A forward thinking (and backward looking) monthly column on zoning, planning, and development by Jared Rodriguez, a Stony Point native and recent NYU grad schooled in civil engineering, architecture, and real estate development.
Last month I discussed the world that my grandparents and great-grandparents left behind. All that survives of it are our old downtowns, fading black and white photos, and family memories. We love those old pictures; of families strolling past storefronts, of the grocer sweeping the sidewalk, of American flags covering every surface of Main Street in Haverstraw during parades. We had beautiful buildings, breathtaking scenery, fast transportation (Nyack to Midtown in 30 minutes flat), and tight communities where neighbors stopped for chats on front porches. We had pride for our rich history and our strong traditions. We have a lot to remember and a lot to long for these days.
Our Main Streets were replaced with malls like the Nanuet Mall (now defunct) and the colossal mall in West Nyack. We don’t walk to shops. We speed past strip malls and tarmac on arterial roads so that we can smell the fresh air for a short turn in a parking lot before entering the neon and concrete-gilt bowels of the teeming shopping center. Why should we spend time downtown? After all, the parking is inconvenient, you might have to walk too far . . . you might get rained on. While these issues are bothersome, what’s worse? Using an umbrella or physically isolating your children from their community and from the freedom to play with friends or to roam the streets to gain some of that old-fashioned wisdom and common sense? Today’s parent might be horrified at this prospect, but there were criminals and bad people back then, as there are now. Our children are heavier than ever too. Their isolation is the main reason for this.
I know too many kids that are trapped in their parents’ basement these days. I was one of them. I played on the computer, sometimes played in the snow with the three or four neighborhood kids that were within walking distance. I couldn’t walk to pizza or a baseball field. I really couldn’t do much unless my parents drove me to planned activities and sports. Not until I had my drivers’ license did I learn what our County was really about. I had some sort of freedom, but that freedom came with a cost. I worked two jobs outside of school. Most of my money burned up in my gas tank. So I didn’t really have freedom – I was a slave to the Sunoco station. Twenty dollars here, fifteen there; not much left over for anything else.
And then I put two and two together. For me, it was a revelation. I loved my family’s old photographs. I loved Downtown Nyack – Main Street looked a lot like what it was in those black and white pictures. Haverstraw had potential because everything was still there too. It hadn’t been torn down like so many other places. There were stores and restaurants and coffee shops where I could meet my friends. When I was old enough to hang out in bars, there were those too. You could even live near these places, within walking distance. We had “real towns” in Rockland that a lot of my friends and family and neighbors were ignoring. Why didn’t I live in a place like this? What’s the difference between Route 59, or Stony Point, and Downtown Nyack? Wait until next month; I think I’ve figured it out. In the meantime, think about how connected you are to your neighbors and your community when you’re inside your car, driving around the County.