My dying city

Part of living mindfully is accepting the things that cannot by your own will be changed. It is with this knowlege that I arm myself whenever I venture to walk down Central Avenue, Albany’s main strip or any other part of the decaying corpse that we live in.

In my heart, I love this city, but it is because I come from this area and close friends and live here.  Otherwise, I have no strong attachment to the Capital City on the Hudson, whose time has long since passed. It is likely that I will move out of this area altogether to a warmer place at some point.
When my grandfather was a teenager in the 20’s and 30’s, Albany still had some of its character as a clean and thriving small city. The seat of government, the city was also a place for railroad and shipping. As many as 130,000 folks lived here. Now that number is about 93,000. Albany has changed in my lifetime, but it has absolutely transformed in his lifetime.

Central Avenue was once not just a thoroughfare for downtown traffic. It was actually a place for storefronts and business. So many of those businesses are gone, moved out to the suburbs where the car can better travel and closer to the homes of expatriate Albanians.

I will write more about Central Avenue but for now I can only say what I know, which comes from my eyes. The road is simply for the bus lines now. There is no economic life to it. Demographics and insipid urban poverty have crept along the North and South sides of the pavement. Like many other thoroughfares in urban America, Central Avenue is dead. It is a home to broken windows, boarded up storefronts and booted cars. What remains are the remnants of a depressed inner city economy; cellphone stores, barber shops and hair braiding businesses, one hardware store, and a whole lot of fast food.

Our Lady of Angels, once a thriving Franciscan community, has been closed. Reflective of the demographic shift and the shrinking Catholic population, it is now a Pentecostal church. Nevertheless, the structure is still very Catholic, with a tile-mosaic of Christ with the Sacred Heart and a Friary that looks anything but Prostestant.

Although there are some decent and affordable restaurants along Central Avenue, it is much easier to get a Big Mac with an order of fries or greasy Chinese takeout than something healthy. One organic food cooperative can be found hidden alongside a dollar store.

There can be no greater image of the economic malaise of Albany than Central Avenue. Although the surrounding suburban communities do well for themselves, there is nothing to entice a shopper do this stretch of road that they couldn’t get in their own town.

I often think that Central Avenue would look quite nice with stores and businesses, but I know there’s just no practicality in it. The malls in Guilderland and Colonie are much easier to get to and park in. The poverty of many of those who live in proximity to the street is prohibitive. Central Avenue may likely never be what we’d like it to be.

Just as documentarian Michael Moore has made his hometown of Flynt, Michigan something of an emblem of the death of blue collar America, so Central Avenue embodies the changing economic climate wherein those with money have abandoned the small cities, taken with them their spending power and heading for the suburbs. As the car has made it easier to commute into cities, it has also gutted commerce from them.

Ironically, a portion of Central Avenue towards the city line is dotted with auto dealerships, mechanics and parts suppliers. The Avenue houses a large element of its destruction.

I wonder with the soaring price of gasoline, folks who work in Albany will ever want to return to this city. There are certainly many unoccupied houses, although those that would pass inspection are hardly in the type of communities one would want to move her family to.

Still, folks live in and work around the Central Avenue area and as long as Albany exists, these people, no matter who much they struggle with poverty and crime, are people and deserving of dignity. One would hope that someday this city can climb back to it’s pre-war peak when trolleys carried men and women downtown and back home again at night and workers stayed just a little bit longer to make a purchase.

I walk to work at the state Capitol each day, but I avoid Central Avenue and instead walk along Washington Avenue, which swallows up the road downtown. It’s hardly an uplifting walk, but it’s not as bad as Central Avenue.

Yesterday, after work, I walked back in late afternoon along Central Avenue and found myself feeling a terrible sadness that I haven’t felt. Despite a few renovations to buildings, the roadway was very depressing. One shop after another boarded up, the street was a horrid contrast to an otherwise beautiful blue sky. I walked it again at night to get somewhere and the same feeling came over me.

Today, I realize that there is no reason to feel this way for our thoroughfare or city for that matter. There is nothing I can do to reverse what time and tide have done and in living in Albany, I must accept that I am taking up residence in a dying town. There’s actually something quite beautiful about it, which is that folks still do come out and walk down the street. It may not be much, but it is there home, for now at least. Hopefully, someday, it will be a better home with a nicer street to be proud of.


2 Responses

  1. […] broke the streak and I marked it a frowning day. I was feeling quite decent that day until a walk back home  set me in a different frame of mind. It wasn’t the walk through the economically roughshod […]

  2. There are two sides to every story, here is place that tells a diffent tale of people trying to make it better and those who invest and work towards the future, with not as much of a glum outlook. With nearly 10,000 employees on the Avenue 600 Businesses, 64 restautants, the highest mass transit ridership, and nearly 15 million dollars in road and construction planned for this year, I see things with the glass half full. Not that the above isnt there, its just that balance is imprortant as well as telling the tale you have told.

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