Yesterday I was listening to a popular local radio talk show here in my hometown of Rochester. The topic of lifting Rochester to new heights through transit, urban design and other New Urbanistic approaches was nothing new to me, but a piece of the conversation really caught my attention. A guest on the program was talking about the urban revival happening in Detroit, speaking specifically to the grassroots, “get it done” approach by residents and entrepreneurs who are raising the city from the ashes.
Sometimes I forget that, with the important methodologies and metrics I often speak to in reference to urban design and healthy cities, the trait that small Upstate New York cities possess that impresses me the most is what I like to call “The Grit Factor.” It’s the blend of intelligent ideas with blue-collar “by the bootstraps” persistence that is driving the train up and over the hill to success. It’s the knowledge to build a strong city, with the appreciation of the hard work and dedication it takes to place each and every brick.
It’s important to take an intelligent, metrics-based approach to urban design as we work hard to lift our communities. But the glue that puts it all together, the power that turns the gears of change is determination and the mindset that we refuse to be denied.
While Utica is rising up, the difference in its citizens is the acceptance that nobody is gonna do it for them. They’re gonna take on the challenge themselves.
In Rome, it’s the tightly woven sense of community and history, and a knowledge of how to get the job done right that sets them apart.
In Troy, it’s an almost aggressive, “chip on the shoulder” approach to revival, and it’s quickly changing the fabric of that city.
In Schenectady, it’s thoughtful urban-centered leadership and an insatiable desire by its residents to create an island of economic and social vibrancy.
There are so many other examples, but at the end of the day, we will succeed together if we realize that waiting for government, manufacturing or big business interests to sweep in and change the landscape is not the answer. It’s when we look inward, amplify our resources and work hard to create new ones. It’s knowing we have to throw a metaphoric suit and tie on our cities, but also having the desire to work the overtime to attain it.
At the end of the day, all the great ideas in the world are for nothing if we don’t have the aggressive desire to implement them. Something I am overcome by every time I travel all over the state is how abundant this quality is in our small cities. It’s palpable, it’s the difference factor, and it’s why we are all poised to succeed. I’m college educated, I have an appreciation for fine art and classical music, but I’ve also pounded spikes by hand as I worked on a railroad, slaved in a hot kitchen as a short order cook, marched through the long days as a lot monkey at a car dealership and moved pallets around in a warehouse. I know the importance of metrics-based design and careful planning, but I also praise the hard work by the folks in the trenches who’s pride and determination make all the difference in the world, both physically and metaphorically. Ideas are necessary, calculation is vital, but it’s the people in the communities that are actively putting those ideas to work in a practical, sustainable way that will transcend. So let’s keep gettin’ dirty New York, I’ll be right there beside you with a shovel. 😉