Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got till it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
………….From “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell
I’ve been reading a lot about upstate New York lately, in particular Carl Carmer’s books. But I recently got a different kind of book from the library: Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette: A Mostly Affectionate Account of a Small Town’s Fight to Survive, by Bill Kauffman. The small town: Batavia, NY.
Same view, but now there’s no “there” there:
“Beth is of the opinion, ” says Steve (on p. 162 of Kauffman’s book)… “that with the demolition of downtown Batavia, it lost so much of its character that there was not enough left to hold people, to give them a feeling of community and of belonging.” Anchorless, unmoored, Batavians cast about for any port in a storm.
One paragraph in this book sounds so much like Syracuse in general and Eastwood in particular that I just have to reproduce it here. It is simply a quote by Kauffman of a letter-to-the-editor that Don and Teresa Doran of Batavia wrote:
In reply to why Batavians mock out Batavia instead of being proud and trying to make Batavia big, Batavia is funny. What other town would destroy a possible tourist attraction on a continuous basis? Batavia could have been a tourist attraction with all the wonderful history that this town had, but instead every ounce of history is being destroyed by the great community leaders. Why bother publishing flashbacks from the past? It only shows all of us how stupid Batavia is….Books and articles are published about the history of Batavia. People just laugh at that. They say, “If Batavia cared so much about its history, why did they tear everything down?” Do you have an answer? I don’t! I am disgusted with Batavia’s great plans! They have turned a once beautiful city full of history and industry into a junk city full of modern, no-class buildings and retail stores that benefit no one and they wonder why so many people laugh at Batavia and move away.
Do you remember Wittigs Ice Cream? The building is still there. I’m told they used to make their own corned beef right there, in a special cooker. That and pastrami, too. And they served some very good hamburgers and pistachio ice cream.
Let’s not tear down our built history. This building had a long-time restaurant in it up until just a couple years ago and it conforms to the overlay district guidelines. It has ample parking behind it and it holds the corner. It’s walkable. Anything is possible where there’s vision and a will… and a mayor willing to exercise both of those rare traits.
Making Eastwood look like every other place is not sustainable. It makes money for the few and deprives thousands of residents of a feeling of community. People move away. And property values fall.
Let’s not pave our piece of paradise. It’s all that makes Eastwood unique.