It’s been quite the summer, and I haven’t had a lot of time to write and reflect on all that is going on around me. For this, I apologize – both to my readers (all … what, 10 of you, maybe?), and to myself, as the reason I have this blog is as an outlet to the things I see going on around me, and it’s an outlet I have not taken advantage of lately.
I haven’t, however, been off the radar. I’ve been hanging out over at the Times Union Blog Page (guess what my handle is!), where I’ve seen some very interesting discussions over various issues. The State hiring freeze, coupled with the launch of SeeThrough NY, has had the entirety of Albany abuzz. Say what you will about State workers (and, most of the rumors aren’t true, and I was saying that long before I myself was a State worker, so this is not a biased comment), but everyone local knows that it’s State employment that has kept Albany somewhat sheltered from the economic crisis this country has been suffering. With a freeze, and a threat of layoffs, that very well may change, and I think everyone is on edge.
Also generating buzz is the new blog, Capital Region at the Crossroads. I’ve been quite interested in the content – I find urban studies and regional planning to be really interesting, and back in my journalism days I covered town planning boards and a local school district, which piqued my interest even more in this field. I find the posts thoughtful and interesting, and I also enjoy how the TU is touching on some very real issues that the lower Hudson corridor has already been facing for nearly a decade – how to reasonably sustain the “growth” (read: sprawl) that has erupted in the Capital Region.
And, as you can see from the comments, the suburbanites aren’t happy about it.
People don’t like to have their ways of life questioned. I find it somewhat tiresome when I respond to inquiries such as, “You work in [X Downtown office]? But where do you PARK?” with “Oh, I live near Washington Park,” and the person asking looks at me with this wide-eyed wonder. You mean to say, someone who has an upper middle class income is actually CHOOSING to live in ALBANY? Well, yes, actually, and I’m hardly the only well-educated person in my neighborhood. You’ll find that a lot of the comments on this blog are in the same vein of, “Oh, YES! Nyah nyah nyah! See, suburbs suck!” There is no comment that actually says that, however you get my point.
So, of course, the suburbanites jump to the defensive before these comments can even get out. “The TU hates suburbs.” “People vote with their feet, and Albany sucks, so they leave.” “You can’t compare us with these larger cities.” And, etc.
However, if you read the articles, the TU isn’t saying that suburbs suck. Rather, the writers are merely pointing out a sound fact – the sprawl in this region has gotten to a point that is not healthy for continued sustainable growth, and in order for us, as a region, to move forward, it is important for everyone – urban dwellers, suburbanites, and country folk – to be aware of the issues, and work together.
For example, maybe the urban school districts are “bad” because communities refuse to reinvest in these areas. I have friends and acquaintances in their mid-20s to mid-30s who attended the urban schools (Schenectady, Albany, Troy) who are well-educated, many with Master’s degrees, and have good jobs. Not one of them speak negatively about their high school experience. In fact, one in particular speaks quite fondly of hers – saying that everyone was accepting of one another, that peer pressure was practically nonexistent, and while yes, there were cliques, people weren’t “cliquey” in the traditional sense. Yet, when I talk to friends who attended suburban schools, I often get an opposite response – high school was miserable, they felt awkward and out of place, etc.
A friend who works at one of the local private schools told me that while, yes, the school has a high enrollment from the cities, that there are plenty of children from the suburban districts. In fact, there was one student who had previously attended a suburban school in the area that is well-known and highly rated, and opted to transfer to this private school, for a laundry list of reasons.
Somewhat of a tangent, there, but you see my point: Hating on Albany (or Schenectady, or Troy) and saying it’s unlivable simply because of the school district is a weak argument. Just admit it, folks: you LIKE the suburbs. For one reason or another, it’s comfortable to you. It fits your chosen lifestyle. I have friends with no kids (or, for that matter, have the means to send their children to private school) who sing the praises of suburban life. Personally, I can’t stand it, but that’s why I don’t live there.
I hope that the blog continues to post thought-provoking material (and, so far, I haven’t been disappointed!), but I also hope that the commenters move past the name calling and hurt feelings, and instead start discussing sustainable solutions. Light rail, for example, may not be a possibility right now. However, expanded commuter bus lines are a possibility. Park and ride lots (aren’t there empty buildings – and, therefore, empty parking lots, at the State Campus?), increased mass transit, carpool incentives, better after-school programs for children so parents aren’t overly reliant on daycares that charge you steep penalties if there’s an accident on the Northway and you’re late picking up your kids … etc.
And, for goodness sake, sustainable development. It’s all well and good to have a few neighborhoods of McMansions, but there needs to be a balance. I think everyone can agree with that.