“Troy has tenacity. They are determined, they’re gonna make it happen.”
“[In Rome] We fired the naysayers.”
“We’re gonna throw everything we have into this to make [Schenectady] strong again.”
These are comments I’ve heard in the last year and a half from people in other communities in New York State.
In my Urban Phoenix blog, I travel to small cities all over New York State, spend a day there and blog about my experiences in places that most people would never think to visit. What I’ve found is that, just like Rochester, there is a rebirth happening in all of these communities. It’s an energy uniting people in a “tenacious,” persistent, sometimes even defiant effort to rebuild their once-great communities after decades of economic hardship. This isn’t local government, it’s locally owned businesses and community oriented individuals that are using the chip on their shoulder that is the long standing negativity toward their town to drive them into a better tomorrow in places like Utica, Schenectady, Binghamton and Troy. It’s as if these citizens are coming together and collectively saying “We can do this… I’ll show YOU!!!”
Those who know me know how connected I have become with Utica, a town that has embraced my work in their city and across the state. It is a community where there was so much negativity from inside and outside its limits just a short time ago. Today, when a new business opens in downtown Utica, there is a line outside the door waiting to support it. People go on vacation and take pictures of themselves wearing Utica gear in different parts of the country and even the world. A tiny grassroots organization called “Made In Utica” has become the community’s rallying cry, as well as their source for good news happening around the city. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE drinks Utica Club and supports Saranac Brewery with a passion. And if you’re a sports fan, Utica Comets hockey home games are intimidatingly hostile contests for any opponent, with chants of U-TI-CA every few minutes, and fans that are ravenously loyal. It is a connection to a city, a commitment to love your town like family, and a personal ownership of all that happens there, good or bad.
I know I’m comparing apples to oranges, a city of 60,000 people (Utica) to a city of over 200,000 people (Rochester). And I’m not suggesting that Rochesterians become more like Uticans, Binghamtonians or Romans. We are Rochester, and we have our own wonderfully unique qualities that I would never change!
But while I see so much desire for Rochester to be an amazing city, I’ve always felt that people here AS A WHOLE are waiting for someone else to make it happen. It’s as if they’re waiting for someone else to start the chant, to build the business, to form the idea. Please know I have no data to back this up, and I’m painting with a brush so broad it could cover the Xerox building. Honestly however, I’ve heard this same thing echoed by many other residents as well. I know there are SO many great pro-Rochester people here who work hard every day to make our city vibrant. I’m lucky to call so many of them my friends. You know who you are 😉 But I have always believed Rochester as a whole lacks that hunger for more, that ownership of all we are as Rochesterians, that familial, passionate commitment to our people, our streets, our strengths and our weaknesses.
In truth, I’ve at times had an “eh” attitude about Rochester. I have to admit that, it’s only fair. But my travels around the state, seeing people love their home for all that it is and all that it could be coupled with my friends that are also passionate about Rochester’s direction… these elements have made me look at my own city with a love and appreciation for its beauty, its people and its surging new life. Best of all, it has made me want to share this love with everyone else.
I see now that the only way to truly transition from where we were to where we want to be is to promote this city and our love for it with a fierce tenacity and a sense of protective ownership. Yes, it will take many other elements in concert, but this is the base for a community pride that leads to a stronger tomorrow. Let’s create a positive chaos that has a small town, grassroots, “let’s do this ourselves” grit and attitude. When we add that to the positive direction we’re already headed, it will make for an unstoppable concoction of awesome.
I’m not focusing on a negative trait of Rochester, rather it’s a positive I see in some other communities that I believe can work to lift our city and its perception even higher. We have more people and more resources, but that doesn’t mean we can’t incorporate colorful additions that are working for other cities into our own uniquely vibrant palette. Let’s get gritty Rochester. Let’s own our city and our place in it. Let’s get a little dirty in our big urban backyard. Let’s defiantly show everyone how much we love where we live and all that we have!