Art X Love artist Josy Jones mixes paint for attendees of @PLAYAkron’s painting party on Saturday, April 7, 2018 at The Reservoir Park Community Center in Akron, Ohio. @PLAYAkron is a grant funded project that brings community members together through art.
The idiom “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” is not to be taken literally, of course. It means that we believe someone else’s situation is better than our own because we do not live the reality we are romanticizing. Unfortunately, Akron is rarely imagined to be the lush side of the fence.
I encourage those people to take a step back and consider that the problem isn’t Akron — and that Akron isn’t the only place with problems to complain about.
Recently, I had the privilege of traveling to Toronto, Canada. I was in awe of everything. The beautiful sea of diverse faces amazed me. Their biking culture is insane — bikers in Toronto are warriors! It was so clean. Their well-cultivated arts culture was astounding.
Those were the great things. But in less than a week of visiting, I learned about the other side of the coin. Toronto has a very high number of cyclist fatalities. When I asked locals about their biking system, they admitted it took them over a decade to get as far as they are, and they are still working on cycling infrastructure. They are struggling with the very expensive cost of living. Community coalitions are working to make public spaces more attractive for people, not cars — not unlike the work some groups in Akron are doing.
I could not believe that in a city that large and seemingly perfect, there were still devoted pockets of creatives working their butts off to make their city a better place for themselves and those around them. And they had the same feelings we all do: my city is great, but these things need improvement as we look to the future. Further, I am willing to be a part of those changes while dealing with my city where it is now.
No city is perfect, so to be happy somewhere, you have to be willing to invest in its development. Sometimes you’re not. I lived in Macon, Georgia for six years, four of them in college. I really liked some things about it, but artistically, I and many others were struggling. I was not able to have a job in the arts without working one (many times two) other jobs I did not want to work. I slowly came to the realization that as wonderful as it was, I couldn’t see the development of the art scene accelerating anytime soon. Many times, there were conversations about “how great Macon is” — paired with “I’d give it another ten years and it’ll take off.”
And as the rose-colored glasses began to fade, I realized that I was participating in a scene that was well on its way, but that I would have to stay and invest 10 years of my life in order to reap the benefits. That’s 10 years. I was living in a city that had close to no cycling amenities, a dying public transportation system, a slowly developing art scene, and didn’t have Uber (or anything else) at the time. I had to make a decision. Was I willing to give 10 years to a city to see if it blossomed to its full potential — or should I leave, cultivate my own career and start in a city that is further along?
I’m sitting here in my apartment in Akron, so it’s obvious what I chose.
I am not saying the things that you see as faults with Akron aren’t faults. On the contrary, many things you feel are probably accurate. We have a cornucopia of potholes. Akron is both cold and cloudy. The construction is never-ending. It has “sides of town” that people fear, or that they believe have nothing to offer. The list continues.
But the truth is, we aren’t different from any other city. Whether it’s the cost of living, historic neighborhood segregation, access to transportation, pedestrian safety, or development opportunities for artists, every city has challenges that are both unique and universal. In New York, about 9 percent of adults experienced depression in 2019. In 2017, people in Atlanta spent 70 hours in traffic on average. In Los Angeles, it was 102 hours.
So here it what I suggest. If you don’t like Akron, ask yourself: If it took Akron another 10 years to get to the place where you think it will be, are you willing to wait for that?
If not, that’s okay. Go and explore a new city where you may want to submerge your roots. Just know that the city where you think you want to go has just as many problems as this one. If you are going to embrace a new home, you should probably embrace both its faults and its assets. The grass is never any greener — every yard has brown patches too.
Josy Jones is a Cleveland native and one of many Macon, GA transplants. Josy’s background is in theatre.