As we attempt to solve Upstate New York’s problems, as long as we think of ourselves and our problems as primarily “American” we will be bound to a tiny number of options promoted by our centralized authorities. However, when we begin to free ourselves from what is an appropriate answer for America and identify ourselves with Upstate New York then we can begin to find new, uniquely Upstate answers.There has been a lack of "regional pride" in the upstate region, as the sons and daughters of those stranded in the "rust belt" with lost manufacturing jobs, and an increasing tax burden as revenues from industry declined. This generation saw parents laid off, a lack of opportunity to follow in their parents footsteps, and difficulty finding work outside of the service industry. Regionalism died. Dispondence and apathy prevailed. There are still a whole group of people that live outside the Syracuse area, that take the time to post negative comments on the region and our local government on the Syracuse.com forums. Think about it, hating upstate so much that they take precious time out of their day, just to make snide remarks and discourage people from living in upstate. In a way, I don't blame them. There has been a severe lack of leadership from local politicians over the past 25 years. There was no foresight as the factories began to close, little investment in boosting technology company development that would help keep higher paying jobs in the area. Local government leadership continues to be questionable, and development while progressing, could be better.
In addition to an increased ability to flexibly respond to local problems, a regional identity would help to heal many of the psychic wounds that we possess in modern America. We are a rootless people, rarely possessing a sense of “place;” many of us even lack a spot that we can call “home.” How many of our people have no sense of where they are and who they are? How many just want to get away, but are never sure where they want to get to? While a strong regional identity would not solve all of our problems in and of itself, it would provide a solid foundation for communities to grow. As much as it is a physical place, a community is also a state of mind, a shared mental orientation.
I feel that there is some hope for regional identities in this age of growing centralization. The last time I drove into Vermont, flying on the first house I passed over the border was the flag of the Green Mountain Boys and the symbol of the rapidly growing Vermont Independence Movement. When I drive through Johnson City, I occasionally spot a JC Wildcat flag. Perhaps someday, here in Upstate New York, locals we see no problem in flying the flags of their town, state and nation as equals in their hearts and minds.
Why do I see a renewal of "regionalism" then? Why am I living with more hope and optimism for upstate NY?
The generation that I grew up in was born into a Syracuse that had already undergone most of the transition from a manufacturing economy to a service economy. I can only barely remember a downtown shopping district with Sibley's and Chappell's. I still had wanderlust in my blood and spent three wonderful years in New York City working and exposing myself to the world outside of upstate NY. I am among a growing group of professionals that have returned to the area, yes, under our own volition. I am also reaching an age where I am beginning to realize the potential as adult citizens, to shape the world around us. Less in the way of complaining, more in the way of discussion that will lead to action - I seem to be finding a growing niche of people that feel the same way, who are proud to live in upstate, who want to be here and make life better for ourselves and our communities.
Now all we need is NYCO to photoshop up a flag for us "regionalists".