I’m probably a natural pessimist when it comes to fortune (financial or otherwise), but many of us are not going to be better off next year than we were four years ago. All over the place you hear anecdotes about how people have stopped shopping for cars and handbags and home improvement items at Lowe’s. This makes me feel like a contrary, because I’m doing some modest redecorating (new paint, new floors, etc). It’s not because I’m flush with cash, or contemplating trying to put my house on the market; just a realization that I’m going to have to live here through this at least, and if I don’t make the house feel a little fresher and more attractive on the inside, then, psychologically, a bad economy going to be that much harder to get through. I’m told this is common behavior in times of uncertainty, some sort of nesting instinct.
Now it’s easy to say “told you so” about the latest DestiNY development — Bob Congel is crying uncle on the big new Beanstalk Arms, allegedly over having trouble finding financing. (Things are indeed tough all over, but one wonders why DestiNY — surely a very well-known and well-vetted project in banking circles — has been supposedly denied financing, even in this challenging economic climate. Could it be that businessmen outside of Onondaga County’s kiddie pool also question the sanity of 1,300 hotel rooms on the shore of a polluted lake?)
True, deals are going sour everywhere; and Syracuse may not even be really as bad off as some of the more benighted exurbs of California or Arizona these days. But I still think people in Syracuse refuse to acknowledge the local badness that has been going on for years. Maybe it is a self-protective mental strategy borne of the harsh winters. But it’s also true that people trapped in dysfunctional situations have a real gift for never saying die. You can pound on their grasping fingers with a hammer and they will just keep hanging on to the precipice, clinging to a grim hope that, even if something good doesn’t happen to them — no helping hand outstretched their way — something bad will happen to the forces that are exploiting or generally making life difficult for them. In a way, it’s magical thinking. But how can you condemn it wholly, when at least once per year (every spring with the snowmelt), the strategy has been known to work?
It could be that the helping hand is here, and trying to pry the feverish fingers off the cliff to facilitate a miraculous rescue. If so, then what we have here is a failure of trust, and that’s a potentially mortal wound not easily healed. A lack of trust is a soul-deep dilemma, not just between one business party and another, or between two or more kinds or classes of citizens, but between a person and their God, or between a community and its better angels.
And this community is pretty far gone into those depths.
Trust has to be earned; you can’t just sweep into town with a Powerpoint presentation or a drum-banging parade and expect a seriously trust-challenged community to hand it over to you. Hectoring the people over their lack of enthusiasm does not inspire trust either.
Recent years of civic can-do-ism — of which Congel’s plans/schemes are legitimately part — have been equal parts pure vision and irrational froth. Money makes everything better, but paradoxically makes everything worse. Easy money helps a pure vision, but also can turn those visions silly and self-important, particularly in the corrupted financial system this nation and world have been operating in especially for the last decade. This froth has come from a certain illusion of wealth (what is happening to those billions of writedowns? where did this money go?) that has only recently trickled down to our humble and overlooked corner of the country.
Some of the circuses, as marvelous as they’ve been, are going to be rolling up the tents and leaving town in the not too distant future, following the money, as circuses do. Left behind will be just “us” (in all our lack of trust for each other), and no small measure of conflicted feelings of relief (at yet another passover), tinged with disappointment.
The trick before us now, as the money goes away (and it is going away now, in all its various forms — even if some people haven’t seen the writing on the wall), is to seize the moment and correctly separate those visions worth keeping, from the sheer exuberant nonsense. The temptation to throw out baby with bathwater will be very strong. But they have been intertwined together for so long, that the act of separating them out is going to be very difficult and complicated. And that’s the sort of work that only people who trust each other can do.