Monday, October 23, 2017

A Place with no History

Saturday night, I went to go see the opening night of the play "The Agitators." If you live in Rochester, please come see this play. If you don't live in Rochester, either consider making the trip or look into getting a local theatre company put on a production of the play.

It was an amazing production about the lives of Fredrick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony, who both have roots here in Rochester. During the play, a thought struck me. Actually, it struck me during the prologue discussion, when the presenter talked about how native Rochesterians were probably aware of the fact that these two civil rights icons were friends. Rochester has a history and depth to it that the place I grew up doesn't have.

Sterling Heights, MI was incorporated as a city in 1968. Rochester, NY had already been a city for 150 years by that point. In school, we were taught elements of Michigan's history, but never anything about the history of Sterling Heights. And there were two reasons for that, I think.

  1. The subtle but obvious reason that an honest explanation for why in 1968 a whole bunch of white people decided that they wanted to live 15-20 miles north of the city of Detroit would probably be awkward to have with the people who were probably the kids or only just the grandkids of the people who made those decisions.
    • I don't remember when I learned the term White Flight, or what a White Flight suburb was, but it wasn't hard to see that the place where I group up was one.
  2. Other then that, there's not much history to talk about. Sterling Heights was a commuter city that was built on top of farmland. The Wikipedia page for the city even offers a full paragraph to the opening of the mall in the late 70's.
The home that I grew up in was one of those houses built during that build-up, there was even a psychedelic poster hanging in the basement from the original owners. The home my mother moved to when she left that place behind was an old farmhouse, one of the few relics of what the place was before it was turned into a suburban enclave. It was a nice little place to grow up in, for all that looking back on it makes it easy to see just how fucked up things were just in the asking of "why" for the place.

In contrast, every apartment that I've lived in that's been in Rochester proper in the decade and a half that I've lived here has been at least twice as old as my hometown. The newest place was probably an old house built during the golden age of Kodak where a college buddy and I rented the second floor as we were just starting out.

I'm sitting in a newly built Wegmans that has its dining area decorated with the hundred-year history of their presence in this city, how they've been a part of it. I can look up and see an old stone church across the street and walk by the home of George Eastman to get here.

My current apartment used to be a hotel. Though in some sense, that's not unusual for downtown Rochester, everything is now "lofts" or "residences". I'm just lucky that I don't live in one of the "luxury" developments that surround my building so I can afford my rent.

In contrast, Sterling Heights has felt increasingly hollow as a place the older I've gotten. I am older now than the city was when I was born. That's an incredible thought. And the city feels like it's chasing after that illusion of youth, giant parking lots with strip malls line the road for miles as you drive into the city from Canada. And all of it is just so... disposable.

My elementary school didn't have a "real" name when I started there, it was just "City name" Elementary school.

It can feel small in some ways, but I think it's had an effect. I don't really feel rooted to Sterling Heights in any way. Rochester has time, age, character that's become part of who I am in place of the unrelenting lack of personality in the place I grew up.

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