Friday, August 12, 2005

Jim Kunstler (and Esmond Lyons) Speak

Today, the Post Star published the story (copied below) covering James Kuntsler's visit to Rock Hill, this past Tuesday.

Although, I think that Maury Thompson, as always, did a pretty good job of relaying the pertinent information, I also think that the things left out (or, more likely, edited out) of the story show the full spectrum of the Post Star's political agenda.

We all know there is a mayoral race on. Five candidates are running. The Post Star has already made it their job to serve as a free advertising venue for Peter McDevitt and Bud Taylor, the two Republican candidates.

However, Leroy Akins, the Democratic candidate (and arguable front-runner) is being totally ignored. Esmond Lyons and Bill Berg (both running as independents) might just as well be running for Dogcatcher based on the insanely small proportion of newsprint the Post Star gives either of them. We're all used to reading the huge front page Sunday stories that chronicle the latest Peter & Bud story and then attach the tagline: "Leroy Akins, William Berg and Esmond Lyons are also running". Thats hardly balanced coverage of the race, folks!

For those who don't know who Kunstler is and who didn't attend, he is an author well-known for his criticism of the car culture and the ensuing suburban sprawl and destruction of traditional and meaningful architecture in many of our nation's historic down towns
("Geography of Nowhere").

Since the "Podunk-Star" refuses to talk to Esmond's campaign about development issues but is quick to give Bud Taylor whatever time he deems necessary to defend his son-in-law's Sheridan Avenue "plastic housing nightmare"; Since the Post Star refused to print Esmond's letter to the editor on the subject; Since the Post Star refuses to see Peak Oil and urban planning as key issues in this campaign (when they may, in fact, be the ONLY meaningful issues); since they consistently steer the public away from any other truly substantive issues in this race, it seemed that it was time to force their hand. We decided to invite Jim to come and speak. If they won't cover Esmond, maybe they'll cover Jim, we thought and they are saying many of the same things. It'll be good food for thought.

The attendance (not including employees or Jim or myself) was just about 70 people. It was standing room only and there were some people who didn't stay because they couldn't get a seat. I can only say that, given that level of interest, if the Post Star wishes to ignoring and downplaying the growth of a progressive community in Glens Falls, we will only be that much more successful at recruiting more people and at starting a new paper to compete with them out of spite. Not really a very smart way to look at things if you ask me .... but I guess they're not asking me, are they?

Here's what they left out of their story. It's very telling what they saw as fit to print and what they didn't.

Aaron Civic, an 11 year old fellow Green and singer/songwriter, played guitar and sang for about an hour. Although Aaron is too young to vote, I collected signatures with him last summer (so I think he's politically-engaged enough to be considered a Green). He sang covers of CCR and Dylan and the Rolling Stones (Sympathy for the Devil). He sang a wonderful tune that he himself wrote called "Driving in Circles" about how the American suburban landscape is so dreadfully uniform that it makes you think you are "driving in circles". Bravo, Aaron! Thanks for your performance. You were great! I'm just sorry the Post Star didn't have enough space to even mention your name, even in passing. Very strange and disappointing behavior on their part.

The Adirondack Progressives hosted this event. They are not even mentioned in this article, once ... anywhere. Thank you fellow members, for your endless support and hard work. I, and many other members of your community recognize your hard work and we love you for it even if the Post Star is too short-sighted (or mean-spirited) to value it as well. You are all great people and good friends. Just remember, they did exactly the same thing when we hosted Ralph Nader's visit to Glens Falls and when we put on a fantastic Martin Luther King Day Celebration. They literally pretended that these events happened all by themselves with no one orchestrating or planning them at all!

Thank goodness for the Chronicle and its far more honest reporting of what went on at both events. If it had been anyone else doing all this work to strengthen our community, our democracy and the progressive spirit,
the Post Star might have declared a day in their honor. We are destined to be ignored (by them) because we won't stand for their bias and we have "the nerve" to regularly ask them to cover things in a "fair and balanced" manner. That makes us "enemies" in their eyes, I guess, and singles us out for negative treatment.

The article made absolutely no mention of the fact that Jim had eaten dinner with Esmond Lyons and his wife, Danielle, just before arriving. Jim mentioned this while onstage and then proceeded to invite Esmond to come up and share the stage with him for Q & A since development issues are such an important part of this upcoming race and of Esmond's campaign. We did not pre-arrange this. Jim generously offered this from the stage and we honestly had no idea that he was going to. I thought that Esmond was great, but, then again, I'm admittedly biased in favor of intelligent and visionary mayoral candidates over insurance and real estate salespeople every time. ;-)

They also failed to mention Walter Combs who is running for his ward's city council seat and who also said some great things about development issues being ignored in this race by the media.

Not to say that I care much about the Post Star giving Rock Hill free press (in fact, I refuse to post their glowing review of my cafe because the byline is "E.D. Gourmet", a non-existent "person"). We are, in actuality, one of the few food businesses downtown (like Glen Street Bistro) that doesn't seem to have to kiss-up to the Post Star to be filled right up every lunch-time. I never look to them for free publicity in any way. The community has been overwhelmingly supportive of our cafe and I thank each and every one of you for that.

As a business owner, though, I just have to wonder if its really fair that if you join their business club (one I obviously don't belong to), you get a front page story with pictures in it every time you blow your nose (see: the embarrassingly boring story about coffee shops and massage last weekend or the congratulatory story about AngioDynamics dipping into our pockets by "securing" a $100,000 dollar "grant" - you would think they weren't just another corporate welfare recipient to hear Scott Donnelly tell the story).

For me, their stalwart critic (or much-needed unofficial ombudsman), there is no picture, no mention, no interview. They placed a bat-eradication story on today's front page instead of Cindy Sheehan's picture to represent her brave, motherly stakeout at Bush's Crawford Ranch. There's no figuring how they determine what is actually newsworthy and what is fluff. I'm still trying to figure that out but the preferential treatment of other GF businesses is kind of obvious to me and it is not fair. Expected, but never accepted.

Lastly, they left out the fact that Esmond Lyons was the only mayoral candidate to attend the event. NOT A SINGLE OTHER candidate showed up. Interesting, but again, NOT newsworthy. I would think that in a race where future development is the ONLY real issue (one that effects everything else exponentially), it is very telling that the Post Star does not want to give voice to those who wish to talk about it. Its also interesting that they don't want you to know that while one of the nation's premiere development critics was right here in downtown Glens Falls, Esmond was the only mayoral candidate who bothered to show up at all. I bet he was the only one who actually knows who James Kunstler is. Why don't they ask all the mayoral candidates what they know about development and development issues and let them speak. Wouldn't that be informative?

I'm sure when they have their little "bi-polar mayoral debate" in September (its just between the two Republican candidates), completely excluding all the others in the running, they'll ask Bud and Peter what they think. And ... won't that be nice?


Matt Funiciello
Two Political Parties = One Massive Corporation

Author offers views on Glens Falls’ future
Kunstler believes it has ‘basic armature’ of a futuristic city

By MAURY THOMPSON thompson@poststar.comPublished on 8/12/2005

GLENS FALLS -- Historic architecture, access to water, tree-lined streets and recreational trails that could be converted back to use as railroads: Glens Falls already has many of the features in author James Kunstler’s vision of a futuristic city. “The basic armature of the city is here,” he said in a talk Tuesday evening at Rock Hill Bakehouse Cafe. But the city is not without its defects, the most notable of which are the two office buildings at Civic Center Plaza on Warren Street, said Kunstler of Saratoga Springs, who writes books about urban planning and the environment.

Downtown buildings built in Glens Falls and other cities in the 1970s and ’80s don’t fit in, he said. “They land like UFOs, but they don’t go away,” he said. The building on Warren Street that previously housed Trustco Bank is built with the first floor above ground level, requiring the use of an ugly concrete handicapped access ramp that would be unnecessary if the first floor were at the ground level, he said. Having the first floor at ground level puts shops and restaurant at eye-level with pedestrians, and entices them to come in, he said.

Kunstler said that the ideal downtown building would have up to six stories, with retail on the ground floor and apartments and offices above. “Not all of the waitresses of the world are looking for single-family homes, despite what you hear on (Internet mortgage company) Ditech commercials,” he said. Kunstler also said the park at Civic Center Plaza should be planted with trees instead of “cartoon” plants. “Liking plants is not going to be enough of a solution to rescue your towns,” he said. Tree-lined streets expose neighborhoods to natural lighting when branches shed their leaves in the winter months, he said. Instead of closing Hudson Avenue, as Mayor Robert Regan and others suggested several years ago, city officials should seek to redevelop some buildings and ban some features such as chain link fences, he said. “Very bad idea,” he said, referring to closing the street that feeds the five-way intersection at Bank Square. “What the street needs is to be civilized.”

More than 75 people packed into the cafe to hear Kunstler talk about his latest book, “The Long Emergency.” The book talks about changing trends that will be influenced by high oil and gas prices. “The 21st century is going to be very much more about staying where you are, not motoring about,” he said. Kunstler predicted that people will move from suburbs back into cities and small towns. “Queensbury is going to be just as troubled as the major cities nearly 40 years ago,” he said. People who live in small towns will be isolated and work on small farms, he said, with centralized school systems replaced by neighborhood schools. “We will probably be lucky 30 years from now if kids get an eighth-grade education,” he said. The Internet won’t be the economic panacea it’s cracked up to be, he predicted, because of exorbitant shipping costs and electricity shortages.

Glens Falls may fare better than some cities because it has waterfalls that can generate electric power, he said. Communities along the Hudson River and state canal system may be attractive to people who travel by boat, he said. “Even places like Fort Edward and Hudson Falls will be more inhabitable,” he said. Instead of studying the feasibility of establishing high-speed rail service, government officials should be focussed on restoring conventional rail service, he said. “We have a rail system that the Bulgarian government would be ashamed of,” he said.

Kunstler said that Saratoga Springs “is creeping” into the future, but that chain hotels built in recent years don’t look much different from senior citizen apartment complexes. “They both look basically like pathology labs,” he said. He praised the Saratoga Springs city Planning Board for making developers redesign a proposed Hampton Inns & Suites at the corner of Lake and High Rock avenues. “The Planning Board, for once, said, “That’s not good enough; go back to the drawing board,’” he said.

Kunstler said he disagreed with some Saratoga Springs residents who are opposed to having rows of buildings on both sides of streets because it blocks scenic views. “It’s not about having a view; it’s about living on a great street,” he said.


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