Friday, March 05, 2004

Yesterday, Preservation magazine arrived in the mail. I love Preservation, but the cover story really irritated me.

For the record, I oppose the new cement plant. My feelings come not because of the various environmental impacts regarding pollution that are being debated. I don't know whose science is best, and it doesn't matter to me. I oppose the plant because of something aesthetic: the impact on the view of the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains from Frederick Church's Olana. (That view is what I use as the logo image on Gully Brook Press - both the actual photograph on the homepage, and the graphic I made from it for this journal). My reason agrees with the viewpoint of the Preservation writer, so why am I irritated?

A few weeks ago Bob and I were talking about another environmental controversy, that in some ways mirrors the tensions generated by the cement plant. In this case, it is the proposed construction of a big resort on a mountainside in Shandaken, Ulster County. We both lean toward being opposed to that project as well. However, I was reading aloud some letters to the editor in the local paper, and Bob commented, "I dislike the corporate opposition as much as a I dislike the corporate support for it," and that really hits the nail on the head for me. The big environmental groups, and outsider opponents to these projects alienate me every bit as much as the big business interests that are pushing for approval.

In the case of Preservation's article, I am not angry that the issue was covered, I believe the publicity is good. I am not against Preservation taking a position opposed to the plant. I think they should be against it. What bothers me is that the article is so slanted - it does not make any effort at all to cover the other side; it is as if the other side was solely the cement company, that no local person or town government official wanted the plant to be built, and that there would be no reason for support. This isn't exactly stated - but supporters are just ignored. I guess Preservation is proud to be elitist.

Yet here are just a few excerpts from other sources that detail the issue is a contentious one, with various and dearly-held beliefs on both sides:

"It is sometimes hard to remember what Columbia County looked like without the red and blue signs now spattered across the landscape, people?s front yards, windows, and storefronts." Joseph A. Brill, Chronogram, 2002.

" through any community near Hudson and you'll see placards in dozens of front yards--red for those against the plant, blue for those in favor." Patrick Smith, Business Week online, July 1, 2002.

"Hundreds of supporters wearing bright blue T-shirts and opponents clad in dusty rose T-shirts, packed into the un-airconditioned gymnasium..." William Tuthill, the Business Review, June 20, 2001

"The petition signature, the bumper sticker, T-shirt or casual comment became shorthand for who you were and what you believed about all sorts of unrelated issues, as if the totality of a person's life could be summarized on a lawn sign. " Editorial from October 26, 2001 Independent.

"Travel any road in the county and you can see red STOP THE PLANT or blue SUPPORT THE PLANT signs on front lawns," Ralph Gardner, Cry them a river, New York Magazine.

The first story, from the Chronogram, is the best of the bunch - it is fair, balanced, covers the issue in appropriate and accessible detail. The Preservation writer could take a lesson from this piece.

On the other hand, I suppose I should be happy that Preservation decided ignoring the alternative viewpoints would be better than using a quote like this one (from Cry Them a River) that characterizes it this way:

"It's really sad," says a local antiques dealer. "Every dilapidated house has a blue sign in front of it. And every beautiful, well-maintained house has a red sign in front of it."

I believe it is ignorant to describe the two sides this way, but I think the perception may hit the nail on the head - Preservation always pays lip service to historic issues that celebrate the lower classes, folks who have been under-represented, and unfairly represented in the past. So how do you champion the romantic Hudson River School, wealthy darlings of the artsy set, without mentioning the less advantaged -- both from those times, and today? Better to hold a hanky over your nose and keep your pinky in the air and pretend to not notice. Ahem.

It was probably better to overlook this view (also from Cry Them a River):

One weekender sees the locals' support for the project as a failure of American public education. "I think we're generally better-educated and more sophisticated than the locals," he says, explaining why they can't see through St. Lawrence's P.R. offensive. "I don't want to discuss the intelligence of the locals; that's terrible. But look at the schools in Columbia County. They're awful.

Now there's a quote that really makes the blood of this here local boil!

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