This column is an unpaid advertisement for the city of Schenectady, New York, where I visited last week to speak about reporting at this year’s New England gathering for American Community Media (ACM). In a sense, I suppose this is a love note about every city sort of like it too, from Lowell, Massachusetts, to hundreds of other small and middle-sized metropolises everywhere.
But first Schenectady, which, like a lot of other cities in the 50-75,000 population range that fell on tough times in the past half-century, has managed to rebound to some degree thanks to a mix of generous philanthropy, invigorated federal and state funding, and more than anything else individuals (including many transplants, immigrants and otherwise) who care about their hometown and work their asses off to make it better. In my brief stay there, I thoroughly enjoyed the record, book, and antique shopping, as well as the bars and eats from downtown to the edge of Union College and its Little Italy, and even the Rivers Casino, where I had a great time despite losing a net 20 bucks.
No place is perfect, and I learned from speakers at the conference I was at that Schenectady, for example, has something of an ongoing youth pregnancy crisis. Some of that philanthropy is also bittersweet; the stunning Proctors Theater and its truly awesome adjoining arts and education facilities were in part gifted by General Electric, that most despicable of all American behemoths that once employed more than 30,000 in the city, but now has less than 4,000 workers there and just recently slashed another 200-plus.
Since I’ve come to admire these resilient urban hamlets in the past decade or so, I have also grown disgusted with the attitudes that people often have about these places. Attitudes I’m sure I have been guilty of perpetuating myself in the past. Some people whom I told that I was heading to Schenectady on business reacted as if I was venturing into a red-state fire swamp.
A lot of cities really suck, to be sure. Take Charlotte, North Carolina, for example—fuck it. But the attitude that places big enough to have pro sports teams—and the people in them—are inherently better than spots like Schenectady is classist and crazy. Not to mention demonstrably untrue.
To be clear, there are countless books and academic studies that explain the phenomenon of an increasing vitality in gateway cities, as we call such scrappy comeback areas in Mass. If you’re looking for a cheaper rent in someplace that still went for Hillary over the POTUS, you should join me in consuming them. This isn’t yet another cheap and sappy call for liberals to reach out and touch some disenfranchised GOP enthusiasts—I would never waste your time like that. I’m just saying that if you are ever searching for a way out of expensive megacity living, you may want to consider a true blue hub with a lot of heart and arts like Worcester or Schenectady.
Give me a few years, and I’ll be right behind you.
CHRIS FARAONE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.