|[photo from http://taintedladylounge.blogspot.com/]|
But if it is overwhelming to be confronted directly by a big problem, it is truly dispiriting to not be allowed to talk about it. Such a prohibition seems to hang over Hudson today. In the wake of the defeat of the Saint Lawrence Cement plant, some Hudsonians now oppose all industry within Hudson's borders, regardless of its size, shape, or ownership, and will not tolerate any conversations on industry. They seek to ostracize those who suggest that industry might deserve a place in Hudson's future, and greet even the most neutral comment or question with suspicion. Any view that is not stridently anti-industry risks being construed as evidence that one is a closet SLC supporter, a hater of the natural environment, and an enemy of all that is good and beautiful about Hudson and the Hudson Valley. You're either with us or against us, the anti-industry crowd seems to think, and if you go looking for gray area between those two positions it’s probably because your secret goal is to sneak a 400-foot-tall toxic smokestack onto a nearby mountaintop.
I do not know what legitimate social, economic, cultural, or moral basis there could be for staking out an ironclad anti-industry position. Even ecology-based arguments against industry (e.g., prohibiting industry on the waterfront will allow the causeway to continue returning to a more natural state) are of dubious merit when considered in a broad global context. Banishing industry from Hudson simply means its negative impacts will be felt somewhere else in the world, because consumer demand for manufactured goods persists. And its new location likely will be within the borders of a nation that lacks the environmental oversight we are capable of in the United States. Which means that banishing industry from Hudson ultimately causes more ecological damage than it prevents. Which turns the ostensibly high-minded, ecology-based argument into little more than a provincial argument: "I don't want industry here because it's where I am."
NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard-ism) has a multiplier effect that even further endangers the natural environment: As one American city after another banishes industrial activity from its borders, those activities become consolidated in their eventual locations as larger, more singular entities. The resulting mammoth projects produce the worst environmental and aesthetic nightmares: Instead of five thousand scattered factories producing five thousand comparatively small sets of environmental issues, one enormous factory in one place brings more harm to its local environment than it can reasonably be expected to absorb.
This brings us to a painful irony: because industrial prohibition increases the scale of industrial development elsewhere, the eviction of industry from Hudson increases the likelihood, however incrementally, that some other small city will have to fend off an SLC-scale nightmare. Such would be the worst possible legacy for our victory over SLC: to have realized it at the expense of another city.
There is only one valid way for a city to assert an anti-industry argument, and that is to reduce its demand for manufactured goods to zero. Since Hudson is not doing this, we need to accept the moral and practical weight for how we live. We need to match our demand for manufactured goods with the responsibility for producing them. I don't mean we should have an automobile factory because many of us drive automobiles, or knitting mills because we wear sweaters. But we need to be willing to match our overall demand for manufactured goods with a willingness to manufacture some goods here in comparatively large numbers. We need to manufacture more storm doors or wigs or buttons than we use ourselves, as we once did, to keep our manufacturing responsibility on balance with what we demand from the rest of the world. To refuse to do so is to consider oneself, or one’s city, a special case. Perhaps you will want to argue that we are a special case, but every other municipality, county, and river valley in the country has its own reasons to make that same claim. We can either wait in line with the rest of them in the hope we will be anointed the holy one, or we can start getting realistic.
What does getting realistic mean? That we ought to accept the next outrageous SLC-scale proposal that comes along? Not at all. In fact, we need to get entirely past the ridiculous, widely accepted notion that economic development means "attracting" businesses from somewhere else. Real, meaningful economic development—the kind that not only provides jobs but that interweaves basic human needs for self-actualization, creativity, and cultural enrichment—has to come from the community itself. Further, if economic development is to be genuinely creative and meaningful, in the words of the late Jane Jacobs, “you can’t decide ahead of time what activities you want to see. Economic life is full of surprises, and if you decide what you’re going to base your economy on — what do you have to think about? Things that already exist. You’re ruling out innovation right away, and yet innovation is of the essence for a live and prospering economy.” I am sure Jacobs would have agreed that innovation is of the essence for a truly vibrant culture as well.
I arrived in Hudson at an interesting time, to say the least. It is a time at which the city is very, very unsure what it should become next. This uncertainty is itself a big part of what drew us here. The only certainty that seems to exist is that Hudson will not be the home of a mammoth cement plant. But the struggle to not be something is very different from a concerted effort to be something, to shape and pursue a genuinely inclusive vision of the future, to work as a community toward it, and to willingly accept the headaches that come with it. The anti-industry, arts and recreation-based vision of Hudson's future really isn’t a vision at all, it’s a simplistic extension of the what-we-don’t-want-to-be mode of thinking with a few innocuous activities thrown into the mix. The resulting picture appeals to a small, influential group of Hudsonians that do not directly depend on the making of things for their own well-being, and they somehow seek to translate this narrowness into a model for everyone else to adhere to. But if a gallery walk, some window shopping, and dinner at a waterfront restaurant constitute a full urban day for this set, it is incredibly self-centered of them to think that an urban community can subsist on such a narrow range of activities. I enjoy these activities myself, but to turn them into the totality of the future of Hudson is to subject much of the city to a dearth of employment opportunities, not to mention a first class yawn festival.
In my recent review of Miriam Silverman's Stopping the Plant, I ended with a question posed by the author toward the end of her book: Who gets to determine the direction of development in a community? I think most reasonable people would agree it should be the community itself—the entire community, not just a vocal fraction whose personal circumstances allow them to get out in front of and control the dialogue.
To this end, Hudson needs to embrace a patient, inclusive, human-scaled model of economic development that builds organically and creatively on who we are and what we have—warts and all—from the bottom up. And right now, we have people of ambition, talent, and need sitting idly all over our city (although more north of Warren Street than south of it) who could become productive businesspersons in their homes if they weren't forbidden to do so by intrusive regulations and the fears of the anti-industry set. Up and down State and Columbia Streets, in living rooms, bedrooms, and garages, residents could be opening repair shops, second hand stores, weaving studios, cafes, and a thousand other things we can't predict in advance, if only our economic development environment didn't force them to forever sit on their hands. In time, a few of these mom and pop entrepreneurs would outgrow their home locations and move to Hudson’s outlying industrial areas, where they would become exporters to other parts of the world. These industries would not only be in Hudson, they would be of Hudson.
What an exciting and original city Hudson would become, if only we were willing to let it be.