An Outsider's View of Utica, NY

Friday, December 28, 2007

I live near the Upstate New York city of Utica. It's a peculiar city, I think. It's not the "mega-opolis" like Syracuse; Utica has a small town mentality, which is unusual for a city. I'm not saying that's bad, it's just peculiar. Cities are usually snobbish-- the bigger they are, the more snobby they are. Utica is not snobbish. If anything, Utica is the lowliest of Upstate cities.

It's a nice city, a comfortable city. But there's a lot of gossip that flows through Utica streets. For such a "city," I'm surprised how much everyone seems to know everyone else's business. There are a lot of old families that remain in the cities (although New York's property taxes and business policies are driving out the young blood), and these families are very close knit. I also find it amazingly odd that there is but one newspaper here. There used to be a few others, but they folded or were gobbled up by the big guy.

Events and festivals in other cities are usually regaled for a distinctive section of the city (say, the Irish, or the Polish). Not in Utica! Everyone goes to everybodies' parties! I suppose this has something to do with the remarkable spread of intercity gossip.

Upstate New York used to be called the Manufacturing Belt--a region of manufacturing businesses and manufacturing employees. I'd read that this area is now called the "Rust Belt," but there's no rust here, just empty buildings and ex-employees. And now comes the NYRI powerline project to take away what's left-- our land.

When I travel, I notice "For Sale" signs as I drive through communities. It helps me to get an idea of how the community is doing, and I'm interested in property values across the state. Some Upstate towns that were not heavily reliant on the manufacturing business are still doing OK-- not as well as it once was, but the property values haven't plummeted. In Utica, you can see dozens of realty signs. Property values have dropped but taxes are skyrocketing. It is a sad testament to the power of politicians and their ruinous policies.

Over the decades, flashy businessmen have sailed into the city, promising riches and fame in exchange for tax breaks and perks. Most Upstate cities have learned the lesson to ignore these snake-oil con-artists, but not Utica. Utica still falls for it. Hopefully, things are changing with the prospect of future responsible leadership. As it stands, Utica still has its political problems.

If there's anything that is keeping Utica from falling off the map, it's the phenomenal influx of immigrants. Most come from Bosnia, but I see Chinese, Indian, and Latinos more frequently; but the Bosnians make up more than 10% of the city's population now! They are changing the face of the city. Many are buying property, fixing old places up, and contributing to the community. It is a very good change.

As an Upstate city-- and a Central New York city placed between Syracuse and Albany-- Utica has its opportunity to really shine. She hasn't taken the ball yet; let's hope she does.

Interesting facts about Utica:

The city was named when a group of men picked "Utica" from a hat.
Dick Clark was born and raised here, and got his start at a local radio station.
Charles Finney led an amazing series of religious revivals here in the 1830s.
James Schoolcraft Sherman, vice-president to President Taft, was born and is buried here.
The first Woolworth's store opened here. It failed within a year.
The first psychatric center in the state was built in Utica.
Famous pollster John Zogby was born and lives in Utica.
Utica's nickname in the mid 20th century was "Sin City," due to the mafia establishment here.

Pictures of Utica
Utica Links
City of Utica Website
Utica's Newspaper
Utica TV
Utica Real Estate
Utica Tourism
Experience Utica, NY
Utica Jobs
Utica Public Library
Historical Photos of Utica and area
Utica Landmarks
History of Utica
Utica: Remember When

Good Resources:
Fault Lines
Empire Center for New York State Policy

Places in Utica that I've Visited:
Fountain Elms
Utica Zoo
Utica Downtown (coming soon)
Hotel Utica (coming soon)

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