Joy Along the Mohawk

Chris Churchill at TImes Union wrote an interesting piece, Churchill: Minions lost in Amsterdam’s struggling downtown, on the minions downtown. Here’s a snippet:

I’m not from Amsterdam, so I don’t care which mayor or political party was responsible for the Minions. I don’t care who loved or loathed Thane.

All I know is that the Minions cheered up downtown and gave the impression that Amsterdam didn’t take itself too seriously. They made people smile. They were fun. They were a reason to get out of your car.

Cities focus considerable energy on economic development, but officials often forget the potential impact of joy and fun. It sounds silly and simplistic, I know, but people return to places that make them feel good and avoid places that don’t.

Downtowns need clean streets and attractive stores and good places to work — all the usual things we think about. But the really good downtowns also remember that a little whimsy is important, too.

As Mr. Churchill is by his own admission not from Amsterdam, it’s easy to see why he fails to grasp the situation here.

For living in Amsterdam, you know that you really can’t have or try to get or, heaven forbid!, commit the heresy of even wishing for something that might bring a modicum of joy even for a passing second or two.

No, living here means that you must celebrate the joyless, the hopeless, the soulless — basically just tune to your local talk radio or listen on a coffee shop conversation and you will immediately get what’s going on here. Remember the uproar when the city would actually try to create a city event ala’ Spring Fling — people literally freaked out that the city might hold an event that involved fun.

Fundamentally, urban renewal did not merely physically vacate the physical essence of the city as Churchill states as : “butchered by misguided urban renewal. Downtown is marred by swirling arterials, suburban-style strip development and Riverfront Center, a failed shopping center that’s surreal in its emptiness.

No, urban renewal vacated the psyche of the city as well where any attempt to inject some life and soul into the city will meet the fate of the many buildings and vitality of our small city of old– it will be demolished and paved over: asphalt trumps green space; wrecking balls trump development; failed suburbanism trumps neo-urbanism; pessimism trumps optimism; bright yellow paint trumps whimsy.

I see why it’s difficult for outsiders to not grasp this, but for those of us here, it’s been clear for a very long time why nothing joyful or whimsical blossoms here.

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