I harp a lot on strategies and ideologies that are wrongheaded, misguided and numerous other pejoratives in terms of how we perceive and position the city. Let me switch gears here to emphasize the flip point — what should we do to position, differentiate and ultimately market the city.
By any metric, the successful repurposing of the Armory runs counter to the established orthodoxy here:
- No one wants to live in Amsterdam and no one wants to move here
- Old, existing structures have no relevant use or its related argument: people want to build new, in the towns, lower taxes, blabbady blababa
(Guess I’m low on patience to articulate the orthodoxy so let’s move on. )
The point is that the Armory is most definitely on the high side in terms of financial risk, in terms of marketing complexity (not many buyers shopping for armories fair to say) and in terms of perceived feasibility. I’ll sum up the perceived feasibility argument as follows: “No one would ever buy that Armory in Amsterdam”.
But as the award and a visit will demonstrate, given all the risks and perceived impossibility of the task, the owners made it work and the city has a distinctive architectural, historic landmark.
What the city gains from this success is more than the financials: it’s differentiation.
Few cities have armories. Few cities have valley views. Few cities rest along a river. Few cities have such history, character, charm albeit sided, shellaced and ignored but still, it exists.
In my view, Amsterdam lacks an identity as a city. I think the best phrase would be raison d’etre even at the risk of more mockery for employing said phrase. But given the very real will power exerted here to abandon the very notion of a city, I can’t help but remind ourselves of the essence of simply being.
And being different , from a product/marketing side, always trumps “me too”. In my view, too much energy gets spent on “me too” types of approaches that ultimately yield very little. Again, marketing 101 — you want to be differentiated and you want to align those differences with your target market.
It escapes me why a small city, admittedly past its heyday, still can’t succeed as a city given its many strengths above. Why can’t the city rally behind being a city instead of some me-too amalgam of the towns, Clifton Park, and everywhere else but here?
Fundamentally, the notion of history and architecture as strength runs counter to the me-too value of suburbanization. As a case study, you can look at how desperately some folks wanted to abandon any upkeep or support for historic city hall, favoring instead to invest more money to lease payments to a suburbanite’s dream– a mall.
But then you would have to think outside the orthodoxy here, something sorely missing and lacking. And that’s sad as the historic, architectural fabric — frayed and tattered as it is– here can’t be rebuilt or copied so the options are either to leverage the differentiation on where your strengths lie , or, try to compete on where you’re weakest. With very few exceptions, the former trumps the latter.
If the Armory can succeed with a differentiated approach– outside investment, outside investors, repurposing, vision and hard work– it would appear that other successes could be had as well.
That requires history and architecture to shift from the liability column to the asset column on the 12010 balance sheet.