for the Winter
circled the monument at the corner of South Swan Street and
Madison Avenue again. Up top burned an eternal flame, and
the base had a pretty inscription about lighting someone’s
way home. But nowhere did it actually say who the monument
was for. Well, nowhere within easy reach. I had clomped up
a snowy embankment to take a closer look at the edifice, since
the stairs were blocked by those hideous metal gates that
sprout like acne all over the Empire State Plaza come wintertime.
I was developing a creeping suspicion that those gates and
a bunch of unshoveled snow were what stood between me and
the dedication of this monument.
Indeed, when I climbed back down and took the long way around
on the sidewalk, I found the dedication at the bottom of the
blocked-off stairs: the Missing Persons Remembrance. Is it
just me, or is having an eternal flame of remembrance barricaded
off from this particular identifier a little bit ironic? So
much for lighting the way home.
I was out for a long ramble just before New Year’s, appreciating
Albany’s architecture and views and noticing which little
businesses and have come and gone, something I haven’t done
nearly enough of since becoming a parent and starting to work
from home. The Plaza was not necessarily my destination, which
of course was a good thing, because for months and months
its every stairway and entrance is blocked off by those chained-together
gates bearing signs saying “Plaza closed for the winter.”
actually looked into this bizarre phenomenon back in 2004,
and was told that despite the explicit statements of the signs,
the Plaza isn’t closed, just all the stairs leading to it.
Leaving aside the issue of putting up signs that lie, there
is a long litany of reasons why this particular policy galls
me, and should gall anyone who cares about Albany.
For starters, it’s arrogant. I’m sure someone somewhere instituted
it out of fear of liability, that killer of all things joyful
and functional. But as a homeowner, I don’t have the option
of choosing to not shovel my sidewalk and put up a sign saying
it’s closed for the winter because I fear the liability I
bear if I miss an icy patch and someone falls. So why should
the state government have that option? Suck it up, buy some
bags of sand, hire some kids with snow shovels, and put up
a few “Warning: Stairs may be icy and it’s not our fault if
you fall on your ass” signs if you must.
Even worse, it’s rude in the extreme to the capital city.
It privileges those who drive to work at the Plaza (trust
me, that parking garage will never “close for the winter”)
and enter those towers from underneath, while being a slap
in the face to those who live and walk in the surrounding
neighborhoods, or between those neighborhoods and downtown.
Not to mention those who might walk to the Plaza itself. There’s
an ice-skating rink on the Plaza for goodness sake! Who wants
to bundle up for ice-skating only to get all sweaty by walking
the length of the Plaza inside the concourse?
Relatedly, months of temporarily blocked stairs is got-no-alibi
ugly. The aesthetic value of the Plaza may be a hotly debated
subject (despite its history, I kind of like it), but I challenge
anyone to argue that arrays of metal crowd-control gates and
chains don’t make it significantly worse. The sight of them
makes me feel as though, just by being a pedestrian out and
about in the winter, I’m an unstable element who needs to
be blockaded out of the important places.
This is not an academic point. When asked in polls to rate
cities, people actually mention beauty as one of top factors—right
up there with low crime, education, and tolerance. To bring
it home, even more debated than the beauty of the Plaza is
the chance of national conventions coming to Albany—and while
there are a lot of factors going into that, I’ll tell you,
no event planner I’ve run into is going to be on fire to come
to a city that clumsily shuts down one of its largest and
most dramatic public spaces during its longest season.
Have we no pride? New York state has seasons. It has winter.
It has snow and ice. Foliage and skiing and maple syrup and
beautiful snow-covered landscapes are not just part of what
makes New York New York, they are part of our economy. To
have a state government that is so in denial about its climate
that it can’t even shovel a couple stairways says to me that
it’s not just Albany that has self-esteem issues, but the
whole state. Can we not even honor our veterans and missing
persons except in fair weather?
It’s time to make our state government actually act like its
proud of its state, rather than wishing it got to move to
Austin instead of Sematech moving here. It could take a page
from a friend of mine who long detested winter, but recently
commented that the purchase of some snowshoes and a bunch
of really warm, made-for-hiking-in-the-snow clothes was “all
it took to convert me to winter.”
Opening those stairs is a small thing to ask. But it would
send a big warm signal that the state is on board with helping
its capital put its best foot forward—all year long.