Joy Along the Mohawk

Chris Churchill at TImes Union wrote an interesting piece, Churchill: Minions lost in Amsterdam’s struggling downtown, on the minions downtown. Here’s a snippet:

I’m not from Amsterdam, so I don’t care which mayor or political party was responsible for the Minions. I don’t care who loved or loathed Thane.
All I know is that the Minions cheered up downtown and gave the impression that Amsterdam didn’t take itself too seriously. They made people smile. They were fun. They were a reason to get out of your car.
Cities focus considerable energy on economic development, but officials often forget the potential impact of joy and fun. It sounds silly and simplistic, I know, but people return to places that make them feel good and avoid places that don’t.
Downtowns need clean streets and attractive stores and good places to work — all the usual things we think about. But the really good downtowns also remember that a little whimsy is important, too.

As Mr. Churchill is by his own admission not from Amsterdam, it’s easy to see why he fails to grasp the situation here.
For living in Amsterdam, you know that you really can’t have or try to get or, heaven forbid!, commit the heresy of even wishing for something that might bring a modicum of joy even for a passing second or two.
No, living here means that you must celebrate the joyless, the hopeless, the soulless — basically just tune to your local talk radio or listen on a coffee shop conversation and you will immediately get what’s going on here. Remember the uproar when the city would actually try to create a city event ala’ Spring Fling — people literally freaked out that the city might hold an event that involved fun.
Fundamentally, urban renewal did not merely physically vacate the physical essence of the city as Churchill states as : “butchered by misguided urban renewal. Downtown is marred by swirling arterials, suburban-style strip development and Riverfront Center, a failed shopping center that’s surreal in its emptiness.
No, urban renewal vacated the psyche of the city as well where any attempt to inject some life and soul into the city will meet the fate of the many buildings and vitality of our small city of old– it will be demolished and paved over: asphalt trumps green space; wrecking balls trump development; failed suburbanism trumps neo-urbanism; pessimism trumps optimism; bright yellow paint trumps whimsy.
I see why it’s difficult for outsiders to not grasp this, but for those of us here, it’s been clear for a very long time why nothing joyful or whimsical blossoms here.

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12 Responses

  1. Daniel says:

    What might be the bigger story here is why the Albany media only covers Amsterdam when there is a major fire, a murder or some other negative story. I would also add that Churchill interviewed several people in downtown Amsterdam, then tailored his op-ed piece by not using anything that did not fit the point of view that he chose to express. Churchill’s piece should be balanced by the more objective news piece written by John Purcell of the Recorder. Furthermore, the story of the removal of the minions should be balanced against the story of the “whimsical” yet beautifully sculpted recently installed front door of the library. It was a piece of art that took two artists over a year and hours and hours of labor to complete. The money for it was provided by an anonymous donor. Mike Villa attended the ribbon cutting ceremony. Neither Ann Thane nor any of her artistic friends attended the ribbon cutting. While Ann Thane went down on Main Street to take photos of the minions being painted over and posted them on facebook, she has never bothered to take one of the sculpture on the library door and post it. She has not even mentioned it. The commitment to art by some in Amsterdam’s artistic community seems to be only the art they are associated with. This is the politics of art. Meanwhile, Flippin’ I would challenge you to do a story on the library door. It is a very positive thing for Amsterdam. Not everyone in Amsterdam is as downbeat as you say, although I do understand where you are coming from with your post. There are beautiful and positive things happening in the city, including in the downtown. Not everyone doing positive things feels the need to splash it all over the internet. .

    • flippinamsterdam says:

      Relative to the challenge on the library door story, I already “covered” it in this piece albeit in an indirect way of support. Library Artwork Deemed Satanic
      Not too sound Trumpy but the door is a fantastic work of public art and I have nothing but positives for such works and the efforts of the library. We use the library extensively so I am familiar with and admire the door even though I did not attend the formal ribbon cutting.
      As far as your claim of my overstating the level of “downbeat” in the city, I don’t actually think I go far enough. Sure, I attempt satire and humor to illustrate the extent of downbeat within the community but it does not nearly capture the pervasiveness of a school of thought that stands for doing nothing and fighting everything. I don’t want to rehash the many examples of this ideology at work but the collection of posts on this blog should support my position.
      I will agree that many things are political and indeed the reason for the city’s demise and lack of spark stem from the toxic politics of the city geared to doing nothing and fighting everything.
      Speaking of the library, I hope the referendum will pass so the door may grace the doorway for many years to come but I sincerely believe that the effort will fall short as the downbeats will claim that the city just can’t afford a library nor can we really aspire to keep a whimsical door when a steel door from Home Depot would have suited the city just fine and was preferable as it made no aspiration beyond being just a door. As City Library Treads Water, District Readies Cement Boots

  2. Tim Becker says:

    I’ve noticed an interesting pattern over the past few months. When any significant criticism of an action taken by Mayor Villa arises, some pundits immediately counter with something like – well Thane did this that or the other thing – conveniently avoiding any real discussion as to whether the actual action in question is right or wrong. It seems somewhat of a cross between a “red herring” and a “moral license” fallacy. I have faith, however, that this practice of justifying Villa’s sins with Thane’s will quickly become tiresome to the general public 🙂

  3. Daniel says:

    You make a good point Tim, except that your comment also ignores the issue of whether or not what Villa did was right or wrong, as does this comment of mine. That is an ever spiraling downward argument that leads to nowhere.

    • Tim Becker says:

      I’ll be forthright then – What Villa did was wrong and a waste of city resources, as was the labyrinth removal. There was no need to paint over the posts, he could have left them up until they were in real need of painting, needed to be removed, or some other type of artwork could be put on them. He’s made downtown less attractive, not more attractive. It’s a step backwards.

  4. Charlie says:

    Can anyone honestly tell me this was a good use of city resources? I mean, drive around town. There are several streets with holes in them surround by barricades and orange cones, but painting over something that was harmless and a little bit of fun takes priority?
    Look at other cities in the Capital Region and what they’re doing to attract people to their downtown areas. Troy is a great comparison since its issues are nearly identical to Amsterdam’s (albeit on a larger scale since it is a bigger city). “Enjoy Troy” is a great branding tool, and it’s everywhere. They even printed up “Enjoyski Troyski” T-shirts for Dyngus Day.
    The difference is people there like the idea of making their downtown a little fun. For some reason, Amsterdam continues to be this gloom-and-doom community that chases away anything and everything that makes things a little fun and/or brightens up the place. Troy has major financial issues, worse that Amsterdam’s, and that city’s infrastructure failings not only affect Troy, but several communities surrounding it.
    And yet, Troy’s movers and shakers manage to overcome it and try to make the best of everything. Amsterdam’s problem is attitude — the city has struggled for so long that I think many of its citizens are more comfortable with being stuck in neutral than to embrace change.
    And I can’t believe anyone would be comparing the painting over dozens of minions to a door. This isn’t a knock on the library, but come on. It’s a door.
    Instead of dismissing Churchill’s op-ed piece, maybe people should realize this is how much of the Capital Region views Amsterdam. Its attitude and politics are a running joke.

  5. Daniel says:

    The same reasoning process that would lead one to conclude that the work of art on the front of the library is simply a door would also lead one to the conclusion that the minions were only traffic bollards and it would lead also to the conclusion that covering up, painting or destroying the library door, which took two artists hundreds of hours to create, would not be as serious an issue as painting over the minions. I reject all these conclusions and the illogical premises that inexorably leads to them.

  6. Charlie says:

    I am not saying the library door should be painted over, and it looks incredible.
    From a news standpoint, however, it’s a door.
    There is no rational basis to make your conclusions that are based merely on assumptions. No one has even suggested painting over the door, and yet that’s what you take out of the comments posted here. There is no rational or logic applied to your conclusions.
    The point is painting minions on traffic bollards is harmless. In fact, it injected a little fun into, and let’s be realistic here, a somewhat boring downtown corridor. From what I could tell, people actually liked them.
    You can’t have a bustling downtown if you keep rejecting efforts made to draw people into the area. You don’t want a farmer’s market. You don’t want the minions. OK, then what’s your solution to building that section of the city into a place that draws people?

  7. Daniel says:

    Two media sources felt that the door was worth covering. It is not simply a door. It is a work of art just as the bollards when painted were no longer just bollards.
    I made no assumptions. I took your “logic” to its inevitable conclusions.
    I liked the minions. and the farmers’ market.
    You demand solutions without offering any yourself. Let’s hear yours.

  8. Charlie K. says:

    I’m sorry, Flip, but I have to respond to this idiocy.
    Dan, please explain how you reached those conclusions. I never once said the library door should be painted over, nor do I ever think it should. In fact, I’m not asking nicely. You will explain your rationale, or your credibility on this topic is destroyed.
    My point is the Times Union doesn’t regularly cover Amsterdam. They would never send a reporter out to do a story on a door. The minion thing is of general interest to the Capital Region because the entire idea of painting over something harmless and fun is sure to turn heads.
    As usual, you are living in a fantasy world if you think the Capital Region media as a whole is going to splash a door dedication across their front pages. It’s worthy of local coverage, and that’s it.
    And, as usual, you have changed the topic from the minions to the door because the door is something YOU are interested in. I will bet all the money in my pockets against all the money in yours that more people care about the minions than they do the door.
    And, I will type this slowly so you can understand: This. Is. Not. A. Knock. On. The. Library. Or. The. Artists. Who. Crafted. The. Door.

  9. Daniel says:

    Apparently, logic is not one of your strengths, and l can see that my repeating myself will not help you. You are now moving farther down the path of irrationality by declaring that logic is idiocy. You have implied that l am an idiot; next you will be calling me one. Ad hominem attacks are always what irrational people resort to when they have lost an argument. Since the argument is over, l leave you to continue it with yourself. Have at it, and try to enjoy yourself in the process.