Losing childhood

516eab821a23a_preview-300My favorite part about going home is it never seems to change.

I am from Portville, New York. It’s a tiny town. When my sister and I were young’ns, our parents would drive to a larger town that was still small for toiletry items, clothing and other things that weren’t sold in Portville.

The larger town was Olean, New York. It’s home to about 15,000, although I seem to recall there being closer to 20,000. It must have shrunk in my absence.

That could explain why it still feels like 1995 when I go there … and that’s not a bad thing to me.

Now, I hear, city leaders are moving forward with a plan to change the looks of the place. From the Olean Times Herald:

 Under most recent vision for North Union, the street would be reduced to two lanes of traffic with a median for greenery running down the center of the road. Bike lanes would be installed in the outside of each lane of traffic. Parking would still be diagonal, but drivers would be required to back into each space.  Hatch-Mott-Macdonald designers also proposed eliminating all traffic signals at each of North Union’s intersections and installing roundabouts.

To me, this doesn’t sound terrible. It sounds like the way cities are headed. I lived in a handful of cities and towns in North Carolina that came to, at some point, label themselves “progressive;” they added bicycle trails and greenery to urban areas formerly dominated by asphalt. I now live in Greenwood, S.C., and there have been rumblings of similar things … more parks, public transportation and things not involving more fossil fuel than necessary. While it’s a bit behind what I saw in N.C., I believe it’s a matter of the old codgers dying off until this happens. City leaders are listening more and more to young professionals; they want not only facilities and places to help them keep in shape – they want to keep in shape while living their lives (being able to safely ride a bicycle to work, for instance).

I’m assuming something similar is happening in Olean.

I DON’T KNOW if this is going to work. I know Olean made national news for its “America versus Obama” signs that decorated residents’ lawns. I know I am facebook friends with folks from my hometown who believe abortion is murder, homosexuality is a choice and government officials will one day knock on their doors to take their guns.

As a guy who hangs out with cyclists and knows how many of them feel about the President, abortion, gay marriage and guns, I’m pretty sure there’s a good number of Olean residents who don’t want to pay for bicycle lanes and extra trees.

But it’s not my concern. I don’t live there and, despite my recurring instinct that anyplace near Olean is the best place for me, it’s unlikely I shall return for any more than a visit …

… which is why I like Olean being the 1990s time capsule it is.

  • anytime I want to step in my old footprints, I visit Olean
  • anytime I don’t want to feel like the world’s only Buffalo Bills fan, I visit Olean
  • anytime I want to feel like I’m 17, I visit Olean
  • anytime I want to be surrounded by folks who are direct, sincere and selfless, I visit Olean

Then I get to leave.

IF I DID NOT get to see the Olean I saw as a child, only the memories of my childhood would remain. That’s unsettling. For some reason. I don’t know. I’m 30 and have a 7-year-old child … my own childhood should be the last thing I ponder. Ever.

Or should it?

Is it so wrong to take advantage of something that triggers thoughts of Poppy’s, Fay’s and snowy Sundays?

No, but it is wrong – selfish, actually – to feel against a plan that would move forward a place stuck in the past for my own benefit. Fact is, more people will ride bikes if there are lanes for them … and if more people are seen riding bikes regularly, more people will start riding bikes. Fact is, studies have shown greenery in the mundane parts of the city (major roadways) relieves the stressfulness of mundane activities (driving). Fact is, making cars back into parking spaces means it will be easier for drivers to pull out.

Fact is, this plan would not be good only for Olean, but every city in the world.

I’d trade the chance to relive my childhood for that.

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One Response to Losing childhood

  1. susan chalker says:

    Very good article Justin. I hadn’t heard about the purposed changes…but I do disagree with some things. I like knowing that Olean will be the same as it has always been, although I have seen many more changes than you have, .the same people will be in the same places and thats comforting. I like the stop lights right where they are…I also wonder what they will do with the snow when they plow. Its always gone in the middle and been picked up in trucks when they got to it…I do agree with the bike lanes and think they should have been there sooner… It seems to me that some towns should stay as close to the same as they can, because good old fashioned HOME towns are fast disappearing…But since I don’t get back as much anymore, it really doesn’t matter what I like….[smile]…
    if I could relive my life back in the 50’s as i lived then, I would be there in a flash…

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