Once you get out of the New York City that most Americans are vaguely familiar with, say, north of 123rd St., “The City” starts to fade into “Upstate”. There’s not a sharp borderline, but even 50 years ago when That Girl was a hit sitcom, going to Brewster to visit her parents was definitely going upstate.
That leaves about 50,000 square miles or so of New York (the state) as Upstate.
And it’s been economically dead for a long time: a macroeconomic zombie.
I hate to break it to the writer, but it’s the other way around: Detroit is becoming Upstate New York with less grass.*
I was a kid when it first dawned on my that my hometown was going down the toilet, and quickly at that. Somewhere between 1975 and 1978 I know I had to start making excuses to people from other places about why Buffalo was just as good. And we’re not talking resort locations. Instead, this was why Pittsburgh couldn’t be that good, or why would anyone want to move to Sacramento.
I’m motivated to write this post because one of the author’s sources got it wrong:
“It all began in 1959 when the interstate highway system was completed,” says Carl Schramm, professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at Syracuse University. “That was also the year commercial jets went into service and half the homes in Florida were air-conditioned.”
Schramm’s a much bigger fish than me. And he’s right about 1959. But the reason is the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway. This is the system of canals that allows ships to get around Niagara Falls (and other smaller falls, and rapids) to go from Duluth all the way to the open Atlantic.
The reason this is a big deal is that most of Upstate New York thrived on the basis of transshipment. Buffalo was the interior port of New York City: ships came east and transferred their loads to trains bound for New York City, while goods came west on the trains, and loaded on ships bound for Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit, Chicago, and Milwaukee (but also Erie, Sandusky, Windsor, Sarnia, Bay City, Traverse City, Muskegon, Gary, Racine, Sheboygan, Green Bay, Sault St. Marie, Marquette, Superior, Duluth … and probably in a small way, my eponymous town of Tofte, Minnesota). And Buffalo got that way by being the terminus of Erie Canal, which linked to the inland ports of Rochester, Syracuse, Rome, Utica, and many others.
So, in 1959, they bypassed the reason for the existence of a the populous ribbon running through the middle of Upstate New York. It’s been dying ever since.
For perspective, consider this great chart of relative size of large metropolitan areas. Find Buffalo: it has a hump in the 1950’s. Now go across to the present day, where the comparably sized cities are Seattle, Phoenix and San Diego (larger original here).
Let that roll of your tongue: Buffalo — the Phoenix of the 1950’s.
The author is right about the rest: bad weather, tax and regulatory policies that satisfy those from the City but hurt those from Upstate, New York’s unusual method of financing Medicaid, and the fleeing of the big industries that anchored all those cities. So let me be perfectly clear: the St. Lawrence Seaway bypassed something that everyone wanted to bypass anyway.
I think the author is a little wrong also about the politics involved. Yes, New York is a blue state. But the bigger problem in New York is the domination of the state’s political system by three officeholders: the governor, the Speaker of the Assembly (legislature, and the majority leader in the State Senate. It was huge news in New York when one of them was arrested for fraud a few months back. I won’t go into the details, but if you’re number 4, you may as well not bother; I actually know a former # 4, and he hitched himself to Hillary because he wasn’t moving up any further within the state.
Don’t believe me? They let an upstater serve as Speaker last year … for 12 hours. That was between the fraudster and 20 year veteran from Manhattan, and the new guy from The Bronx. They let another upstater serve for 3 days in 1991. The last upstater to serve a long term as Speaker left office in 1959. Senate Majority Leaders are much the same, although Wikipedia doesn’t make it easy to figure out what they represent. Governors? Don’t even bother looking for one from Upstate.
I actually don’t have much of a problem with this set up. Politics is politics, and if New York was a success story I’d be lauding these troikas.
But it isn’t.
Upstate New York is a victim of a political system based around New York City. And really, Upstate isn’t a zombie at all: it’s more like the victim of a vampire … already cold and quickly fading away.
* Funny story. Many western Mormons do a pilgrimage of sorts: they go to the northeast and midwest to follow the trail that the early Mormons followed for the 20 years or so before they emmigrated to Utah. My friend and colleague GP did this with his family about ten years ago. While passing Buffalo, instead of going through on the interstate, they decided to bypass it on U.S. highways. This took them through the suburbs I know well. When he returned, he told me that he never understood why riding lawn mowers were invented until he saw how big the lawns were in that area. That’s one thing Upstate has going for it … nice lawns.
I like the personal story this tells: I grew up in a red place, moved to a pink place, then to a light blue place, and ended up in a dark blue place where I’ve stayed for 15 years now.
P.S. Truth be told … we moved from the pink place to dark blue for a year, but my job wasn’t renewed. So then we moved to the light blue place. And after 8 years there, we moved back to the same dark blue state.
Student SF appreciates that he's got a professor that likes Shameless as much as he does. Here's a list of other shows I like:
The rotation of shows for us these days is Game of Thrones, Bates Motel, The Returned, The Leftovers, Better Call Saul, American Horror Story, Vikings, True Detective, Married, Peaky Blinders, House of Cards, Downton Abbey, Mad Men, Orange Is the New Black, American Dad, and 30 for 30.
I've seen a lot of The Walking Dead because my wife likes it, but I've never cared for it much (although I can definitely see why others like it). I make her watch Nurse Jackie, although she'd rather not. I watched a lot of Dexter and Homeland because she liked them, and didn't complain.
If you're looking for older stuff to pick up, try Sons of Anarchy, Srugim, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Arrested Development, House, Wilfred, Breaking Bad, Treme, Hung, Little Britain, Big Love,Deadwood (I think the first season of that is the best thing that was ever on TV), Sopranos, Oz, Sex and the City, Tracy Takes On ..., Slings and Arrows, The Larry Sanders Show, The X-Files, Simpsons, or King of the Hill.
And the two best things that have never been available, but you should jump on if they ever get digitized are Dream On, and The Chris Isaak Show.
So what do you suggest we try out?
P.S. I regret that I didn't discover The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson until he'd been on for about 4 years. They never repeat stuff like that.
Yep. There's nothing like encouraging kids in science like forcing them to do something, and getting their parents involved in something frustrating.
Not to mention arbitrary. I think elementary schools keep a list of winners somewhere, and every family is guaranteed to have a winner at least once. In our family it was the vXgirl who went to regionals with a project about how environment affects fruit ripening. It wasn't bad at all ... but I wonder how much she learned from it.
For my part, I grew up in the 1970’s in a middle class home in probably the most affluent suburb of Buffalo. And, like Ernst, I had one pair of sneakers, one pair of shoes, and one pair of boots.
And here’s my bread bag story. My boots in the early 1970’s were those rubber ones with buckles that some now call galoshes:
(WTF: where the heck did that word — galoshes — come from anyway???)
Anyway, these are tough rubber and they don’t stretch (oh, and BTW, I had rubbers for my shoes too … and no, I didn’t hear about the other kind until I was about 16). So, what did we do when my growing feet wouldn’t fit in the galoshes any more? We put plastic bags over our feet to help them slide in. I was not the only kid that did this. But there weren’t a lot of us, and we did get yelled at, and by 1975 or so this little bit of Americana had passed. Now that I think about it, the unifying feature of the kids that wore plastic bags was not low income, but rather that their parents were in their 40’s instead of their 30’s or 20’s.
Flash forward to 2015. Our closets are so full that I periodically tear stuff out of them to see what treasures lie forgotten in the back. Last month I found winter boots back there. With the tag still on. As a dad, my first instinct was to start yelling at my kids, and I did. Then we checked the size. They were mine. I have no idea when I bought these boots, although I have needed something better for winter than my old hiking boots for several years now.
How far we’ve come in 40 years: from the relative poverty of boots I had to wear even though they were too small, to the complete lack of relative poverty of boots I don’t even remember that I own.
FWIW: I replaced the hiking boots with new hiking boots too, so now two pair of boots are doing the work that one old pair used to do.
And now for the less hectoring part of the story. I also found old pairs of kids’ boots. And I asked the kids to try them on to see if they still fit. The vXgirl, now 12, found boots from when she was 10. “I love those” she exclaimed. But she could no longer get them on. But her dad remembered the bread bag trick, and much to my wife’s consternation, my daughter was able to get one last wear out of an old pair of favorite boots.
Now it gets weirder. Forty years ago we used to save bread bags for reuse. I can remember that it was problematic not having them when we needed them. Yet for my daughter, all I had to do was search the freezer. There’s always a couple of bread bags in there, usually with a few slices of bread in them, but we no longer even finish the loaves any more: crusts rarely get eaten, and even slices that are a little mangled from carelessness just get pushed to the back.
I don’t necessarily agree with the rankings. Not because it makes my dogs look bad (it doesn’t), but because the number of categories used is smaller than the sample of dog breeds. To non-statisticians, this is a technical way of saying that the rankings are arbitrary.
Anyway, I like the way intelligence is shown, although a small number of dogs are shown in a 3/4 position, and I’m not sure that’s showing the data or is chartjunk.
I also like the shading of dog types, although until you’ve lived with different kinds, I’m not sure that this means much to people. I’ve mostly had herding dogs, and our terrier is quite different. And don’t get me started about the two sporting dogs we used to have: it was like living with that dog from the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons.
FWIW: We recently went back and got our third Shetland Sheepdog (aka “Sheltie”). Highly recommended. I am greatly amused that this one walks like the other two did. Shelties can and do run. But they have this determined way of walking around when they think no one is watching that I find endlessly fascinating to spy upon.
Without the name, this topic was a big source of jokes at a conference I went to last spring that was tangentially related to the Koch’s … through their financial support that made it easy for a bunch of business academics to get together and talk about what rocks our world for 4 days.
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