Pay Attention To What We Claim To Pay Attention To

I’m not a religious person, but one time many years ago I found myself in church, listening to a very good sermon. The minister was discussing how we often talk about being good people, caring for others, helping those less fortunate, and all the things that make us kind and attentive humans. But the truth is, we pay far more attention to the things in life that don’t matter, like video games and reality TV, than we pay to the real issues in our community and our world. His suggestion to all of us… “let’s pay attention to the things we claim to pay attention to.”

Yesterday I was thrilled to see over 1,000 people read my piece on the Utica’s amazing fine-dining scene. It’s good to see people take pride in their local establishments, which employ citizens and provide delicious and culinary-creative experiences. And just like my early blog pieces featuring my enthusiastic reviews of the positive things happening in our small cities, people love to read about the fun and cool things going on in their town.

We all love happy, positive, sense-enticing news that makes us feel good about our communities. In fact, I truly believe we need more of this kind of positivity with regard to our cities. Community engagement and a feeling personal ownership over the places we live are the first steps toward empowering our urban cores and our neighborhoods.

But like everything, we need balance. As we rejoice with the great stories of new restaurants and fun events in our cities, let’s remember that our attentions also need to focus on the complexities and intricacies of our cities, some of which are difficult to digest. Issues of poverty, equity, transportation, jobs, community health and diversity continue to be overshadowed by the bright lights of “progress” in our city centers.

While I started The UP by addressing only the positives, I now write primarily about issues that address the direction, focus and impact of cities and their revivals. Are we sending the right messages? Are we asking the right questions or are we glossing over the real problems in the hopes that they will simply go away? As I’ve made this transition from city cheerleader to critical urbanist thinker, my readership has changed dramatically. While I’m proud to say The UP is still extremely popular, topics such as The White Washing Paradox Of Public Space or the importance of Road Diets aren’t exactly the topics that go viral. And yet, they address some extremely meaningful and important questions about growth in our cities today.

If we love our urban revitalizations, if we are excited to see the new brewery or coffee shop that opens near us, let’s also pay attention to the important aspects of our cities that might not be so colorful, but that might impact us all. Let’s pay attention to the things we claim to pay attention to.