Sunday, April 4, 2010

Does Macon, GA Hold the Key to Binghamton Renewal?

On this holiday of Easter, with its symbolism of rebirth, my thoughts wandered to how Binghamton could revitalize itself.

My spouse and I visited Macon, GA recently.  Why did we travel  over 800 miles from Binghamton to Macon, GA?  And what does this has to do with a possible urban renewal in Binghamton, NY?

Short answer:  Flowering cherry trees.

I think even boosters of Macon, Georgia will admit that their urban renewal efforts have not all worked.  Walking around downtown, we passed many boarded up businesses.  Some blocks looked less than exciting.  But while we were there, thousands of people poured into Macon to celebrate....cherry blossoms.  Two city parks were jammed with people.  There was an awesome arts and crafts festival in Third Street Park that we spent hours in.  I'll post some pictures in a future blog entry.

And Macon was beautiful.  In some neighborhoods it was like driving through clouds of pink and white blossoms.  Here are several tree pictures I took, which do not at all express the beauty of what we saw.  The first picture may be of a different cherry variety, not a Yoshino, but it was beautiful.

Yes, these are the same type of cherry tree that Washington, DC boasts.

So, how does this figure into a possible urban renewal for Binghamton?

Let's look first at Washington, DC, which has the more famous festival.  It is estimated that the Washington, DC Cherry Blossom Festival brings in some 126 million dollars to the area.  It attracts an estimated 1 million visitors to the area, too.  Not bad.

Next, let's look at Macon.  Macon, GA's population is only around 93,000. (Binghamton's is around 47,000.) But, the 10 day long festival we just attended brought in a lot of people, too  And, last year, it also brought in an estimated 12 million dollars.  People come for the cherry blossoms and stay for many area attractions.

What makes the Macon festival ironic in a way is that it all started out with a mislabeled dogwood tree.  Macon is zone 8 (gardeners will know what that means) and a bit south for cherry trees.  But a local real estate developer (so the story goes), bought a mislabeled dogwood tree around 1947 and planted it.  Totally puzzled by what he got, he found out when he visited Washington, DC in 1952, saw their Yoshino cherry trees in bloom, and realized that was what he had purchased.

This man, Bill Fickling, saw a good thing and started propagating the trees-and one of the people he gave them to, in turn, talked to Mr. Fickling about planting them all over Macon.  He propagated them further and started giving them away.  So now Macon has about 300,000. of  these trees.  Some of the Macon trees have even ended up in Washington DC.

And Bill Fickling, known as the "Founder", is honored at the Cherry Blossom festival with giveaways of cherry ice cream, Coca-Cola and cake.  And homeowners get into the spirit too, putting pink ribbons on their doors and even painting cherry blossoms onto store windows.  (And putting pink poodle ornaments on their lawns, but that is another story.)

So, should Binghamton have its own festival?  I say "yes"!

Binghamton could sure use that kind of money.

My question is simply this:  what if thousands of blooming trees were planted in and around downtown Binghamton?  And what if various festivals were held at the same time? And tours?

What if Binghamton offered tours of historic downtown buildings at the same time?  We certainly have them:  the Perry Building, the Security Mutual building, just to name three.

Flowering cherries may not be the best choice.  Although what I found in researching indicates they should grow in Binghamton's climate zone (zone 5) I have a feeling it may be a little iffy.  Although, weeping cherry trees seem to do well here.

If not cherry trees, flowering crabapples may be another choice.  They come in both pink and white.  Cornell Extension could help to pick the correct tree or trees to use.

Our trees bloom later, so would not compete with either DC nor Macon.  We might be looking at a late April or early May date.

At the same time, tours could be given of various downtown historical buildings.  We don't have antebellum treasures like Macon, but we have our own treasures.  Examples downtown include the Security Mutual building, the Perry Building, and the Kilmer Building.

No, we don't have anything like the Hays House, but we have Phelps Mansion, on the edge of downtown. 

We don't have St. Joseph's Church (another Macon landmark) but we do have Christ Episcopal, designed by the same man who designed Trinity Church in Manhattan.

In fact, we have trolleys here that can be used for tour purposes.  Just like they do in Macon.

July Fest, a downtown arts and crafts festival held in (yes) July, could be moved to early May and expanded.  Nearby Norwich has Colorscape, why not another festival for us besides July Fest?

We need to get people into downtown, and if flowering trees work for Washington DC and for Macon, Georgia, why not Binghamton?

Why not?  What is there to lose?

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