Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Brother Tim on Lockport, New York

This was pretty much my viewpoint on the night that my dad took us downtown to watch the demolition of downtown Lockport.

Brother Tim published a piece in this morning's USA Today, Olympians Can Always Go Home. And the Rest of Us?. He writes about our hometown, Lockport, New York, and the push/pull of the hometown.

Joyce Carol Oates also hails from our hometown. Tim writes
Joyce Carol Oates, another literary lion, recently returned to her home of Lockport, N.Y., for Smithsonian magazine. There she revisited the public library, the old Palace movie house and the Erie Canal locks that give the town its name.She was reminded how much these places still resonate throughout her life and work.

I, too, hail from Lockport. A few years ago, I had the good fortune to meet Oates, and we discussed where in the town of 21,000 we had grown up. She was from the west side, Transit Road, which has been transformed by shopping malls and multilane highways. When I told her I grew up on the east side, a two-lane road that hugged the Erie Canal, Oates' eyes grew excited. "That's the real Lockport," she said
I'm not so sure. When I visit Lockport I find that the place I remember has long ago sprawled over itself in a headlong rush towards "Anytown USA". I have three landscapes in my head, the place I grew up, the place that it has become, and the place that appears when I dream of Lockport, a Lockport that could have been, but maybe never really was, a town with a downtown and farms and neighborhoods and and quiet places and mysterious places and timeless places.

Downtown Lockport's signature brick front downtown was razed for "urban renewal" when I was about 13. At my 20th high school reunion, one of those lots was still empty, with a "Will Build to Suit" sign. Much of my late teen years were spent exploring the back roads and back streets, my friends and I seeking to chronicle our hometown before it disappeared forever.

These days I serve another town, one that managed to make it to the 21st century with a strong sense of place. Still, the struggle to maintain that sense is constant. There are many people devoted to keeping the area the "same as it ever was" and just as many who expect to see a healthy return on their real estate investments. The trick is in selling the idea that a strong sense of place trumps "Anytown, USA", and selling it one detail at a time.

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