When The Urban Phoenix began, it was a small city tour guide more than anything, telling the stories of our less-visited small urban cores across New York State. Since I always had a great experience in the cities I visited, I always wrote positively about these cities, which came into question while I was a guest on a local Rochester radio show…
“Do you ignore the problems?”
My answer was simple… I said honestly that if you’re serious about revitalizing your city, you need to get excited about it before you’re motivated to take the hard steps toward digging deep and rectifying the real problems that have haunted our cities for decades. It’s sort of like the exciting pep-rally before a grueling big game which is won and lost in the trenches.
In my most recent piece featuring pictures and light commentary about a few hours I spent in Binghamton, New York, I stayed pretty light and fluffy, as I was just there to have a fun night and capture some nice images.
Nearly 12,000 views later and counting, the blog post was a terrific success. I could have never imagined something so simple would have circulated so feverishly!
In recent years, I’ve balanced the feel-good city stories that began The UP with more in-depth, real world, down and dirty stories about how every city can tackle urban problems. While this “new” element has gained favor with Urbanists across the country, very few of these posts ever go “viral.” It’s clear the issues that cut deeply into our cities are still the ones most of us still choose not to see, or at least try to avoid.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, especially when two of the most viewed posts of this year so far have been primarily about the food and drink scene in Utica and Binghamton. I love the new and unique and creative local business growth, especially ones focusing around eats and beverages, but eventually, I do hope we come to grips with the fact that, if we really love where we are from, we have to dig a little deeper than a fun night out. Eventually, we have to balance the aforementioned “pep-rally” with the down-and-dirty intricacies of the game… in this case, we have look hard at poverty, hunger, socioeconomic and racial inequality, and how urban necessities like good transit, local jobs and proper land use can impact these issues. The fun doesn’t have to stop, but eventually our city revivals will require all of us to look deeply into the inner workings of our communities to heal the deepest cuts.
The problems in our cities today aren’t going to be solved by government. They will be healed when we, the citizens, decide it’s time to address them. The cocktail bar, the new restaurant on the corner… these are things to be celebrated. But they are one element in a daunting but scalable series of victories that need to be won before our cities can become the amazing places we all want them to be. Let’s get to work. 🙂