I wish I could find David J. Gordon, if he's still alive, and interview him. On video would be especially good. I wonder if he would squirm at all?
Gordon is the City of Batavia's former Director or Urban Renewal. If there is one single person responsible for tearing down half of downtown Batavia and building that brutal mall, it is Gordon.
We could give Gordon his due and excuse his enthusiasm for destruction and reconstruction to youthful folly and the trends of the time. Or could we see him as a locus for change that not many Batavian's wanted (it's very hard to find any long-time residents who say they support (or should I say, "admit" that they supported) the city's decision at the time).
C.M. Barons, loyal reader and commentor on The Batavian, interviewed Gordon in 1973. He e-mailed me a copy of the article.
Reading the Q&A is nothing less than infuriating.
Gordon started his young adult life pursuing study in social sciences and then flirted with becoming a priest, but wound up in Washington, D.C. where he got involved in urban renewal, a particularly flatulent excess of federal largess aimed at destroying city blocks and replacing them with anything, anything at all.
Urban renewal was all the rage in the 1960s and 1970s.
Urban renewal is extremely controversial, and typically involves the destruction of businesses, the relocation of people, and the use of eminent domain as a legal instrument to reclaim private property for city-initiated development projects.
In the second half of the 20th century, renewal often resulted in the creation of urban sprawl and vast areas of cities being demolished ...
Urban renewal's effect on actual revitalization is a subject of intense debate. It is seen by proponents as an economic engine, and by opponents as a regressive mechanism for enriching the wealthy at the expense of taxpayers and the poor. It carries a high cost to existing communities, and in many cases resulted in the destruction of vibrant—if run-down —neighborhoods.
If you're a fan of The Kinks, you might be familiar with the 1971 album Muswell Hillbillies, which was Ray Davies scathing and often witty polemic against urban renewal. Long before I came to Batavia, it was one of my favorite LPs. Now it often strikes me as especially poignant.
I got a letter this morning with serious news that's gone and ruined my day,
The borough surveyor's used compulsory purchase to acquire my domain,
They're gonna pull up the floors, they're gonna knock down the walls,
They're gonna dig up the drains.
Here come the people in grey they're gonna take me away to lord knows where,
But I'm so unprepared I got no time to pack and I got nothing to wear,
Here come the people in grey,
To take me away.
Gordon was very much one of those people in grey, judging from the picture with Barons' article and his attitude toward the city that was nothing more than another notch on his resume.
At the heart of the article is Gordon's complete lack of respect for the small business owner. Without that respect, it is easy to see why he had no qualms about dislocating businesses that had operated in the same locations for decades.
What I think personally and I was brought up in a small business man's type home -- I'm talking experience not theory, is that unfortunately business has become that which is owned by bigger and bigger conglomerates. The day of the small business, I'm sorry to say, has become more and more a less intricate part of the American scene. It's another one of the changing aspects, one of the reasons, and there are many, that in the old days when a man ran a business he whole family went in there and helped him. His wife went in there and more important -- his kid. But today his kid wants to go to college and rightly so. And he wants the 35 or 40 hour work week with fringe benefits and vacations; he doesn't want to work all hours of the day as he did before. The small business can't compete (for labor) with the fringe benefits offered by the larger companies.
As a Brit like Ray Davies might say, "What rubbish."
I, too, grew up in a "small business man's type home" and my decision not to become a baker had nothing to do with an unwillingness to work hard and put in long hours, or a desire to seek fringe benefits. I simply preferred to pursue a life involving words and thought (I set out to be a writer) rather than dough and icing. It's impossible to pigeon hole the mass of humanity as nothing but 40-hour-week seekers. Some people have the entrepreneurial drive and some don't, and we need communities that meet the needs of both types of people. Gordon's statement strikes me as rather myopic.
There are a number of family owned businesses in Genesee County, many of them in their second and third generations of ownership. The family-owned business never went out of style. There have always been people more interested in working for a family owned business rather than a conglomerate, fringe benefits or not. There's more to a good work life than an extra week of vacation. Gordon's assertions were based neither on experience nor theory, but merely wishful thinking.
Prophetically, with a bit of wisdom Gordon may not have realized he possessed, he did note how important a strong downtown is to a vibrant community.
Remember this is a big tax producing basis for the city -- the business district. If the business district goes to hell, the economics of this town go to hell.
I shared Barons' article with Batavia loyalist Bill Kauffman, who's anti-urban renewal writing is known the nation over. Bill's response: "The arrogant bastards who knocked down Old Batavia ought to have been tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail back to whatever unplace they came from."
Fortunately, whatever damage the bastards who tore down Old Batavia did to the business community, it is receding ever more into history as the local business community recovers. It didn't really take another government program, either, to turn things around. It is a combination of community effort and free enterprise, good small-town American values. It is a credit to the local merchants (which includes businesses in the mall) and property owners who have stuck with downtown and formed the Business Improvement District. The BID has made great strides in revitalizing downtown, and the work continues. Downtown Batavia's success is important for the entire community (at least Gordon got that much right). It sets the tone and the pace for the rest of the county. The folly of David J. Gordon aside, there is no reason Downtown can't thrive for decades to come.