Originally published February 2, 2012
“BACK TO OUR ROOTS,” Part I
BY JARED RODRIGUEZ
A forward thinking column on zoning and planning by North Rockland’s favorite son Jared Rodriguez, a recent graduate from the NYU Master’s program in Real Estate Development, as well as an adjunct professor at NYU
I was lucky to have known all of my grandparents and three great grandparents. My greatest memories from childhood were in visualizing the amazing stories they told me. Over and over I asked them to describe the world back then. I heard about the glowing storefronts in Haverstraw, the trolley cars in Yonkers, the ferries and steamships on the Hudson River, fast train rides to Spring Valley or to New York City.
I grew up in a place where I was physically isolated from my friends and neighbors. This is not unlike most of my childhood friends’ living situations at that time. We could build snow forts with a few friends in the asphalt cul-de-sac, and we all played little league and soccer. We couldn’t go anywhere without our parents’ cars except the woods behind my house or someone’s basement TV room.
On boring Sunday afternoons, I could look out my window and see not a single person. Every once in a while a car would careen up the hill, hurrying to pull into its garage. I would find myself imagining my great grandfather’s stories. I made pictures of my grandma’s memories in my head. There was a time when Americans took after dinner strolls around town tipping their hats to grandmas on front porches, calling out to the grocer as he closed his shop for the night. What happened?
I want to tell you about my grandparents’ stories and about these visions from the past. You likely have similar borrowed memories from your ancestors, or you might have your own experiences in old-fashioned America. I’ve met countless older people and great numbers of young people that are longing to spend some time in those memories.
A friend once implored me, “Old photographs of Rockland County are so beautiful. What happened?” Others have asked “How could we have given up that way of life?” And therein lies a delusion. We can live like that once more. And today, more and more Americans are choosing to do so.
A measurable shift in Americans’ housing preferences is taking shape. A lot of people my parents’ age have asked me why I believe that mom and pop shops have disappeared. I can’t find any evidence that they have. These moms and pops have moved their stores, they haven’t disappeared at all. They’re in Williamsburg and Hoboken, Asheville, North Carolina and even Detroit. They are following their customers. Since 2000, downtown Detroit’s population of educated professionals between the age of 25 and 35, a population ready to create families, has grown by a stunning 60 per cent. The numbers for parts of Brooklyn or Savannah, Georgia are even more staggering.
Young people with college degrees are 94 per cent more likely than their less-educated counterparts to live in these kinds of areas. And with these newly settled residents come nearby businesses to serve their needs and desires. This neighborhood-focused economic activity is shifting toward a certain kind of place: the downtowns and villages of our past. You might call these places “old-fashioned,” but they are leading all measures of modern economic growth in America. Take note. That’s a major shift from just 10 years ago, and can explain declines in house prices in car-dependent suburb and rural places. It seems that all those memories from our grandparents are growing roots, and that new generations are trying to relive “the good old days.” We can live like that once more. I’ll begin to explain how in my next column.