I think about the world in which I grew up, and it’s very different from today’s.
I grew up in Auburn, NY and attended college in Rochester, after dismissing New York City as “too scary” – I’d never been on an airplane, much less, away from home. (I think how different now, as I hear my 8-year-old daughters discussing their preference for Jet Blue over other airlines).
During my junior year, I decided to study in Paris for a year. That was the catalyst for my move to Philadelphia, then New York City, in spite of the many options for young people here at that time.
Now roll forward almost 25 years when I return to western New York, as resident and soon-to-be tourism activist rather than visitor.
I discover I’m gratified that people here are still as friendly as when I grew up. The countryside and rolling hills still retain their charming beauty. And, in many ways, this region’s heritage has been well preserved – in the arts, the canal and in building and dedicating museums to recognize great achievements of the past.
However, as I explore the wonders of this region, I also see the fallout from a warfare waging in many small towns across the U.S.: Local versus Global. Unfortunately, our small towns are losing. Our downtown areas are littered with struggling and dying businesses, vacant storefronts, and whole blocks begging for attention.
As agriculture becomes “industry,” needing less manpower to run ever larger farms, as true industry downsizes, moves out or overseas, and as malls and superstores standardize the way we shop, play and dress, do we still need small towns and their main streets? Or, are they an obsolete remnant of times past?
To answer these questions, we need to ask more questions: Do we want to retain the distinct personality of this region which is so instrumental in drawing tourism? Do we want to encourage entrepreneurship and small enterprise? Do we want to maintain downtowns through which we’ll want to stroll? Do we care about preserving this heritage for our children, or would we rather see historic architecture replaced with warehouse-style construction and multi-level parking garages?
When I first moved back here, the mantra, “buy local” seemed a foreign concept after living in NYC, a world crossroads where nothing and everything was local.
Now, I drive through struggling towns and villages. I sit on committees marketing their downtown areas to the very same residents who love living there but rarely shop in their own back yard,
Kudos to the many organizations, townships, individuals and politicians working to “Unshackle Upstate.” They are doing the work of heroes. But the situation here and in many towns across America needs not only funding and great plans, but each resident’s carefully considered assessment of the local versus global question.
While the Wal-Marts and Amazons of the world will not go away, nor would most of us want them to, each individual should develop a personal philosophy on what to buy locally – from our farm stands, wineries, artisans, independent restaurants and shops on Main Street USA – and which purchases to make from “big box” suppliers.
The local versus global decisions can be extended beyond daily purchases to family events, getaways and vacations. Planning a family reunion? There are many great locations here for one. To how many of this region’s 200 waterfalls have you hiked? Which of our 100+ wineries have you visited? Did you know you can see Hemlock Lake in the same pristine condition that our forefathers did? Take advantage of our world-class entertainment. Enjoy the stunning lakes that many in drier parts of the country would love to swim, fish or boat in.
That which is familiar is not necessarily “known,” and that which is local is not “less,” and may actually offer more. This year, Think Local.
By Carol White Llewellyn
Copyright 2008©Carol White Llewellyn