With the turn of the world that gave us this magnificent weather, I’ve been sitting still even less than usual- which basically means I sit while at work (although not still, and not well) and if you call sleeping sitting, I sit for about 6-7 hours a night. I was basically born with a genetic mutation that has left me unable to be indoors on a nice day. You would think this would fade as I get older, but just like some other parts of me that I previously chalked up to youth, I have realized that this is not a facet of an untamed youth, but a function of me- as an adult human being.
So, as my dishes piled up, I hit a lot Troy pavement. Last Sunday I somehow ended up giving 2 walking tours of Troy to friends who had never been to my neighborhood. YES, I am that far gone in my love affair with this little city. I like to show my girl off jsut about any chance I get! I recently read one of Don Rittner’s books on Troy….and….well, to sum it up, it did not end well in my living room the night I finished this book. I will start out by saying this is an amazing book, and I was absolutely fascinated by it, but the news wasn’t good, folks. This book killed me.
The night I started (and finished) Don’s book, I was super excited to dive into some history of Troy. (Special thanks to Michael Baggetta for giving me this book, which I truly do love- despite that it kept me up for several nights.) About 12 minutes in, I was already depressed. Almost 90% of everything I read made me so sad or furious that when I called it a night at about 2:30 am, defeated, sulking in bed, I started texting people asking for their thoughts on urban renewal, and ultimately went to bed angry. WHY, you ask? Because almost EVERY picture of a scene in my neighborhood, in its hometown glory, doesn’t exist anymore. Fire, fire, great depression, urban renewal= weapons of mass destruction. AND, of course….no one really wanted to talk about it at 3 am on a Saturday.
Troy catches on fire. A LOT. To this day, I have never heard more siren songs in my life. I knew that Troy suffered 2 major fires that destroyed entire city blocks, but seeing actual photos- faces of people who lived right here, skeletons of beautiful buildings, lives and industries and dreams crushed…..inspired me to wikipedia other great fires and well…..this night obviously took a turn for the worst. There is something about fire that makes all civilizations and all humans just seem so disposable. People and buildings and blocks and lives, buring like paper bags. Entire landscapes, cityscapes, and histories are all re-routed by one hot spark, one dry night. We are mortal, and everything we’ve built, can be gone baby gone.
Still, no one WANTS a city to burn. As the ashes settle, everyone can be sad, and everyone can somehow grieve and rebuild together. A fire is an injustice, but no one pulled the trigger on it. NO one thought it would end well. (Of course, if you are an asshole arsonist, this does not apply to you- but nothing I say does, because I hate you.)
Urban renewal. Now here’s where I lose my shit. The fires that ripped through Troy, together, took @ 600 buildings. Urban renewal, took about 500. So……Troy rebuilt after these 2 fires, only to be gutted in the 60’s and 70’s, in an attempt to revitalize downtown. Alright. So, I’m not an expert here….and I’ve really only recently started reading up on this, but the only thing I can tell you is that when I read this, when I SAW this, I felt it. It felt like a punch to the guts. When I SAW what market block REALLY was, it broke my heart. And if you know me- that’s a tough nut to crack.
I know that Troy is one of thousands of American cities that had this same shitty attempted facelift at this time, and that sometimes old buildings have to come down, and that cities are like people, and life cycles, and wind. I know they have to change, to grow, and I know that nothing really is ever forever. BUT. For 500 buildings to be gone, ENTIRE BLOCKS torn down….. and the only major “new” construction I personally notice is the ugly ass alien atrium and the projects on the river…..I’m going to just say it. Someone fucked up. If you rip things down, you should have a plan to build new things in their place. The second part of the deal, Troy didn’t keep up with, and this is why the entire historic district and parts of downtown look like a crooked smile, with several key teeth that you just know were punched out. Traffic patterns don’t make a lot of sense, and you can just tell…..you just know, these blocks, these buildings, are just remains of something that once made sense, and was great.
As I read more…..and began to calm down (another thing I am not good at) two major thoughts resonate. One- there is something upsetting about seeing a city have a tiny fraction of population that it had 100 years ago. We spend a lot of our lives learning that the future is the way forward, the future is THIS, only better, life 2.0. And this confirms, that sometimes, the future gets it wrong. I believe that someone who lived in Troy in 1920 would be hightailing it out of here if they were transported in 2012. My great grandparents lived here, my grandparents, and my Dad and aunts and uncles. I remember the stories of “the city” and assumed that they were all a little crazy (because we are) or were notttttt quite sure what a city was. Now I get it.
My grandparents moved out of “the city” in the late 60’s, when the middle class flocked to the suburbs (white flight) faster than I speed away from them Today. Troy was on the downhill. Blocks were gone, industries were disappearing, your butcher was gone, your tailor was gone, jobs were gone, crime was up. Proctor’s stopped showing movies, and a mall was built that no businesses wanted to move into, because no one was shopping here, and housing projects were the new real estate.
There really is only a few things I truly hate, and injustice is one of them. Urban renewal did Troy a major injustice, and I don’t think I’ll ever be really over it. Whenever I really hate something, I want to blame someone. I want to yell at someone. But all I can think of is to yell at 1960’s Troy, the Brady Bunch, picket fences, the American Dream, and maybe Walmart(just because)
The second thing that resonates, is that despite of all of this, Troy is STILL widely recognized Today as one of the most well preserved downtowns in the Northeast. This thrills and kills me. I see it everyday in my streets. Frear’s Cash Bizarre and the Music Hall are 2 of my all time favorite things—ever. I just love them an annoying amount. They carry these magical spirits and just basically brag to you from their high horse just how awesome they are. They are greats- and they’re still ours…along with many many other architectural and historical gems.
So at the end of the day, (Ok- it’s taken a solid 14 days), several several walks around downtown, sun soaked afternoons spent in my neighborhood, a solid hour contemplating finding a way in to the Trojan hotel, another 45 peeking into Proctor’s windows (go and look), an afternoon on my roof, and of course that NYT article- I am LESS insanely upset about urban renewal, and more able to appreciate what was left, what we still have, what survived, and what can thrive…but the wound is still fresh, I am still not ready to go back to the Atrium. Just saying.