October 25, 2013

A Critique of Progress

By Stephon Boatwright In System Change

One of my favorite places to run, walk, and bike is alongside the Old Erie Canal Trail.  The Erie Canal was built nearly two hundred years ago in 1825 in order to connect the entierty of NY state with a more rapid form of transportation.  Long ago, for all the obvious reasons, it began to fall into disuse and eventually paved over, filled in, or has become overgrown.  For those of us lucky enough to live near one of the few restored sections, the canal presents an opportunity for tranquility right in our backyards.

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Unfortunately, the area where I live has decided to go the way of suburban sprawl; every road with a double-solid line has turned into a grease strip with the typical big box corporations, fastfood chains, and low-wage retailers.  The area surrounding the canal, which avoided “development” for some time, served as a hunting ground and kyack launch point for local residents until it was flattened last month, mostly to make way for another big box retailer.  The worst part is that just a 1/5 of a mile from the recently razed land is a collection of empty buildings from the last round of failed businesses, including a giant vacant space from the last big box that came and went.  All this for the 8th, seriously 8th grocery store in a 3 mile radius?  And the tragic irony of course (if I may put my poli sci degree to use) is that the jobs created will in all likelihood pay so low that the workers of these firms will end up near or below poverty, putting them on a series of welfare programs that divert funds from higher paying forms of investment (healthcare, infrastructure, etc), but that’s another story.

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I don’t really consider the above progress; I don’t know how destroying the natural world to create a human world that sucks could ever be seen that way.  I grew up pretty poor so I recognize another form of progress.  My mother is progress, doing what she had to do to raise a family up and out of poverty.  My grandmother is progress, a second generation Italian immigrant who sacrificed her golden years to get her grandson into the right schools and be the first one with a college degree in his hands.  That’s the type of progress seldom achieved, yet rarely recognized, even though I think taking kids from housing projects to college would have a better effect on the economy than another clothing store.  Until we realize that I’ll keep fighting the bulldozers that I can hear just in the distance from the canal, while being thankful for the real sources of progress in my own life:

Wasn’t I adorable?! So 90’s!

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