Driving through downtown Utica for the first time since college some 40 years ago, I was both alarmed and saddened to see that the city looks as if it is dying. Utica is not yet dead, and it will be so if we do not take the matter into our own hands. To survive lots of work needs to be done directed by an inspired vision of what a revitalized Utica can be. I was saddened because it looked to be as if developers came with their wrecking ball and hollowed out downtown. But it seems they abandoned the redevelopment of the downtown spaces they made and went off to different ventures. Utica was left gutted since then. It seems, Utica suffered nothing but abandonment and neglect. I am alarmed because of the plans to build the new hospital downtown. As I hear about them, the plans for the hospital are not those that would be drawn up if Utica was being revitalized. They are plans for a dying city, not one that will grow. Why else would there be fewer beds at a time when there are not even enough psychiatric beds available to meet the need? Building the hospital downtown will not solve Utica’s problems, it will make them worse. What Utica needs is a revitalized commercial downtown that offers new jobs and hope, not a shuffling of the old positions as will happen when the new hospital opens its doors. It looks to me as if Utica’s leaders gave up on the city. So, what if Utica did not become a hub for nanotechnologies? There is other work the young and the unemployed can learn to do.
Look at the way Pittsburg and Philadelphia, though they were abandoned long ago overcame the ‘rust’ to be a growing city, not ones which are dying. I am sure there are investor corporations with whom Utica could build a mutually beneficial relationship, but Utica needs leaders who will go and entice them to come. If Utica’s leaders have given up on Utica, then it is time for new leaders with visions of what Utica can become.
Forty years ago it took time to drive south on Genesee Street. There were stores and offices almost all the way up to the Munson Williams Proctor Institute. Now, you can’t even sit down and order a hamburger and fries, an excellent juicy burger. There are a few places buy a good cup of coffee yet, there is no a pharmacy, or newspaper shop, or bookstore, or hairdressers, or one of the stylishly decadent ice cream parlors for which upstate cities were once so well known. There are no clothing stores along Genesee Street. No office supply stores. There is no Apple Store so that Mac users must drive to Albany or Syracuse to have their computers repaired.
Is anyone talking about opening a drug rehab in Utica? Seems as though there is plenty of addiction here. Hell, there is not even a supermarket in downtown Utica. Indeed, there is a need. If we could meet our needs in downtown Utica, there would be lots of new jobs and revenue. What a difference that would make. If the hospital is built downtown, the city will not be revitalized. With the tax-free hospital, the city will be denied the precious tax dollars needed to invest in people.
For a time with the new hospital situated downtown, it will seem that Utica is beginning to recover, but it will not last because the requisites for recovery are absent. No one is investing in the residents of Utica. Unemployment will remain pervasive because, it seems as if the status quo is acceptable to local, state, and federal government leaders.
It is past time for the residents of Utica to get angry. It is time that they insist that their leaders do better by them. Many, even most people may be so demoralized that they no longer demand more, or better.
How many generations of children have to grow up in this economically depressed area before people recognize how adverse conditions are. But, there may be hope. There are rumblings about revitalizing a core. – Some residents are busy re-imagining Utica. They are talking about reviving a core downtown neighborhood. One there is a vibrant heart of the city, Utica can gradually be transformed block by block. Not only should the residents of Utica be demanding action from their leaders, but they need to be talking about what they can do to revitalize their city.
It is time for everyone to have some skin in the game. Perhaps, now that there is a new radio station it to might provide a venue for the people of Utica to talk about what they want Utica to become as well as about what they are going to do to make the needed transformation possible. It is time for all of us to dedicate ourselves to transforming our city.