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Cultural Geography Project

In: English and Literature

Submitted By newburghsux
Words 1590
Pages 7
English 269: Intro to Cultural Studies
30 September 2010
Cultural Geography Project The small piece of property between Torches on the Hudson and Gully’s Restaurant in Newburgh has become a cornerstone of revitalizing the city’s economy. Although it is only about half a mile long, in less than ten years the enormous facelift that has been given to the area has done wonders for the city’s revenue and tourist appeal as well as provided a much needed aesthetic boost to the waterfront area. Newburgh’s waterfront area has a rare appeal for this particular case study because it has aspects of providing a sense of community in the sense that it is often a focal point for local social gatherings, but it is also a place whose very existence is predicated upon the fact that it generates revenue for the city. As a young kid I can remember days where my father and I would drop my mother off at work and spend the rest of the morning running errands while stopping at the Newburgh Waterfront for lunch. By and large the place was decidedly unimpressive. In fact, there wasn’t much to be seen other than the old rickety piers and the folks ignorant enough of their state to trust their sturdiness (my father and I were quite often included in this class). There were sidewalks to nowhere, not much parking, very little landscaping was done, no shops, just a pier and the few people on it. It seemed, when looked at as a whole, very much like an area that had been almost forgotten by the city. It was in fact a perfect example of the move to suburbia and the concurrent abandonment of certain places in cities, especially waterfront property. Newburgh used to be a town of factories, railroads and shipping; some remnants can still be seen standing right near the area where Newburgh stops and the Hudson river begins. The property of Regal Bag, where my grandfather once worked and the old Newburgh Train Station are still there today. A few years ago everything began to change. Restaurants, most notably perhaps Torches on the Hudson, began to spring up as the city poured money into revitalizing its’ waterfront property. Rather quickly the place that was once just a pier became an array popular of bars, restaurants and nightclubs. The landscaping is now well maintained and the area is now geared towards pedestrians. Sidewalks will take you from one bar to the next very easily. In fact, although there are parking spaces, the majority of them are literally cut off from the area where the restaurants and bars are. A stone wall separates the entire area from parking areas with only two underpasses to serve as a connection. There is also now a lively atmosphere apparent, especially on weekends. Generally the entire half a mile or so has become a much nicer area than it once was and Newburgh has been reaping the benefits. One of the more underrated benefits the revitalization effort has afforded Newburgh is the positive effects it has had as a focal point of the community. The city of Newburgh is notoriously lacking any type of well maintained public space. Due to lack of funding, interest or a variety of other reasons public efforts in Newburgh usually fail. This time however, the project succeeded and for the first time in years the city of Newburgh has a public space people actually want to visit. Now, those who need to take their client out to lunch during the week or who simply would like to enjoy a quiet dinner in a nice atmosphere no longer have to leave their own city to do so.; they can simply head down to one of the many restaurants along the waterfront. This is most certainly a positive thing as it leads to people valuing their hometown as something more than just a place to live. It gives them a reason to be proud of their community. Additionally, because the nightlife created by the buildup has become so popular, many times one will run into an old friend from high school or an acquaintance they have not seen in a while simply by going out within their own town. Encounters such as this help residents reconnect with those they may have previously lost touch with which helps the community grow closer together as a whole. One of the catalysts for these types of interactions is the fact that, although there is a small road that runs along the strip, the area is primarily designed to cater to pedestrians. As a result if one is walking from one place to the next on a Friday night when the bars are packed, you are more likely to run into someone you recognize than if you were in your car driving from place to place. This has happened to me on a number of occasions. I have even run into old friends that work at the restaurants on the waterfront which have created several jobs and been a significant source of revenue for the city in the past few years. In The Geography of Nowhere,” James Howard Kunstler conveys a very negative opinion of urbanization or heavy construction of any kind when the reality is building a place for businesses to thrive like Newburgh has can beneficial as well. There is a chapter in “The Geography of Nowhere” which describes a policy in Portland, Oregon which essentially draws a line through the city as the cutoff for which commercial development is allowed to take place. This line is called an Urban Growth Boundary (UGB). Kunstler gives his opinion on it saying, “The unstated bottom line was that Oregonians were going to have to find new ways of doing things: of making a living without destroying land, building real towns and city neighborhoods instead of tract housing pods and commercial strip smarm…….” (206). At the same time he is commending the UGB he is absolutely vilifying any kind of commercial build up referring to it as “destroying land” for “commercial smarm”. Kunstler seems to conveniently ignore the other side of the argument entirely; sometimes, commercial build up actually pays off for a smaller city. Newburgh is a perfect example. Not only has the waterfront enhanced the sense of community as I have previously described, it has taken a piece of property that was once all but abandoned and turned it into a cash cow. Were it not for the commercial build up of the waterfront area Newburgh would be in a worse financial position than it is already in. Not only do those businesses generate a significant amount of tax dollars that go directly into the city’s pocket that were not coming in before, they also add to the revenue stream of the city in a roundabout way as well. Each and every job that has been created both during the construction of the waterfront and now during its’ operation and maintenance phase was a job that Newburgh lacked otherwise. The majority of those employees are local people who are residents of either Newburgh or a close surrounding town and tend to put at least some of the money they make right back into the local economy. In addition, from a long term perspective, those folks that were looking for work elsewhere may have taken a job locally and not had to move. The longer they are in the local community the longer their money is as well. The counter argument that could be made is that many of the jobs created by the restaurants and bars are similar to those created by corporations when they move into a small town. That is to say that they are part-time, low pay and lack benefits. While this may be true in some cases it is most certainly not true for all. Several “career jobs” have come along with the restaurants and bars that have moved into the Newburgh area. Owners, chefs, and restaurant managers for example are positions in which one can make a living. Those same people probably looked for housing locally to reduce their commute time and thus have pumped both short term and long term money into the economy. Even the part time positions have given back. They are primarily occupied by young college students who frequent those very same bars and restaurants as well as the local mall. They may have needed a car to get to work or school and made a purchase at a local dealership as well. For Kunstler to completely dismiss this side of the argument I feel, is short sighted and unfair. His book reads more like the ravings of a bitter old man found in a letter published in the opinion page of a newspaper than a fact based scholarly work. The fact of the matter is there are two sides to the argument and I happen to disagree with his. Places like Newburgh are proof commercial building is not all bad. The revitalization of the Newburgh waterfront has been a great thing for the city. It has enhanced community ties and provided a source of revenue for an otherwise financially struggling city. Although some like Kunstler will always be vehemently opposed to the sort of construction required to provide such a facelift to a particular area, there can be no doubt that it can be beneficial if it works out as planned the way Newburgh has.

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