Nearly three years ago, I toured Schenectady, New York for the first time. As with so many other Upstate New York cities that I’ve visited, I was delighted to find Schenectady’s “comeback” in full swing.
As The Urban Phoenix has transitioned from city tours to discussing the elements of strong urban revival across our country, I always end up thinking back to Schenectady for one important reason. Kelly Winchester (formally Kelly Marr) was the first resident I spoke to before visiting the city.
She sent me an email that went on for miles about the places, people, stories and history I needed to connect with on my visit. One woman in her twenties was the catalyst for an adventure I had, and one I’ve sent countless other people on. It is one of my favorite places in New York State and I simply can’t say enough about the progress there.
But think about that for a moment… one unsolicited resident, with no agenda other than the fact that she believed in her city, mapped my experience and motivated my journey. She spoke at length about how small businesses, individuals and local government were working to build a place where people could live AND have a “right-size” urban experience. I, an outsider from Rochester, was able to have this experience because one resident jumped at the chance to invite someone into her urban “home.”
I write constantly about building your city for livability instead of tourism, but the fact is, tourism is still a key component to the success of any downtown. A vibrant center city that attracts outsiders is always a positive thing, as long as it’s not THE ONLY THING. Our cities today must be built on the energy of its residents new and old.
The key to tourism is realizing that, when we build our cities for the people that live in them, we create the Kelly’s of the world… people who feed off the energy of their urban lifestyle and crave the chance to share that love with anyone who will listen. Build for residents, build for local pride, and tourism WILL take care of itself. True urban vibrancy doesn’t need to be sold, it needs to be told, and who better to tell the story of your city than the people who actually live there. Take care of them, and you will take care of your city for a long, long time.