In the late ’60s, the Inquiring Taxpayer had a close look at two vastly different worlds that sat only a mile apart.
The first world comprised the concrete canyons of Wall Street. In this world, masters of the universe moved billions of dollars in their land of Xanadu.
The second world was the Two Bridges Neighborhood of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. In this world, junkies moved packets of drugs at the Madison Street subway station, and impoverished people huddled for warmth in tenements often lacking in heat.
I served as a VISTA — Volunteer In Service To America — volunteer in this second world. And I have never forgotten the cruel disparity between it and the other world so teasingly nearby.
Shortly after my time in NYC, I moved to Canandaigua. Canandaigua had many attractive features, among them a sense of community that, while of course not perfect, did seem monumentally more inclusive than what I had seen in New York. Canandaigua had neighborhoods, families with deep roots in the city, a strong network of civic and volunteer organizations, and, perhaps most importantly, an almost magical lakefront to which citizens of all stripes would repair for a variety of activities.
At Roseland Park, young and old enjoyed the simple pleasures of an old-fashioned amusement park. Roseland Bowl brought all manner of people together in numerous bowling leagues. Lake Shore Drive was dotted with restaurants and taverns. Caruso’s offered lobster thermidor, Polimeni’s spaghetti and meatballs.
One could go more casual at the Rib Pit, hit a bucket of golf balls at the adjacent driving range, or go to the drive-in theater up the road. In the summer Kershaw Park was a veritable beehive of activity.
Like an enchanted jewel, Canandaigua Lake knitted the community together and attracted visitors from throughout the area. The lake opened its arms to people of the Wall Street and the Lower East Side variety without distinction.
Something happened over the years. Most of what I describe remains only as dusty memories. For many, even the memories have been replaced by dismal accounts of a lakefront consisting largely of vacant fields and a shabby trailer park. Seemingly overnight, something wonderful slipped away.
There are those who caution against living in the past, and in this case, that caution has been coupled with a quest for new development at the northern end of Canandaigua Lake. Development that will attract a new generation of tourists. Development that will involve upscale apartments, condos and retail enterprises. Canandaigua will, accordingly, become a destination spot.
To woo the lords of the new development, Canandaigua proceeded to assert eminent domain for the transfer of private property and offered enticements such as preferential tax breaks and fixed assessments. The latest enticement proposed is to allow the building of private docks in an area currently belonging to the public. This requires the city to seek approval from the state legislature.
With the new development, ironically enough, has come a concern for engendering the very transition that formerly existed between downtown Canandaigua and the lakefront, a transition hardly encouraged by the preferential treatment so obviously accorded one side of the equation. It is to their credit that most city leaders see the need for this transition. In truth, desire and conception are two different things. Joni Mitchell was so right in singing that “you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.”
Developers dazzle municipal leaders with dreamlike architectural renderings and spreadsheets that foretell increased tax base and other economic treasures. They do not speak of transition, of encouraging community cohesion, of preserving and/or regenerating the values that have made Canandaigua a tremendous place to live and to raise children. It is up to us to speak of these things.
In supporting the now-stalled Pinnacle North development’s last demand for preferential tax treatment, one person called it a “community project.” I have since wondered: How so? When and how have we sought to define this new development as a community project? In what way will it knit together the multiple elements of this community? In what way is it designed to replace the social melting pot that once existed down by the lake? And is the other development, the Hotel and Resort, also part of this new community project? How does granting special docking rights, rights that call for state approval, feed into a one-community concept, if such a concept is even contemplated?
Perhaps there is still time to think of the lakefront in terms other than increased tax base and tourists. Perhaps not. Lower Manhattan was not pre-destined to be divided into two separate worlds. Nor is Canandaigua.
While it is true, as Jay Gatsby found so tragically, that we cannot repeat the past, it is also true that we abandon the best values of the past at great peril. The lake birthed a fine community. The lake has for many many years opened its arms to people high and low asking only that we enjoy it. Times change rapidly. Lakes do not, at least not of their own accord.
For all its majesty, a lake the size of ours was not created with the ability to adapt to changing times. That is left to us. A community can use its collective wisdom and care to adapt in ways that preserve what it values most. Vital decisions should be considered in that context. If not, we may lose both our lake and our community.
Joe Nacca of Canandaigua is a frequent contributor to the Daily Messenger.