Stop Trashing Our Cities: An Open Letter to the Negative Blogger

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Last week, seven people sent me a video blog or “vlog” to get my opinion as a supporter of urban rebirth in Upstate New York.  The video, posted by Niko Jamison of, supposedly uses science to conjure a list of the 10 worst places in New York State.  If you haven’t seen this insanely sorry excuse for journalism (he claims to be a journalist on the “About Us” section of, here it is.

As a legitimate blogger who writes about stories from our urban areas that lift us all, I’m really tired of negative blogs and videos like these that are just looking to garner views for sponsor clicks.  So on the day when my blog will reach 200,000 views organically, I decided to write an open letter to Niko and all the others out there that produce this type of viral venom.  I do this in support of the Upstate New York I know, love and live in.

Dean Niko,

I want to begin by thanking you for “using science” to call out my home city of Rochester, as well as a city I have come to love in Utica as two of the worst cities in New York State.  I cannot express my appreciation for giving me the opportunity to address the topic of negative blogging/vlogging.  You have awoken a beast in me, and it’s time to lay it out on the table.  Here goes.

First of all, I take offense to your use of the term “science” as a way to legitimize your negative content.  While you use facts about crime, poverty and housing costs as initial proof that these 10 cities “suck,” you eventually lead in to stereotypes like cars up on blocks, drug abuse and bar fights.  I’m sorry to say, but science works best when it can help us understand the source of our problems, giving us a clearer picture of what we can do to fix them.  Your “science,” my friend, is throwing out a few random numbers, guiding your followers to an oversimplified, damning conclusion, propped up by a bunch of Google Street View images and shoddy Clip Art.  Obviously, this is not science, it’s just another ignorant blogger that sits in his chair from afar sipping on a Big Gulp, judging people and places he’s never known or been to.

For the past year and a half, my blog The Urban Phoenix has worked to dispel the stereotypes that people like you continue to propagate.  I actually travel to these Upstate New York cities with an agenda-free perspective and an open mind.  I visit businesses and talk to people, experiencing the local culture and sampling the iconic food.  I take pictures of the beauty that’s there, and the people that work hard every day to make their communities better.

What Utica Really Looks Like

What Rochester Really Looks Like

My RochesterGuy blog encourages the same sort of positive view of my home city, Rochester, New York.  It is a city that, despite its challenges, is becoming more and more vibrant and exciting every day, and it makes me happy to join my neighbors in their enthusiasm over all that we have to offer!

And I’m not alone.  I am joined by thousands of bloggers and journalists who have chosen to see the best in our communities and our people.

When I write about all the good things Utica, Schenectady, Rochester and cities like them are doing to improve the quality of life for residents and visitors, it makes me happy to know that I might be, in a small way, helping to change the preconceived notions surrounding these places and people.  I don’t usually like to use the word “pride,” but I am proud of the positive message that city residents and I have been able to build and share.  It gives me a great sense of satisfaction to know that hopefully I can, in a small way, help to lift hearts and minds by amplifying the positive voices of the communities I visit every time I click “Publish” on my WordPress blog page.

So Niko, my question to you and all the other negative bloggers, vloggers and “journalists” out there is this… what do you feel when you publish a video or a blog like this one?  Do you see dollar signs from sponsor clicks?  Maybe you genuinely feel better about yourself by tarnishing the perceptions of entire populations of good people?

I’m curious… would you walk into a room of people and rattle off a list of who was poorest, or who had the most parking tickets, then make stereotypical comments as to what kind of people they are?  Would you like someone to do that to you, your family, or your friends? Have you ever had a friend or someone close to you that has fallen on hard times but is still a good person?  And finally, when you hit “Publish” on your posts and your friends and family see you poking fun at communities that have struggled, are they proud of you?  Are they happy for your “success?”  Do they think you’re a good person for putting this poison disguised as journalism out into the world?

Here’s some real human science for you Niko.  These cities you so carelessly regard as useless holes aren’t cities at all… they are people like you and I.  You’re not trashing cities of concrete and steel, you’re degrading families, children and everyday American people who work hard to make a difference where they live.  You’re spitting on generations of people who live where they live because they have a connection to their community, through and through, good and bad.  You’re dismissing the young people in all these communities who are vigorously trying to change the attitudes and make their cities better places to live, work and play.  These are your neighbors, your friends and your family, and these types of negative stereotypes you call science and facts don’t do ANY of them justice.

But it’s easy, you see… it’s easy for people like you to sit where you sit and believe they know how these places work, how they think, how they go about life.  It’s simple for you to pull up the worst images from these cities on Google Street View and paint a negative picture, stirring anger and frustration in readers in the name of more views and clicks.

Niko, I will end this letter with a challenge.  I challenge you to come to Rochester and visit for a weekend.  Let me take you around and show you the wonderful things my city has to offer, as well as the good people that make it great.  Or, spend a day with me in Utica and let me show you an art museum, a historic theater, tremendous culture and diversity, an amazing brewery, transcendent food and outstanding nightlife.  Come with an open mind and the curious heart of a real journalist and I promise you, your view on these places will change.

The choice is yours… let me show you the best of the places you call the worst.  But if you choose to decline in favor of your bubble of armchair ignorance, please, I beg of you, slowly step away from your keyboard, throw the Big Gulp in the trash, turn off your laptop, throw out your journalist title and stop wasting our time.  Meanwhile, the rest of us will be working hard to improve our communities instead of pointing out their shortcomings of others


Arian Horbovetz




  1. Well said. This negative attitude is far too common even within the mentioned communities in Niko’s video. From your local community all the way to a global scale we need more positive reinforcement to get people excited about every area of this beautiful state, country, and so on. As a local community and as a nation we should be trying to uplift each other at every opportunity.

  2. I watched that video. So the guy is a little racist (“brought to you by Clippaz, G!” “Everybody’s got a 40 and a pistol!”) and I’m pretty sure his closing video was not of Rochester (the city does a fairly good job of demolishing vacants and not letting them look like that). But let’s not pretend that there isn’t any truth in the stats quoted in that video (even though he didn’t cite where they were from). Rochester is incredibly segregated which is why people can feel that it’s a great place to live (it is, for some people, including me) while at the same time those statistics about crime and poverty are true. There’s a reason why it’s really difficult to find housing in the Park Ave area, but if you walk down Sullivan St in Rochester you wonder where all the houses went. It’s great to be a booster, but let’s not forget that we still have a lot of problems to solve here.

  3. Adrian thank you for your comment. I couldn’t agree with you more. I personally speak to the issues of racial and socioeconomic segregation we struggle with here in Rochester all the time. We graduate 9% of our African American males, worst in the country. This is not a school issue, a black or white issue, it is a community issue that we need to solve together.

    My point with this open letter is not to imply that Rochester is perfect, it is to dispel any myth that somehow the entire city is worthless and send a message to our own citizens that we do have a lot to be thankful for. In my experience, you have to rally your “troops,” get them excited about Rochester and what’s going on before you start to really address the deepest cuts that need healing in our city. This is especially true in Rochester when so many people believe the problems you mentioned to be someone else’s responsibility. The fact is, we will never build a better Rochester until we build a sense of pride and ownership in it, which I believe we lack at times. I’m working to change that, so we can created a larger pool of people that can mobilize and attend to the real issues we face today. Thank you again for your comment 🙂

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