If you can’t say anything nice …
At my 10-year high school reunion, I ran into a classmate who had attended Union College.
I’d never really liked this particular classmate very much, and I was curious to see whether he’d improved at all over the past decade. In an effort to strike up a conversation, I mentioned our one area of common ground: Schenectady.
“Schenectady!” he exclaimed. “Schenectady is the worst!”
The conversation ended shortly thereafter, as it didn’t take long for me to conclude my old classmate hadn’t improved very much at all (He didn’t seem much better at my 20th reunion in June, either). But his reaction baffled me, because I don’t actually believe Schenectady is the worst place on earth. If I did, I probably would have moved away long ago. As a general rule, I try to minimize the amount of time I spend in places I hate.
I thought of my old classmate Sunday, when I read Gazette reporter Bethany Bump’s story on the recent outpouring of love for Schenectady on the social media site Instagram. Users are expressing their love for the Electric City on two accounts, both run by young women weary of listening to people pick on Schenectady: @SchenectadyDoesn’tSuck and @LongLiveSchenectady.
Schenectady has long been the subject of scorn and ridicule, and the city might fuel more trash talk than the average upstate community, in part because it has a name that sounds kind of funny. But there’s nothing unique or especially notable about the negativity people direct at Schenectady. I’ve heard people express similar sentiments about other Capital Region communities, as well as towns and cities throughout the country. And while the locations might vary, the complainers all seem to believe life would be much better someplace else.
Maybe they’re right. After all, people have preferences. A friend of mine is much happier living in southern California than in the Capital Region, mainly because there’s no winter there. Another friend relocated to Rochester for graduate school and is less happy.
One of the most common criticisms I hear of the Capital Region is that it’s boring. Another is that it just isn’t cool.
Frankly, I’ve never understood these complaints. I can always find something fun to do here. There’s a pretty good arts scene, decent restaurants, beautiful parks and preserves and interesting museums. You don’t have to drive too far to get to most of the Northeast’s major cities, and the mountains and ocean aren’t too far away, either.
After years of listening to people talk about how boring the Capital Region is, I’ve reached a conclusion: This area has a self-esteem problem.
There are several reasons for this, such as the steady decline in upstate population and industry, which can make people feel depressed and even hopeless. But a big factor, I think, is the Capital Region’s close proximity to New York City and other major northeastern cities.
Whenever I ask people why they think the Capital Region is boring, they inevitably wind up talking about how much more exciting New York City is. Sometimes they throw Philadelphia or Boston in for good measure.
My feeling is that comparing the Capital Region to New York City is like comparing apples to oranges. New York City is home to millions of people and is a global hub for finance, art, research and fashion, among other things. The Albany-Schenectady-Troy metropolitan statistical area is home to fewer than 900,000 people, which all but guarantees it will never be as internationally known or revered as New York City. Or Boston. Or Philadelphia.
I don’t yearn for this area to become more like New York City, where I would probably have to share my apartment with three other people just to make my no-doubt-exorbitant rent every month. The Capital Region isn’t perfect (what is?), but I’d rather celebrate the region’s unique identity and build on that than try to turn it into something it isn’t.
The Instagram accounts celebrating Schenectady are a small gesture, but a good one. They don’t argue the city is perfect (it isn’t), but they highlight the things that make it special.
Back in the day, I was quite adept at hating on my New Hampshire hometown. I thought it was boring and the people who lived there were lame. I couldn’t wait to get away.
But I’ve grown to appreciate my hometown in recent years. I’m not the sort of person who would ever start an Instagram account touting its virtues, but I can understand — and even appreciate — the impulse.