Two of my favorite cities are Boston and Baltimore. Both stuffed to the rafters with history and art, both with bustling commercial districts and quiet residential sections. Right next to the charm and comfort, shadows and grit; a block from the picturesque, streets you know at a glance are not good for walking.
Good, however, for film drama. Set in Baltimore, The Wire is TV’s best street-level look at the American city since Hill Street Blues. And look at the movies recently to come out of the Boston area: Mystic River, The Departed and the one we watched last night, Gone Baby Gone.
So, how about this for a story line. Wife of a former police chief is arrested in an undercover drug investigation. She and her son are charged with importing cocaine and heroin, and helping to managed its distribution. The chief himself is implicated, among other things, in discussing how to cope with police raids which confiscate large portions of their inventory.
And I didn’t even have to go to Boston or Baltimore. It’s right here in Schenectady. Yes, the GE City of Light, foster home of Edison, eighteenth-century gateway to the West. A plot worthy of Boston or Baltimore.
The former chief and his family have not been convicted, so must be presumed either to be innocent or to have a credible explanation for the incriminating evidence already made public.
But, having hauled Schenectady and the foibles of its bureaucracy into the spotlight, let me shift focus a bit. Over there, just to the left. That dark building, with all the glass, and the trees around the front and one side. It’s the main branch of
the Schenectady County Library. The cultural and, for many, the social hub of the downtown region. About 1400 people come here every day, for the books and the magazines and the music and the movies.
The Library Board — under heavy pressure from the County Legislature — wants to expand and upgrade the building. A $7 million project, expected to take 18 months. In order to expedite the project, they plan to close the library for the duration. Close it, as in shut it down completely. For a year and a half.
There’s been a steady stream of public outrage, some of it, I’m proud to say, generated by a piece I wrote last Sunday for the Op-Ed page of the Daily Gazette. It was in the form of an open letter to the Trustees of the Library, and it began like this.
With all due respect, ladies and gentleman, have you lost your minds? You want to shut down the main branch of the library for a year and a half, and with only one month’s notice?
Stop and think a moment, something you apparently failed to do earlier, when the current problems might have been avoided, or minimized. We are not talking about a drugstore or a gas station, whose regular customers need travel only an extra block or two for aspirin and oil. We are talking about the public library, the hub of cultural life — and for many people, social life — in the center of the city.
You report that traffic (a mean, impersonal term for “people who want to read books or listen to music”) at the main branch is 1,400 a day. Can we afford to turn away that many people, people who are, and I’m choosing my words carefully, people who are the lifeblood of the city?
The rest of the piece is still on line at the Gazette, but you can pretty well catch the drift of things from this much. Having invested a great deal of time and energy and money into luring people downtown, the city fathers — or their elected representatives — now want to close down the major attraction for a year and a half. Shut down so that, among other things, they can install a coffee shop and a drive-through window.
A coffee shop and a drive-through. Am I missing something, or is there a whiff of cognitive dissonance in the air? I will keep an eye on what’s happening down there.