most effective. She receives occasional EPA publications, she says, but others do not. Smith thinks that the site should remain fenced off, that there is no guarantee of safety strong enough to permit development. Nevertheless, Smith believes that asbestos is only at about the mid-level of Ambler's problems; people do not take it seriously because it does not affect their daily lives. She ranks unemployment highest, followed by the high cost of housing; the lack of places for kids to hang out and things for them to do; and the high cost of child care. She wants churches and neighborhood groups to come together to help solve these problems.

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