December 2008 Economic Collapse

Eye from Albany
By Paul M. Bray
From the depths of economic collapse
In October when the stock market began to tank I was in Rome (Italy not NYS). I felt like I was enjoying a sunny day on the beach with a tsunami about to strike in 24 hours. It was an eerie feeling. Everything appeared to be fine even though the economic plunge in the USA was occurring world wide.
The streets and restaurants were crowded. The Italians appeared to be their usual social selves. There was no hand wringing or doom and gloom in the air. There were articles in the Times of London about whether we were seeing either the end of western civilization or the American hegemony as we’ve known it. But that was about it when it came to being threatened.
Almost two months later I was in New York City on Thanksgiving weekend. The stock market took a small bounce up.  The theater where I saw Gypsy was almost full. I waited in line for a table at a restaurant and the buzz on the street was holiday festive.
Yet all signs point to doom and gloom and I know doom and gloom. No, I wasn’t alive during the depression but I knew about the depression from my parents. What I did know personally was the 1970s and that is enough to fear.
I remember the dark, almost empty and fearful streets of New York City during the 70s. There were the homeless sleeping on sidewalk grates, empty storefronts, abandoned strip malls and the ever present graffiti and decay in features of the public realm like parks.  Jobs were hard to find and there was little promise in the future of the economy, unusual for Americans who tend to believe the sun will shine tomorrow and the tomorrow after that.
So here we are with all economic indicators including jobs, consumer confidence, the stock market, housing and GDP pointing down not only in the USA but almost all other nations. New York State that reaped benefits from an economy based on the financial industry while also paying the price for collapse of its upstate manufacturing economy is likely to feel a double whammy, the lose of it s growth sector and continued problems with its weak upstate economy. It doesn’t help that there is a good but still a fill-in Governor and an unsettled condition in the State Senate. Who will lead us in New York State (in a nation of shoppers rather than producers) in making tough decisions or inspiring us to rebuild, doing more with less?
Where do we find hope? Yes, there is hope with President-elect Obama who is clearly intelligent and is a natural leader. That is hopeful.
There were some things that happened in the 70s that were also hopeful and offer promise.
Hudson Ave. in Albany was a street of 19th century brick row houses that were mostly shells in the early 70s. By the 80s they became restored homes. With community development funds individuals and couples rolled up their sleeves and restore their future homes.
The failed tear it down and rebuild notion of urban renewal was replaced by historic preservation and community renewal. In a larger sense, the seeds were laid to celebrate cities for what they represented over time with the establishment of urban cultural parks now called20heritage areas. The gritty, failed city of Lowell, Massachusetts led the way when a school superintendent, a nun and a political leader, Paul Tsongas, went about turning a place “where everything was perceived as dull, into a city where everything is interesting”. That was the origin of the Lowell National Historical Park, a city that is now part of the National Park System with real National Park Rangers leading city tours. Today there are more than 20 state designated heritage areas in New York State and more than 40 national heritage areas across the country.
Perhaps from the depths of a deep economic recession or worst, we will roll up our sleeves and harness our imaginations and sense of community to turn what could be the worst of times into a=2 0time for transforming from a nation of shoppers desirous of McMansions and SUVs into a nation of neighborhoods, cities and landscapes where what glitters is not gold but rather human spirit.
Paul M. Bray is an Albany attorney, teacher and writer. His e-mail is

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