Why I Call Utica Home
July 8th 2011 · 0 Comments
by Andrew Gladstone-Highland
Sometimes in life, if we are lucky, we get a chance to re-examine thoughts and beliefs that we have held without really knowing why. Moving to Utica has given me this sort of chance.
I grew up in Ithaca. My parents and I moved there from West Virginia during the middle of my kindergarten year, and my parents have lived there ever since.
Growing up in Ithaca, I somehow learned to look down my nose at the rest of upstate New York. I don’t remember that anyone really taught me to do that, certainly no one in particular, but I think that such an attitude is just
sort of in the air in places like Ithaca (My wife is from Michigan, and she says that the same dynamic is true of Ann Arbor and the rest of Michigan).
Ithacans tend to think that New York City would be the only other place in the state worth living; Rochester might also be worthwhile, but certainly not neighboring cities like Binghamton, Cortland, or Elmira, or the vast majority of the rest of the state, for that matter. Growing up, Syracuse was a place where we went for the airport, train station, basketball games, and plays (and perhaps the occasional stop at Dinosaur Bar- B-Que).
Utica was a place that I had never seen, but about which I heard vaguely negative things in the news when I was growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s. It was with this attitude as part of my past that my wife, Mary, and I moved to Syracuse a year ago, and then moved to Utica in early April.
By last summer, it had been twelve years since I’d finished high school and left Ithaca; during those twelve years, I lived in four different states, in cities as large as Atlanta and Baltimore, and in towns as small as Carrboro, North Carolina, and Laingsburg, Michigan. Mary grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, stayed in Michigan for college, and then spent five years in Baltimore before we moved here.
As it has turned out, Utica feels like a nice compromise between bigcity life and small-town life, somewhere in the middle. Our feelings upon moving here were very mixed, though. We were excited about the prospect of new jobs, in Syracuse for me, and here in Utica for Mary. We had a nice, old parsonage in Syracuse in which to live, as part of my job. We were happy to be moving closer to our families, and grateful to be moving away from the heat and humidity of Baltimore summers. However, we were also sad to be leaving our friends in Baltimore, the first community of our married life, and the city that we had both grown to love so much.
Upon moving here, of the two of us, I thought that I had the better deal, working in the bigger city, the place that supposedly had more activity. However, it didn’t end up feeling that way. As it turned out, my job in Syracuse was not a good fit at all, and neither of us ended up liking Syracuse very much; to us, the area never seemed to have much personality, or much of an identity. Meanwhile, Mary was commuting two hours every day, to and from the job in Utica that she was
growing to like very much. After I resigned from my job in March, it became a very easy decision to move here. We spent six weeks in an apartment in Clinton, and then closed on our house here in the city in the middle of May.
So far, we love Utica. We live only two miles f r o m M a r y ’ s job, and she can walk or ride her bike when the weather is good. We are a similar distance from downtown, and very close to Roscoe Conkling Park, where we have already taken our dogs on many walks, and where I have gone to blow off steam at the driving range. We have thoroughly enjoyed sampling the local specialties. I, for one, would be happy to spend years trying to decide who serves the best riggies or greens – I can imagine that another taste of the top contenders would always be necessary!
Utica has many things that other cities cannot offer. As a young couple working for non-profit organizations, we could never have afforded to buy a house in many cities in this country, certainly not in Baltimore. Here in Utica, though, we were able to find a wonderful, 1920 bungalow for a very affordable price, and we have become first-time homeowners.
In larger cities, it is easy to feel lost in the shuffle, just another nameless person sitting in rush hour traffic or waiting for the subway. Here in Utica, though, we both feel like people could know who we are, that we could have an impact; Mary has already experienced that in her work here. In a smaller pond, it is easier not to feel like such a small fish.
Lastly, Utica is a place with a personality, an identity, and not every city can claim that. Most cities have rich histories, but that often doesn’t matter very much. Here, though, the city’s history and identity are part of everyday life.
Utica did not bulldoze its downtown to make way for urban renewal, many old landmarks are still standing, and the city celebrates its heritage. Part of that heritage, and part of the city’s ever-unfolding identity, is the immigration
that makes Utica’s composition fresh and new on a regular basis.
Many things are worse than having a city whose identity is, at least partially, being a place where people from all over the world can start over, a place where people can have a second chance in life.
So I stand before you as a penitent native Ithacan. Growing up, I did not know what I was missing by overlooking other cities upstate. Perhaps I needed to go away and then come back to see everything again, with fresh eyes, and to appreciate what I had dismissed when I was younger. Fortunately, Utica has given me a second chance as well, and I am very grateful for that.
By Mark Ziobro