So, bashing Schenectady is one of the top things to do if you’re from Upstate NY (#25, apparently), and certainly there are many things one could complain about…or as I like to say, there is a lot of potential. Ever since the Gazette ran the article about a couple of instagrammers trying to change the image of Schenectady, I began to think about what it is that makes a place ‘suck’?
Should we define whether or not a place sucks by our desire to live there? If so, then there are many places that would suck for no other reason than the weather. Many people would lump the entire Northeast into that category. San Francisco has many great attractions, great scenery, beautiful weather, great food, and an avant-garde art scene, but with home prices higher there than almost anywhere else in the country, I certainly wouldn’t want to live there unless I made significantly more money.
Perhaps a place sucks because of bad schools and dilapidated buildings? It’s tempting to think of less-than-perfect locations as places that suck, but it’s also important to realize that less expensive places to live provide valuable opportunities for people on fixed or small incomes to establish themselves. These places define the American dream more than any wealthy suburb. Does Schenectady have that vibrant churn of prosperity? I’m certain it could be much better, but I know that Schenectady doesn’t suck because its citizens are low income. The schools also do not suck because of bad test scores, since they are tied to income as this summary of SAT scores versus family income shows from the NY Times. The income and schools, however, are the reason why people think Schenectady sucks. This thinking is a symptom of the growing socioeconomic divide plaguing the country, and all the more reason to have a day to celebrate Schenectady, as I’ve argued before.
Growing up in my hometown, I would always complain about the lack of things to do. Compared to Schenectady, a city of similar size, that was certainly the case. Schenectady has Proctor’s, which shows great performances year round, as well as SLOC and Schenectady Civic Players. I haven’t see the Civic Players, but I was very pleased with SLOC’s performance of Next to Normal. Not to mention its own museum, scientific history, and delicious local food. My hometown had a mall and a movie theater. So, Schenectady doesn’t suck for a lack of things to do even though I hear the same complaints from high school students as I had for my hometown when I was their age.
Ultimately, what matters are the people we interact with on a daily basis because even in the wealthiest zip code in Manhattan, if your neighbors are rude and mean spirited then where you live will suck. Last winter, two teenagers in the neighborhood came to help me clear snow from my car after one of our large snowstorms, and my neighbor helped me keep my sidewalk clear during the day, so when I came home from work I had less to shovel. I meet people across the city who are deeply concerned with improving their neighborhoods by picking up trash, as was revealed during the Goose Hill NA citizen awards. Even just last night, a biker ran into my car and broke the cover on my taillight, but instead of leaving anonymously, he rang my doorbell, told me about the accident, and gave me his information so he could pay to get it fixed. That sure beats the time I had my side view mirror smashed intentionally in CA!
So, does Schenectady suck? It’s certainly not perfect. Quality of life issues, e.g., litter, noise, potholes, can all be improved; but when it comes to the people I live with, Schenectady doesn’t suck at all.