It was with a mixture of concern and apprehension that I read the oped column in the Nov. 27 edition of the Finger Lakes Times, “Abandoning a floating ship” by Jackie Augustine.
My wife and I retired to Geneva just over a year ago and have very much enjoyed our time here. We chose Geneva for some of the reasons the column points out as being abandoned by the City Council and mayor.
We moved from Maine, leaving behind acreage and a historic home that we restored ourselves. Now, before you roll your eyes and talk about an “outsider” moving in and commenting without any background or knowledge of the area, I lived for years in the Central New York area and my family roots in Western New York are long and deep. I went to high school during the economic heydays of Rochester and Syracuse. My undergraduate degree is from Syracuse University and my doctoral work was done there as well. I know the area as a historian and resident.
But back to the point.
My wife and I looked for years up and down the East Coast for a comfortable place to retire; a walkable, safe community that offered a cultural life. We did not want a large metro area but a smallish city. It had to have entertainment possibilities with a college that offered sports and a library where I could continue to research and read. We looked for parks to relax and walk in and restaurants with a variety of offerings. Most of all, the community had to show signs of stability or economic recovery from the recession. No area seemed to meet our desires until we found Geneva. I had remembered traveling through the area as a child, and we decided it was worth a look.
The more we looked, the more it fit the bill. We visited each season and with every trip what struck us was the engagement of the community in elevating the city in every aspect. It was an engagement that was lacking everywhere else. All cities had a government lead program of some sort, and all were failing because the community was not invested in the plan. Drugs were rampant in their downtowns and neighborhoods; education systems were failing. They had posters and slogans expressing hopes but residents conveyed skepticism about their leaders knowing what they were doing, aside from allowing developers to buy cheap and sell after taking advantage of tax breaks and sweet deals, while destroying the uniqueness of the community. And nothing at all was said about the neighborhoods.
In contrast, Geneva had a plan — the Comprehensive Plan — and it emphasized the neighborhoods and the inclusion of residents. It identified them as major stakeholders and actors. There was a focus on education and a partnership among the stakeholders including Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Best of all, as we spoke with people everywhere in town, they were aware and excited about the future and their role in it. The Smith and the undeveloped public park at the end of the lake sealed the deal.
We saw the downtown and lakefront as drivers for economic stability and future growth, but the neighborhoods were the key. Events in the neighborhoods have made it easy for us to meet and greet and get to know people. And here was a city and leadership that recognized that. Here was an energy and a plan that no other area had. We wanted to be part of that and so we decided to settle here and have not regretted the decision (our neighbors are great, by the way).
Set aside or ignore the role that the neighborhoods play and can play at your peril. That is the example we have seen in other locales as they look for quick fixes that bare no results. Geneva does not need another plan led by politicians with the neighborhoods in tow. It needs the partnership envisioned in the plan, and that will take time to bear fruit. The Geneva plan is not a quick fix but an ongoing, evolving one and the role of the neighborhoods as outlined can increase with help and time.