I’ve spent the vast majority of my life in upstate New York, specifically Binghamton and Albany.
A while ago, Kelly sent me a link to Walking America, part 2: Binghamton, Johnson City, and Endicott. Photos and thoughts from Broome County, New York.
Of course, Binghamton is my hometown. But I can’t argue with the first sentence. At all. “Binghamton, Johnson City, and Endicott are either the northern-most cities in Appalachia or the eastern-most in the Rust Belt, depending on what expert you talk to.” Even when I lived there, there were people suggesting the Appalachia designation.
(It doesn’t help that there is a Census-Designated Place called Apalachin in neighboring Tioga County. It’s less than 10 minutes west of Endicott and 15 minutes from JC. Apalachin is 20 minutes from Binghamton, the Broome County seat, and the only one of the Triple Cities which is actually a city, as the other two are villages.)
It can only get better
At Binghamton’s nadir, in the 1990s, the Boscov’s was the only major retailer keeping downtown Binghamton afloat. It depressed me greatly. In fact, for years, I just didn’t go downtown at all. I’d be in Broome County attending the Olin family reunion. But it was held in one of two parks in Endicott. And we’d stay in Endicott or Vestal, or even an hour away in Oneonta at my in-laws.
When I was a Binghamtonian, Harpur College/SUNY Binghamton seemed remote. (It’s technically in the town of Vestal.) So it didn’t have that economic stimulus some colleges provide to their locales. I’m thrilled the new businesses downtown, driven by the college kids now living there, has created new opportunities.
Still, as the article notes: “They are struggling towns with good people trying to keep their heads afloat. Towns that haven’t recovered from all the lost jobs that were once here, like making shoes [Endicott-Johnson, where my mother briefly was employed] or making computers [IBM, where I spent five months before college], and all the good people that left because of that.”
I saw this article in the Albany Times Union: Ex-Capital Region news anchor schmoozes with extremists in a bid for Arizona governor. Ugh.
“Former WNYT Channel 13 television anchor Kari Lake… is greeting supporters who include a Jan. 6 insurrectionist, an anti-mask advocate, and a Nazi sympathizer… ” Of course, she’s being supported by 45.
“In August 1998, she moved to the Capital Region… At the time, Lake told the Times Union she ‘just wanted to live in a real nice place. And that is Albany.’ Some 15 months later, Lake was finished in Albany…”
But I think she was right about one thing at the time. “‘It is so parochial here. I could be here 30 years and feel sort of new… We came all the way across the country, to find out just how much we miss home.'”
I used the P-word when I wrote about the place back in 2013. My theory was that it does take about three decades to fit in with the unspoken norms. I moved here in 1979, so I’m nearly as close to a native as can be.
Still, I wasn’t present when 98 acres were leveled to build the Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza, “a massive modern office complex” designed to transform ‘historic but shabby’ Albany into a ‘brilliant, beautiful, efficient and electrifying capital.'”
Well, there are modern office buildings, performance spaces, and many other amenities. But at a cost. “7,000 people, old and young, black and white, immigrant and native-born” were displaced as well as “more than 400 businesses, most of them small—neighborhood groceries, grills, taverns, tailors, and shoemakers.
“Over the course of two-and-a-half years, as the State demolished 1,150 structures to clear 40 city blocks, residents and businesses were forced to move out.” Occasionally, I STILL find someone who will lament the loss.
Walking America has made TWO visits to Albany, The first contains this paragraph: “Here, the poverty and wealth are juxtaposed against a downtown filled with politicians, bureaucrats, and lobbyists who claim to care about the very inequality they are surrounded by, making it a physical metaphor for the failures of our political class.” Ouch.
And he had avoided the aforementioned Empire State Plaza the first time, so he came back. “Avoiding it wasn’t fair though, because the Plaza dominates Albany, both spatially and as the manifestation of a technocratic philosophy found in every modern political center: The idea that government, empowered by the best and brightest, wielding ‘Science!,’ can mold humans, cities, and societies into their better selves…
“While the [surrounding] blocks are poor they also have what the Plaza doesn’t have. A genuine humanness.” The last part, alas, is certainly true. This doesn’t mean I don’t care for the place – and changing it back is impossible -but the downtown, in particular, is a bit soulless.
Still, I’m not looking to live elsewhere. Given the vagaries of climate change, being here suits me just fine.
Here’s one thing my late father, who grew up in Binghamton, but moved to Charlotte, NC in 1974, noticed. He made a comparison between his old city and his new one. Binghamton is near the Pennsylvania border, just as Charlotte is close to South Carolina. One has to travel northeast to get to the state capital, 140 miles to Albany, 175 to Raleigh, NC.