“I feel it more than ever, and in this perfect weather we’ll find a place together…”
I don’t think it is a secret that Elmira is ready for brighter days. As a small city not linked to a major metro area, it has been watching residents move, infrastructure age, and the tax-base shrink for the past four decades. If we were telling the city’s story in the style of VH-1’s “Behind the Music,” this part would be presented in grainy black-and-white footage.
But much like the Red Hot Chili Peppers bounced back and created some of their best music after losing a gifted guitarist to a drug overdose, Elmira is poised to begin a triumphant third act. Local leaders, responding to a groundswell of optimism and well-intentioned resentment of past mistakes, are navigating a transparent master-planning process. Skilled architects, planners, and facilitators have been meeting with hundreds of community members to gather information about what is and what can be.
They are even tapping into the minds of some of Elmira’s youngest residents by asking children at three local youth centers about their most-and least-favorite places. The drawings range from hilarious to heartbreaking, but perhaps more than anything on the flip charts and giant maps, they provide a glimpse into the needs of our community that can’t be measured by miles or tax receipts.
If a young child can honestly draw a picture of their school, church, or (maybe worst of all) father’s house and label it their least favorite place to be, we have work to do. The emotional infrastructure of a community is hard to improve, but just like roads/bridges/buildings… it surrounds everyone.
I would urge the community, especially those in positons of power, to recognize the role that the arts and human service organizations play in building that emotional infrastructure. You don’t have to look beyond the same drawings to see this illustrated. Child after child drew pictures of their youth centers as favorite places. Kudos to the Southside Community Center, Ernie Davis Community Center, and Frontline Community and Youth Center for being the bright spots in their lives.
Don’t get me wrong… I am thrilled to be part of the growing chorus of voices asking for downtown residences, safer parking garages, and (my personal favorite) a pedestrian-friendly Clemens Center parkway. Let’s just keep in mind why we need these things.