Friday, March 7, 2014

Will It Be Destruction or Renewal?

Is a neighborhood just a collection of houses?  Is it people who live there for a common reason - similar income? Similar ethnic identity? Similar age?  Is it a mix of varied people?

Or is it people united by a cause?

In 2006, and again (worse) in 2011, the neighborhood I live in (Westover, near Johnson City, New York) was one of several neighborhoods impacted by flooding.  The flooding in 2011 caused my entire neighborhood to be evacuated, and over 100 houses were condemned in the aftermath.  Some of these houses contained families that had lived there for more than one generation.

A local employer of some 1800 people, BAE abandoned their factory after trying to save the building. 

For a while we were not sure if the employer would move out of the area. Our local government saved those jobs, but possibly only for five years.  Half of that time has already passed.

We weren't even the most impacted neighborhood. One neighborhood in nearby Vestal, Twin Orchards, was flooded with raw sewage. Our flood had its own pollutants, including diesel fuel.  What happened to one village, Owego, can be considered as epic.

There are 21 streets in my neighborhood, some of them only a couple of blocks long.  At least one of them had, in spots, over eight feet of standing water during the flood.  It was  a miracle that no one died. One of my next door neighbors, trying to get to a shelter, had to be rescued from his vehicle.
House on Oakdale Road in Westover, September 2013
Since the flood, the vacant houses have stood patiently awaiting their fate while buyouts were discussed.  Now, at least in Twin Orchards, the demolition has started.  But, then what?

My town, the Town of Union, has a project called the ReUNION project, helping with the planning of our flood recovery.  At a meeting I attended last year, officials pointed out something scary.

He showed us a map of Westover where the house demolition will take place.  He showed us the map with all the houses standing today. Then, using the magic of computers, he took away the condemned houses.

What was left?  A house here, a house there.  Some streets only had one or two houses left.

Now, there are two paths my neighborhood can take, after that happens.

Can a neighborhood survive with most houses gone, and remaining houses scattered here and there? The speaker showing us the "after"math said that, according to experiences from other neighborhoods who have experienced disasters, our neighborhood will not survive without intervention.

It's as simple as that.

So now what?  Our very future depends on what the planners come up with, what the residents respond with, and what the State of New York ends up permitting.  There have been a lot of suggestions. One possible solution has already fallen through, due to circumstances beyond our control.

But hope is not lost.  Not yet.

I'll be blogging more about this in the coming weeks, especially about the fate of one particular building.

5 comments:

  1. No matter what the planners conceive, it will be up to the (remaining/returning/new) residents to achieve a neighborhood!

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    1. That's too true, Roy. Since our area as a whole is not growing, it does concern me. Do I want to spend my "golden" years here?

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  2. This is a sad situation. It is the people who form a neighbourhood. It may take years for a united community to take hold again. I hope things work out for the best. Sorry to hear about this. Peace

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  3. I agree, thats one reason why i dont make my own house at the moment. im saving it for a safety place. I lost my father 2 years ago because of typhoon yolanda and all of our property. A good read.. thank you for sharing

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  4. Oh. That's so sad. It must be dreadful to lose your house and all your possessions. Maybe the dispossessed people will gain new strength from beginning again. I moved about 30 times over my lifetime and think nothing of it. The things we accumulate are worthless really. What matters is what's inside each person.
    But as for the former residents in the area--their fete is blowing in the wind.

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