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Monday, August 15, 2011

New York State of mind


New York, you get it right, with your wide, shallow rivers, park large as a small state, hills and towns and barns and of course The City, but the smaller, jivey cities like Buffalo, Syracuse and Binghamton, too.
We began our trip in Buffalo and spent an afternoon on the waterfront. Buffalo, like other rust belt cities, has had to figure out what to do with itself since the jobs and half the people left. It’s like one day everyone said, hey! we have a waterfront. Fancy condos and boat slips went in, but lots of public access in wide, shady parks, too. The day we were there, Oneida dancers invited us to join a Smoke Dance; kids in the giant (giant!) sandbox, roller skaters, bike riders, boaters, ice cream eaters and WWII submarine tourists were all out in summerosity.
The day before, we walked with hundreds of others, raising money to research a cure for spinal muscular atrophy. The hope and love were palpable.

Our friends in Syracuse have a small boy who turned from one to two between visits. He is growing up speaking Russian and English, and lives in the country with a small number of beautiful, wooden toys. His parents are both working on doctoral degrees, and are nurturing themselves and each other.

From there we visited friends on Lake George in the Adirondacks. The water was too cold to swim in, but I was the only one who thought so. We kayaked and walked and read and rested and talked and talked and laughed and talked.
I thought a lot about West Virginia. In Lake George, the residents have the political resources to make sure the mountains and water remain clean. Chances are good there’s something in those hills that could make someone very rich. In West Virginia, the people who would protect the mountains are not the ones with the power to do so.
We swung through Binghamton on the way home to Ohio, where we visited more, dear friends and I read my poems at a gorgeous bookstore on the Chenango River. The bookstore owner said they are struggling to survive. We can find our books cheaper on Amazon, but do we want to live in a world without bookstores?
My inspirational friend Mary is working to save her Binghamton neighborhood, by inviting everyone into the conversation. She’s held neighborhood events and thinks in the on-the-ground way that activists here in Youngstown are thinking.
I’ve been calling myself and others new urbanists, people who want to invest in city cores, not just to raise property values and push low-income families away. We want integration: we’re not afraid of people who look different from us. We want working sidewalks and bike lanes, good schools, community gardens, and communication between neighbors.
After a week of close friends, delicious food, fantastic conversation, and gorgeous landscape, I am renewed and ready to get back to the work of home.

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