I’m on a train to one of my favorite Upstate New York mini-urban success stories, Utica. Since my first trip there 4 years ago, The Urban Phoenix has become a way of life for me, and an introduction to smart urbanism for a strong following of dedicated regular readers. Never in my wildest dreams could I have ever expected that one visit to a city of 60,000 people would begin a path-altering journey.
Rarely do we reach too far, in part because we are afraid to fail, but mostly because we just don’t often believe one person can make a difference. While the UP is far from a game-changing online publication, and while I downplay my piece of its influence, I do have to acknowledge that on some level, I’ve helped make a difference. In telling this story, I’m not self-aggrandizing… quite the opposite, I truly believe nearly anyone has the potential to find their niche and influence people. What I have had the good fortune to be able to do is nothing special at all. It is well within the grasp of anyone who seeks to make it happen.
My first blog about the urban revitalization in Utica four years ago exploded, garnering 60,000 total views. My relationship with this small city quickly became an intimate one as I built friendships with residents and connections with people who love their city and loved that someone from the outside was giving it some love. My subsequent visits, patronage of Utica businesses and continued writing about the town, its people and its future changed the way many people saw their little island of urbanity. I know this because, to this day, I still receive regular emails from Uticans who are grateful that someone took notice of what they were working hard to create.
Furthermore, people in my hometown of Rochester began asking about visiting Utica, or where to eat as they passed on the thruway, or where to stay for an overnight. Many curious couple friends of mine have made day and weekend pilgrimages to the place they had formally written off, only to find that the Utica had so much to offer in a small package. One Rochester couple spent an overnight in Utica to celebrate Valentines Day, patronizing local shops, restaurants, bars and attractions, all on my recommendation. Every month, Rochester residents and people across the state reach out and ask me what to do in Utica. The Urban Phoenix has not only helped to change the minds of Uticans, it has re-introduced New Yorkers to Utica’s rising charm. I have personally recommended hundreds of non-residents to visit the City of Utica, many of which have poured hundreds of dollars each into the local economy, totaling thousands in overall investment.
Again, I’m not sharing this because it fuels my ego, I’m sharing this story because it is very much in reach of all of us. Along my journey, I have met scores of individuals and small groups who have had an unimaginable positive impact on their communities. They are creating change, putting a new face on their communities and changing negative perceptions every day. These are my heroes.
One person can make a difference. One person can influence a population, or even just a few individuals who will in turn reach a few more. Progress starts with us and the belief that you and I can be the difference we want to see in our urban communities!