5.08.2006

What to do with Amsterdam...

Back in January, I put up a post entitled "What do do with Amsterdam?". In that article, I laid out a dilemma to our readers, you see, Natalie and I had been debating for some time about Amsterdam, NY. To quote the article:

"She is always a bit more of an optimist than I am and sees in that city the perfect heartland and springboard for an envisioned York State Renaissance. Now I must admit that I have not spent a decent amount of time in the city, but my impression was always that it was something of a hole, not exactly a spot to inspire hope. It was always my metaphor in our personal conversations for the collapse of the Upstate economy."
We agreed to visit the city together once the weather warmed up and report on our findings; however, we asked those who know Amsterdam better to give us hints about what we could see in the neighborhood. This last Saturday we made the trip up north and spent an afternoon wandering about that little city in the Mohawk Valley.

To those who are not intimately familiar with Amsterdam, it is a rather small, post-industrial city northwest of Albany along the Mohawk. According to Wikipedia, it has a little over 18,000 people; to put that in perspective, Syracuse has about 150,000, Buffalo about 280,000, Binghamton about 47,000 and NYC over 8,100,000 [1]. Historically it was a manufacturing center, and the massive mills still tower over the city, though today they appear to be largely empty.

Dan Weaver, a local resident who wrote to us about his city said: "Amsterdam is going through a third stage of decay, the first being industrial and retail. Now Amsterdam's housing is going through a rough time, with boarded up houses all over the city. This started around ten years ago. Many houses have been torn down." This was obvious as we wandered about the city, in search for pierogis, old buildings and monuments to Kirk Douglas (a city native); I would estimate that about 5%-10% of the residential buildings we saw were condemned and about a third were abandoned. On one street I watched a handful of children playing in the road dust in front of their home... the only non-condemned building on the street.

The trip had several great disappointments: the two museums we wanted to visit (the Noteworthy Indian Museum [2] and the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame) were not open and the restaurant that had been described as "a pierogi and coffee bar" was serving golumpki, not pierogi on Saturdays (I'm a bit of a pierogi addict I'm afraid). There were several pleasant discoveries as well, including a neat street that wound around the hill from St. Stanislaus church with cliff-side houses that seemed to be carved out the rock, thrift stores filled with 80's clothes and a shrine of Kirk Douglass memorabilia on the wall of the Free Library. In all, it was an enjoyable day.

This brings us the question that was the springboard for our trip: is there hope in Amsterdam or is it a hole and should we only give hope that those can escape it do? What problems exist in the city and how can the people overcome them?

In my opinion (and granted I'm certainly not an expert or a native!), the greatest difficulty facing the city is the exportation of the community's resources. Walking and driving through the city, I saw few ways for people to spend their money (the most fluid form of resources) that did not export it directly out of the area; like so many places in Upstate New York, the only busy businesses were the chain ones found on the strip outside of city limits. For every dollar spent there, some of the money is siphoned away to the corporate HQ in some distant place. While this is a problem everywhere in our state, in Amsterdam I felt it was more pronounced than in most and there was nothing bringing resources back into the area. The decline of the city's housing is only the latest stage of this siphoning: today residents are so bereft of cash that their build resources, their very homes, cannot be maintained. The buildings of a city are its final resource, I don't know what will be left of Amsterdam when the structures that make up her are gone.

A rebirth of a true local economy is further hindered by the fact that the city is too spread out. There is a city-core along the river that appears to have once been the commercial heart (I'm referring to East Main Street); it could be the center of a new Amsterdam as well. However, the modern businesses are strung out along two other routes (67 and 30) out of the city. These two routes are up long hills and are quite dangerous for walking. I saw no evidence of public transportation (I'm sure there has to be something, but not to my eyes). Business, housing and funds seem to have migrated along these roads out of the city-center, leaving a blighted core.

I personally left Amsterdam with mixed feelings. It was impossible to not notice the city's decline and it's greatest remaining resource, fine old buildings, are decaying everywhere. Yet, at the same time it was not a dead city: I saw children playing, people out walking or playing the park and life continuing as it does in little cities across New York.

In many ways the problem of Amsterdam would be easier if no-one lived there, but they do.
So, what can be done for Amsterdam and every other struggling Upstate City? Is there a way that can avoid turning the city into a mere commuter colony of Albany, and thereby driving out the people who live there today? I encourage all of the readers of York Staters to take a moment or two to think about the city of Amsterdam. Those with ideas can feel free to make a comment here or send us an email. After some thought, I will be posting my own ideas and those that are sent to us.

-Posted by Jesse

[1] These statistics are for the city proper and do not include their respective metropolitan areas.
[2] Interesting Amsterdam fact- "Noteworthy" doesn't describe the Indians within, but is the name of the company that sponsors the museum.

2 comments:

RCH said...

Hi,

I was just surfing around checking blogs that mentioned Amsterdam and liked your article. I recently posted a poem inspired by this topic with some links as well. Here's the link-

http://averagepoet.blogspot.com/2006/05/demolished.html

Take care,

RCH

RCH said...

Hi,

I was surfing blogs that mention Amsterdam and I liked your article. I recently posted about the same topic on my blog. Hopefully it will get better. Take care,

RCH