Sep 16, 2010

Saratoga Springs: State of the City (1)

“Would you mind taking our picture?”

Now there's a common request for anyone that either resides in or frequents a popular tourist 'ville such as Saratoga Springs. Tourists put the pennies in the till of the local merchants, so one should always be willing to put on a civic ambassador's hat when asked to help out-of-towners record their trek to the Spa for posterity and to prove to those friends back home that “yes, I was certainly there.”

Such was the setting this weekend as I was knocking down a morning coffee on the sidewalk of Uncommon Grounds, when a 50-something couple asked for my assistance. Richard Avedon I'm not, but what the heck: OK, smile; that's it; look right at me; click. Then, as is typical for the social butterfly that I am, a conversation ensued as a means of learning about these visiting nomads.

But lo and behold, a surprise. It turns out that these folks are not tourists after all; they have been local residents here for the past three-plus years. The ensuing story was the common demographic trend of the time for this particular city: a real estate cash-out on residential property in the metro NYC area timed with an empty nest and early retirement from two public service careers had these people asking themselves if the 'city hassle' was really necessary any more?. The answer came back as a big fat No, their sights were set on moving the Bill & Mary Show upstate to the only town that they thought mattered, and here they are, three years later, asking a stranger to snap their photo on Broadway.

As we chatted, one thing became painfully obvious: these pleasant folks are basically strangers in a strange land. Their queries were the usual “where's a good place for Italian?” or “when is the peak leaf season in the mountains?” typical of day trippers, not of someone embedded in the community that should be dispensing such advice as opposed to seeking it.

There lies the rub: they are not embedded in the community. Yes, they hold a piece of paper stating that a plot of land and a wooden structure on the east side of town belongs to them and no one else; yes, they write a check a couple times a year to contribute to the public words; and yes, they drop a few bucks at the Farmers Market now and then – but that's about it. There are no PTA meetings, no block party BBQs, no beer leagues, no hunting trips with the buddies, no union hall weddings of co-workers – hell, not even Sunday morning coffee partners with whom to solve the world's problems.

Instead, one hears mumblings of the rare conversations with neighbors, bus outings to Yankee games now and then, a ballet or two and breakfast at the track at least once each August. There might even be a worthy cause to which they volunteer or even a political party, but nothing seems to stick when one is approaching such efforts more as a social portal than as an actual do-good effort. After the meeting, it's off to dinner out, with a table for two sufficing.

This modern day reality of life within Saratoga signifies just that – a transition from what was a small town with a high degree of social capital, deeply rooted neighborhoods and a deep sense of communal connectivity having given way to unattached individuals and couples roaming within, longing for meaning and comfort and wondering if they maybe it's a futile search in their new environment.

But this is a rare case, some might might argue of our new friends Bill and Mary. After all, many residents will think that their own personal calendars of fund raising events, gallery openings or volunteer calls as being legit examples of conduits to healthy community participation. They just might be, but then again, forcing a cat into his carrier cage doesn't usually make for a happy cat., does it now?

The question becomes this: when looking at a community — any given community, not just this one specific example – can we conclude that it has a working infrastructure that facilitates a feeling of community involvement, spirit and participation? How does one measure such a feelgood concept? Which traits provide a greater feeling of community than others, and to what degree?

We'll go deeper on this in the next part and do an analysis of the various segments of the city's current population from a Community Attachment point of view.


Homer J said...

I think they are called carpetbaggers.

Anonymous said...

I sit in that coffee shop sometimes just to catch the NXIVM cult hotties prancing through.

Hari Hari said...

The Beatles asked:

Oh the lonely people, where do they all come from?

The answer: LONG ISLAND!

Will.I.B said...

Early. Death. Personified.

Anonymous said...

C'mon!!How about a stop at the Visitor's Center? A very visible and accessible ( rather large)) building right in the center of downtown OR perusing our 2 hometown newspapers OR visiting one of many websites dedicated to events in Saratoga Springs OR join one of the many civic or charitable organizations available. Maybe these folks although retirees might like staying in the dark about their current hometown or are just too lazy to do the research.