With the closing of its oyster beds in the early 20th century, Barnett Shepherd writes in Tottenville: The Town The Oyster Built:
“...an entire economy and culture that had created the town of Tottenville were eliminated. In the 1930s the closing of Atlantic Terra Cotta [factory] and Brown’s Shipyard, among other industries, gave impetus to this change. Nassau Smelting was the last [factory] to go, scaling back in the 1970s and finally closing in 2000."
He goes on to note that "Jane Jacobs, in her pioneering work The Death and Life of American Cities (1979) speaks of the difficulty of sustaining small-town culture within a metropolitan city. City life brings diversity in employment opportunities and cultural life, overcoming the culture of the small town.
“The day they are pulled into the intricate economy of a metropolitan area, with its multiplicity of choices in places of work, recreation and shopping, they begin to lose their integrity, their relative completeness, socially, economically, and culturally. We cannot have it both ways: our twentieth-century metropolitan economy combined with nineteenth-century, isolated town or little-city life."
But why can't we have it both ways? With this Field Guide activating storytelling series on a town at the southernmost tip of New York CIty, rich in history and regenerative potential, we challenge Jane Jacobs and ask: Can we imagine a third way to achieve authentic revitalization in the 21st Century, not only for towns like Tottenville but for all communities, large and small that have lost their way in the global economy? A way that capitalizes on their natural assets and their place-based history, but also connects them out into a rich, mutually reenforcing global tapestry of local regenerative economies? We’ll be partnering with civic leaders in Tottenville and neighboring Staten Island communities to explore these possibilities.