Ask AOA: Why are so many people so intent on knocking down the Capital Region?

rain puddles

Are we just under a cloud here?

We got an email this week that you might consider a philosophical Ask AOA question. It's a little bit longer -- the whole thing is after the jump -- but here's the key part from Anonymous (who asked us to not use her/his real name):

As an on-again-off-again resident of the Capital Region (and Upstate NY in general) - now permanently here - I can't help but feel that this is one of the most negative places in the country. Every single day I hear people complaining about anything and everything... the weather is terrible (too hot! too cold! oh my God - it's raining! it might snow this winter! oh the humanity!!!), the taxes are too high, the government is corrupt, blah blah blah blah. It's coworkers. It's on the radio. It's on local TV. It's on blogs. It's everywhere. Yes - there are those that actually think for half a second about all the great things in this area, but it's oh-so-much easier to just moan about how everything is terrible. ...
My question: why are so many people so intent on knocking down the Capital Region, Upstate and NY in general instead of trying to build it up and improve it? Is it the unique political landscape (NYC vs. Upstate)? Is it from generation after generation passing along the legend of the terribleness of NY? Is it because Upstaters don't get out enough to see what other places are like - and how life is good here? Is it really just taxes? Or, are people here just predisposed to being pessimistic?

As Anon explains in the full question, she/he acknowledges there are problems here, but also that there are a lot of good things, too.

We've thought about this a bit, as well. It's not really fair to generalize that "people" are one way or another some place. But for whatever reason, it does feel at times that sentiment here tends toward the pessimistic more often than not.

So, any thoughts for Anonymous? Ideas for how things could be different? Please share.

Here's the full Anonymous question:

As an on-again-off-again resident of the Capital Region (and Upstate NY in general) - now permanently here - I can't help but feel that this is one of the most negative places in the country. Every single day I hear people complaining about anything and everything... the weather is terrible (too hot! too cold! oh my God - it's raining! it might snow this winter! oh the humanity!!!), the taxes are too high, the government is corrupt, blah blah blah blah. It's coworkers. It's on the radio. It's on local TV. It's on blogs. It's everywhere. Yes - there are those that actually think for half a second about all the great things in this area, but it's oh-so-much easier to just moan about how everything is terrible.
And today is yet another opportunity for everyone to vent. With the announcement that FanDuel and DraftKings are illegal in NYS (which, who knows if it'll even stand and/or what will happen at other states or at a national level) the cries about terrible New York are shouted even more loudly than the day before. Talk starts up about how life would be so much better in the promised land of North Carolina (or, name about any other state in the Southeast or West) where life is free of regulation, every day is sunny and 75, politicians are straight, taxes are non-existent and everyone lives happily ever after.
I've long been a supporter of Upstate NY (really the whole state) and how this is an awesome place to live - but after about 15 years of making that argument on nearly a daily basis it's starting to wear thin. I get it... it's not perfect here, but there are a lot of great things that other areas don't offer (my rant is long enough, so I'm not going to list them). My wife and I have been able to build successful careers, always have cool things to do on our weekends, have a nice place to live in a great neighborhood, etc. - what I think most Americans would want for their lives. I just wish more people felt that way.
My question: why are so many people so intent on knocking down the Capital Region, Upstate and NY in general instead of trying to build it up and improve it? Is it the unique political landscape (NYC vs. Upstate)? Is it from generation after generation passing along the legend of the terribleness of NY? Is it because Upstaters don't get out enough to see what other places are like - and how life is good here? Is it really just taxes? Or, are people here just predisposed to being pessimistic?

Comments

Some people, by nature, are either a glass-half-empty kind of person rather than a glass-half-full. Count me in the former. The writer here, to his or her credit, is in the latter.

That said, people complain about the Capital Region, and New York state, because they have really real complaints. The taxes, property taxes in particular, really truly actually are inordinately high - in some locales, among the highest in the entire United States. The business climate is hostile. The politicians, many of them, not all by any means, really truly actually are corrupt in their behavior. And those who seek to reform and correct these problems are too frequently met with indifference and a comfortable state worker or yankee sense of endurance that, oh well, we'll all be okay. Let's just go hiking this weekend. Which is always pleasant.

No, we will not be okay. No, the problems, swept under rugs for so many years are not going away. We lack leadership and a philosophical, collective, consensus sense of prosperity and belief we live in a place headed in a good direction.

I disagree with the premise. People don't complain in the Capital District any more/less than anywhere else.

People like to complain.

Might want to consider hanging out with different people?

Its absolutely because residents are totally beholden to downstate voting interests and suffer the consequences without much say in the matter. We are trapped with the highest taxes in the nation and limited economic opportunity.

The private sector is too anemic to provide anyone with a shot at the big time. And for most the labor market competition is a state job, so no one feels the need to provide real raises. What are you going to do, go work for the state and get a 1.5% raise every year!

It's a great place if you like muddling through pretty much the way things are. If you have any real ambition beyond political office you're better off leaving.

It's a great place to live. I feel like people in the Northeast are bit crusty/salty and so it's just northeast nature to complain. Notice how no one smiles or says hi when you walk by (but when you go on vacation in South Carolina everyone says hi and its like what is this place!?!. It's just our nature. It's easier to be negative. New Yorkers aren't a friendly breed. We are a hybrid elitist/perfectionist/overregulated. Upstate is better.

I too have often been taken aback by the negativity about Albany and the surrounding area. Every place you go will have its problems and its assets - why waste your energy focusing on the parts you dislike?

In high school, I had a great science teacher who was also a story teller. He told us this folktale that has really stuck with me and if you have a minute it might be worth reading:

The Two Travelers and the Farmer

A traveler came upon an old farmer hoeing in his field beside the road. Eager to rest his feet, the wanderer hailed the countryman, who seemed happy enough to straighten his back and talk for a moment.

"What sort of people live in the next town?" asked the stranger.

"What were the people like where you've come from?" replied the farmer, answering the question with another question.

"They were a bad lot. Troublemakers all, and lazy too. The most selfish people in the world, and not a one of them to be trusted. I'm happy to be leaving the scoundrels."

"Is that so?" replied the old farmer. "Well, I'm afraid that you'll find the same sort in the next town.

Disappointed, the traveler trudged on his way, and the farmer returned to his work.

Some time later another stranger, coming from the same direction, hailed the farmer, and they stopped to talk. "What sort of people live in the next town?" he asked.

"What were the people like where you've come from?" replied the farmer once again.

"They were the best people in the world. Hard working, honest, and friendly. I'm sorry to be leaving them."

"Fear not," said the farmer. "You'll find the same sort in the next town."

Yes the taxes are onerous. But I like it here. I think it's a combination of loving the change of seasons, New York City, and having Stockholm Syndrome.

This is something I've wondered for so long. People really do seem to be much more negative here than in most places. This is an excellent place to live, pretty much regardless of your preference. There are challenges like with everywhere else, but we have so much going for us here that it often blows my mind to see the inordinately persistent negativity.

One thing that I have noticed is that those who grew up here and have lived their whole lives in the area are much more negative than those who (like myself) moved here from other areas. This I can understand to an extent.

I think Amelia's comment about the "saltiness" (what a great term!) of the Northeast, even if I couldn't disagree more on the friendliness differences between here and the south. I exchange hellos on the street almost constantly. (Not to mention, in the South, they may be friendly to your face, but they're also much more intolerant and eager to persecute others.) I'll take the honest saltiness over routine discrimination any day.

I have lived in the Capital District for over 15 years. I do think people complain here more than other places I have lived. Some of this is good - in places where people are boosters all the time, real problems are swept under the rug. But I agree with anonymous - it does get tiresome.

Another odd thing about this place is that natives tend to complain about it more than transplants, the opposite of other places I have lived. I have talked about this with other transplants, and our hypothesis is one anonymous lists above - people don't get out much and know what it is like to live other places.

We may talk about high cost of living, but compared to other places that have similar professional opportunities for highly educated people (NYC, Chicago, Twin Cities, Silicon Valley), this place is cheap. There is such a wide variety of things to do, much of it cheap. We have urban, suburban, rural and wilderness within a short drive. Despite what people say, it is much easier to have your voice heard than in other places. Excellent schools and libraries, although the school thing is in danger of slipping with recent SED activities. Well, we transplants could go on and on, but doubt it will make a difference in people's opinions since I have already tried.

EDIT: "I think Amelia's comment about the "saltiness" (what a great term!) of the Northeast, even if I couldn't disagree more on the friendliness differences between here and the south." should continue: "has quite a lot of merit, and may be one of things I strangely enjoy most about the region."

If commenting after only a few hours of sleep, I recommend drastically increasing your coffee intake. :)

Ask AOA: Why are people complaining about why people complain so much?

I’d be inclined to say, “misery loves company.” But there may be more to it.

A few years ago a researcher in BC found that some people are genetically predisposed to see the world darkly. The study found that known gene variant (ADRA2b deletion) caused individuals to per-ceive emotional events—especially negative ones – more vividly.

Whether it’s the comradery of negativity or a genetic predisposition to being in a gloomy mood, people here in the Capital Region are a pretty negative lot. Take a drive on one of our public roads and one can witness the disdain and rage people have for each other in a just a few minutes. I often wonder if passed in the grocery aisle if they would have the same middle finger waving, insult riddled reactions or they just save it all up for taking out old people and small children on Black Friday.

You know that friend you had growing up, the one who always talked about how awesome they were at a video game, riding their bike, eating pizza, that sort of thing. And you remember when you finally had a chance to see just how awesome they were, and they were awful. That friend was the one who always talked a big game and delivered little.

That is what Albany is like, and it's quite possible that after living here for years and years and listening to all the "Great stuff" Albany was going to deliver, and then see if fall short, time and time again. Maybe it's just people who are fed up with how this place can't seem to deliver on the big promises.

It's because everything revolves around the NYC/downstate area. Everything is done with their best interest in mind. Meanwhile, upstate NY always gets the short end of the stick. The taxes are high, the economy is crap, the jobs just aren't there like they need to be, the crime and drugs are awful. The entire area is depressed. Sure, if you don't mind living in a high crime area, you can find a somewhat reasonable rental or purchase price. But most safe places to live jump up quite a bit in price. And considering how much of the upstate population is in poverty, the people who can't afford higher rents to ensure their safety, are general priced right out of the opportunity. And along with that, they get priced into areas further away from cities, further from jobs, and deeper into areas where employment is lacking. If you're in poverty, upstate does a pretty good job of making sure you can't get out of the situation easily. You can head to smaller cities an hour or so away from the capital and find cheap rent, but then there's a lack of jobs if you can't commute to the capital district, and there's a severe lack of entertainment; your options are outdoors, chain store shopping, bars, or drugs. You can head into high crime areas of the bigger cities for cheaper rent, but then you're playing with your safety, and it's not affordable enough to let you have spending money to get out and enjoy the entertainment. Or there's option number 3, where you end up on gov programs and struggle to get off them (and yes, some people abuse the system too). Upstate does a very good job of making sure that if you're in poverty, it's very difficult to make progress.

Yes, there's lots to do, and lots to see, and the outdoors are great. However, actually living and surviving in the area is a struggle, and that results in the negativity. It's a very love/hate relationship. You can experience how amazing it can be to live here (the variety, the outdoors, etc), while still being realistic and realizing that no matter where you live, it's not cheap. Everything will draw you right in, but if you don't have a reasonable income, good luck fully enjoying it and remaining happy.

The state has its good points, where policies benefit the entire state, and are better than other states. But it also has many negatives that are solely a result of money being funneled to NYC because apparently that's the only place that matters.

Having lived in several different states, everyone complaints about there own version of these items. everywhere.

I much prefer the "saltiness" of north-easterners to the "smile-to-your-face-stab-you-in-the-back" southerners. I like to know exactly where I stand with people.

Albany has terrible self-esteem, largely because it is generally perceived poorly, if at all, by outsiders. My friends in NYC think I live near the Canadian border or in Buffalo. Most people only know of the Empire Plaza and the bus station, which don't necessarily make uniformly positive first and maybe only impressions. Albany is synonymous with corrupt, ineffective politics for many. Even if you explain that cost of living is pretty good and there's amazing Brooklyn-esque brownstones and blah blah and just feels like one doth protest too much. So I think we complain out a collective shame imposed on us from outside, when secretly, and really, we love it here.

I tend to agree with many of the previous posters that people can be negative because of the taxes, weather, etc. but I also have a different take on it.

I think a lot of it stems from the fact that people can see how truly great this area CAN be, but constantly fails to live up to its potential. I think people are extremely frustrated by the lack of vision among local leadership to make this happen.

How many times over the past 10-15 years have major announcements been made about various projects, etc. that can truly be transformative, but never see the light of day? I can think of dozens.

Another example: Global Foundries & the SUNY Poly complex were supposed to help transform the Capital Region into the next Silicon Valley. Hasn't happened. Sure, there has been some growth in the technology sector, but nowhere near the amount that was promised. To make matters worse, these have all been at the taxpayers expense. After seeing this time and time again, it is hard to be optimistic that anything truly great will happen.

Personally, I'm somewhere in the middle. I am generally a Capital Region booster, but I can also see the validity of many of people's complaints. If more people turned their complaints into positive action, maybe someday the Capital Region can become the place so many wish it to be.

"Ideas for how things could be different?"

Well for one, Uber might help. It might help get more suburbanites into the city to explore different aspects of an urban life. Might let the urbanites experience another part of the Capital District they may not normally be able to reach on their own accord (no car, too far to walk, not on a bus route, might be imbibing alcohol, etc). It also might reduce the well-known complaint of lack of parking available.

Obviously this is just a small part of our city that could use improving, but who knows...it may spark an entire generation of "Love Your City" enthusiasts.

*Disclaimer: I'm very glass half full right now; most likely because I haven't had much time to read local news or listen to local radio today.

What TEN said: "I think we complain out a collective shame imposed on us from outside, when secretly, and really, we love it here."

"But it also has many negatives that are solely a result of money being funneled to NYC because apparently that's the only place that matters." Just a quick reminder that New York City pays in more than they get back in taxes. If anything, they're funneling money to us.

The most frustrating part is that the Capital Region is that it is home of the word "no"...God forbid someone come up with some creative ideas to make it a better place to live, because they'll all be shot down by the same people complaining about the exact things other people are trying to fix.

IMHO, I believe in many ways you can compare the level of negativity and complaints in people to the level of hope that exists. Optimism can be challenged when you have listened to Politicians promise to make changes and improvements and nothing changes or improves for 30 YEARS.

Additionally, the 24 news bombardment does not help. 24 hours of repetitive sad news, over and over and over. When hope for a bright future, or even a bright day doesn't exist, people can behave in strange if not despicable ways.

What a wonderfully intelligent conversation you started here.

As a transplant from CNY, I feel people in the Albany are far more optimistic than people from places like Syracuse or Rochester. People there seem to complain far more about the weather, taxes, no jobs etc. and blame all their problems on downstate (although most of upstate would probably be quite undeveloped today if it wasn't for efforts like the Erie canal to boost trade with NYC). At least in my experience, people around here tend be more content due to more stable jobs, somewhat better weather, higher levels of education and more of a grassroots start-up culture.

This is in contrast to the people I know back home who seem to turn complaining into a 24/7 job and wish for the day some world class company comes to town and saves the day instead of making any real grassroots effort to make things any better on their. This is apparently right after they get downstate off their backs for once, cut taxes/regulations down to nothing and return the area to the economic glory days of the 50's/60's.

There's definitely an upstate mentality, not just in Albany but in many of the other cities as well, that just starts out with, "Well, that's not gonna work." Then when it doesn't, they're never disappointed.

I've moved to a place with a lot of the same kinds of problems, except that the universal attitude seems to be to ask how we can make our community better, and then to pitch in to make it happen. There is a huge focus on this being our community, and of having to help each other, in ways I only ever saw little glimpses of in my many years in the Capital District. It is simply in the attitude. If great things are going to happen, it will only be because the people who live there make them happen, not because you were anointed by some megacorporation.

Support local businesses, support local music and fun and festivals, stop wishing yet another flaming chain store would come to Wolf Road, and keep the wealth in the community.

There's a reason when The Fresh Market opened, cars clogged the streets for a mile in each direction. This is a region that has been starved of innovation and competition for a long, long time.

There's also a reason why chain restaurants are so popular here too. It's not that the independent restaurants are bad, it's just that so many of them are more expensive than the should be, considering the food they serve.

It's not like anything here is all that bad, but others have noted that it sometimes feels like the region is covered by a blanket of mediocrity. And that blanket can be very cozy to wrap yourself in when you don't want to push too hard, or perhaps when you feel like leaving the house in your pajamas. But after a while you may start to feel smothered by it.

Moving to the area from Berkeley, California was a difficult transition for me. It took a couple of years to find some solid footing. And since then, I've found a lot more to love about the region. It has also improved dramatically in the past eight years.

We now have Trader Joe's, a Whole Foods, and a clean, well lit, co-op. The Cheese Traveler, fin-your fishmonger, and Slidin' Dirty have all moved from mobile operations into permanent homes. Great reasonably priced ethnic restaurants have opened like Ala Shanghai, La Mexicana, and Parivar. And on the higher end, we have innovative and delicious food being made at Peck's Arcade, Tara Kitchen, and New World Bistro Bar. Plus serious espresso can be found at Stacks, Superior Merchandise Co., and soon at Little Pecks.

None of these places existed when I moved here just eight years ago. And all of them (and others) help make life in the Capital Region worth living.

What's amazing to me, is how many of these places are entirely off the radar of so many.

A couple of random thoughts here -

I moved up here from New Paltz in '91, and I recall just as much "complaining" in that community as is referenced here, albeit different subject matter: there's too many tourists, there's not enough tourists, there's too many students, there's many people relocating up from NYC & it's driving up rent/property values/taxes, etc and so on. For many there is seemed that the grass is always greener somewhere else.

On the other side of the equation we have a lovely family next door who moved back up from NYC to raise their daughter. They have nothing but good things to say about Albany area and the Helderberg neighborhood in specific: prices are good, the neighborhood is walkable, people here are nice, etc. For our neighbors, the grass under their feet is green enough and they're taking advantage of it.

I feel like I'm slipping into negativity myself a bit here but I seriously hope we don't judge quality of life in Albany by how serious the espresso is.

I think Daniel is genuinely trying to positive and helpful here but I see a really stark difference between his comment and Carl's, which highlights the attitudes that are really needed to create a vibrant, thriving "home".

I agree with S on the transplant concept. I moved here almost 10 years ago after growing up in the Philadelphia area which is congested, commercialized to the extreme, and not friendly. Upstate New York feels like Mayberry in comparison. I think what it comes down to is if you don't like where you live, choose somewhere else. You'll be much happier in a place you chose yourself (the good and the bad) than a place you feel you were forced into. I know not everyone has the means to do that but most of the complainers I encounter (professionals who either grew up here or moved here for work) absolutely can.

For anyone who complains about the way government is running-Try stepping up. Especially the ladies. Government needs more women to shake up the Good 'Ol Boy routine. Dont be scared-Just do it!

@-B I conflate food with culture far too often. It's a hazard of the job. But you're right, I was trying to be positive and helpful.

The point I was trying to make is that we have things now that we didn't have before. And sometimes it's the small, everyday things that bring the greatest contentment.

If you listen to a lot of the complaints, much of it is about small stuff. "There's no good place for pizza. The bagels are crap. Why can't we have good wings. People around here don't know beans about BBQ."

For the record, I disagree with all the above. I'd go into details, but I've already used up my self-imposed quota of words in this response.

One explanation that hasn't been mentioned is that the Capital Region has always existed in New York City's shadow. Albany is home to many NYC transplants, residents travel downstate often, and many who grow up around here move downstate after graduating college and never look back. This causes us to compare ourselves to "the city" in an unfair manner. Compared to New York, most American cities seem provincial, and Albany is no exception. Yet this causes us to miss that fact that Albany is more cultured and sophisticated than most of the country, especially for a city its size.

Over the years, I have managed to find friends who appreciate the Capital Region and are excited to take part in the events and attractions it offers. Perhaps the emailer should be advised to find some new friends.

This is a favorite topic on mine.. And I'll point out if you are a fan of this site, you are kind of already a fan of living here in the ALB, right?

I am a native, who could not wait to leave this god forsaken town when college time arrived. I ran as fast as I possibly could to NYC. A bad economy then sent me back to good ol' affordable and safe Upstate after school. Left again a couple years later and spent about a dozen years after working and living in Boston and Wash DC. My career involves a lot of US business travel. I have seen just about all corners of the US at this point - all of the "NFL cities", for sure. So first, I agree that until one leaves town and sees what else is going on out there, one cannot really appreciate how truly great this area is.

When my fiance now wife (also native to this area) and I were living together in Boston and contemplating our next big move, we decided to come back to Albany without hesitation. We had both grown very tired of snobby & selfish attitudes we encountered daily from the privileged out of town students, the career academic egomanics, the yuppies, the bros, the preps, the jocks, the townies, the old money jerks, the new money jerks, ... add the traffic(omg, the traffic), daily road rage incidents (Mass-holes, anyone?), lines everywhere for everything, ridiculous real estate prices for mediocre homes - talk about negative, right... we clearly had enough of that town. And Washington DC is just Boston with higher turn-over, a political-industrial complex, and all the soul-depleting douchery that brings.. sure those areas have awesome restaurants, much better music coming to town, and richer more diverse ethnic,arts, and gay communities. Those things we miss but the badness definitely outweighed the goodness.

We've been back since 2003 and I can say that this area has continually improved since then. See Troy. See the emerging warehouse district. See residential development downtown. See the constant addition of new and interesting restaurants. It's too early to tell if nano and Global will pan out (be patient, jeez!) but I am very bullish on that. There was a time when we called ourselves Tech Valley and had none of that! Do we have all that can be found in a larger market? No. Do we have all the crap that comes with being a larger market? No! What we do have is a lot of progress and a lot more people that care about this area and they are investing in it. I don't now the stats but many younger people appear to be choosing to stay here. So while I do agree that Albany has an inferiority complex, I think that would be solved after spending some time living in another "great place to live". Guess what? We're already there and ya better appreciate it in its current "pretty city" state, homie.... pretty soon we too will be up to our arses in traffic, lines, and bros, yo! :)

It's just not true that money is being funneled to downstate. I hear this all the time, but it's simply not factual. Far more money from downstate is redistributed upstate than the reverse. Downstate is much wealthier, and so obviously they are paying higher income taxes and property taxes that goes into the general state coffers.

People complain about everything because it is easier than doing something about it. Many are never happy or content in their lives. It happens everywhere, not just NYS. NY has an older population that has seen many companies and jobs go south during their life which does not help the state's tax situation.
We don't have tornadoes, floods or fires on a daily basis, can you just imagine the complaining in those areas. Be happy with what you have or change it.

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