A locally produced documentary released this summer explores one upstate New York town’s path to developing a bustling downtown area, providing a blueprint for how Binghamton might follow suit.
“Main Street Rising,” produced by WSKG Public TV & Radio’s Brian Frey, was shown Monday at the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator. Originally premiering June 3 on WSKG TV, the hour-long documentary explores “Main Street” as a hallmark of American life, focusing on the development of Corning’s Market Street.
Frey said he had the Triple Cities in mind while producing the film, inspired by the downtown rebuilding efforts of several towns in the region.
“I always thought it was interesting how downtowns could revitalize themselves using their historic architecture, so I decided to make this film that looked at how main streets are rebuilding themselves using some of the lessons learned from what Corning did in 1972,” he said.
The film chronicles the work of figures like Jane Jacobs, who spoke out against the adverse effects of urban renewal on city dwellers, and Norman Mintz, who was instrumental in the revitalization of Market Street. Clips from “It’s A Wonderful Life” and images of lively midcentury towns illustrate the cultural significance of urban centers as fixtures of Americana.
The screening was followed by a discussion with Frey and panelists Dave Currie of the Binghamton Regional Sustainability Coalition (BRSC), Eliana Epstein, a second-year graduate student studying sustainable communities and Binghamton Food Rescue volunteer, Marshall McMurray of MCM Realty and Eva Duarte, ‘11-’13, owner of barbershop Dapper Rascal Studio. Audience members examined how the strategies shown in the film could be implemented in the Triple Cities, touching on topics like gentrification, food insecurity, aging populations and the role of outsiders and community leaders in shaping the neighborhood.
In particular, Duarte emphasized a need to eliminate the divide between students and locals.
“It’s way easier when we work together and learn from each other,” she said. “I’ve always loved learning from the older generation that guides me, and the younger generation needs to learn that we came into this older, beautiful city and we have to respect it and uplift it. That’s one of the cornerstones of why I started my business.”
Epstein noted that a more genuine investment in the area from students might be a huge help in developing the Downtown Binghamton area.
“Brain drain is a pretty big phenomenon in Binghamton,” she said. “Students come and stay for a few years, and then when they’re done with the University, they leave, and there needs to be more ways to keep students here and ensure that the facilities here for students aren’t just for students in the short term.”
Binghamton community member and Roberson Museum executive director Michael Grasso, ‘07, said the film and panel were especially relevant to current trends in Binghamton’s urban landscape.
“In our region, I think there’s a really strong resurgence of this Downtown identity that’s at least partially attributed to students who are looking for that sense of place, but I think it also applies to other areas as well,” he said. “People want to be in walkable cities, they want entertainment in their backyard … It’s economically almost a return to the way cities were set up today to give you a sense of community that you don’t always get from the suburbs.”
Frey said he has fond childhood memories of Binghamton’s Main Street, and the panel confirmed that other community members share his experiences and values.
“Everybody has those memories and nostalgic recollections growing up. Main Street and Downtown is part of the culture of the community, and a strong Downtown and Main Street reflects the values and diversity of the community,” he said. “I think that’s important, it really needs to be a place for everyone.”