Questions for Albany’s Next Mayor

During the Albany 2030 planning process, one of the things that came across loud and clear in the initial public meetings, but didn’t make it into the plan, was that the people of Albany wanted development going forward to maintain a focus on benefitting existing residents and businesses, alongside becoming attractive to those looking to move to a more urban environment. Places from Jersey City to Austin have suffered when new growth left behind much of the city’s original population. How will Albany grow in a way that brings everyone along?

Albany has many plans, from its comprehensive 2030 plan to neighborhood plans to the Sustainable Design Assessment Team plan of 2007. We have engaged neighborhood associations, a longstanding community development sector, a devoted local business sector and patrons thereof, and a community-oriented planning department at UAlbany. What is the role of the city administration, from bully pulpit to zoning and planning board appointments, in ensuring that these constituencies and experts and plans can shape Albany’s neighborhoods without being steamrolled by development that doesn’t fit their sustainable/walkable/locally-owned goals?

Albany County is likely to be joining the Capital Region Land Reutilization Corporation, a regional land bank originally including Schenectady and Amsterdam. This is potentially good news as a new tool for handling Albany’s vacant building problems. What values would you suggest be applied in determining which properties the land bank should acquire and to what uses those properties should (or shouldn’t) be put? How can the residents of the areas most affected by vacant properties have an effective and meaningful role in deciding both of those questions?

Albany advocates have been proposing that Albany capitalize on its incredibly rich history and largely ignored archeological finds with some sort of coordinated heritage tourism attraction. (See Akum Norder in the Times Union for a good explanation.) Would you support such a project? How? How would/could it tie in with our most significant natural assets: the Hudson River and the Pine Bush? How could we connect those natural assets with Tivoli Preserve and Normanskill Farm?

Albany, like most of the country, is residentially segregated by race. Our high school graduation rates likewise remain disparate by race. Nationally discussed incidents of police/vigilante violence and New York City’s fight over stop and frisk tactics have highlighted the continuing criminalization of black men, while the attack on the Voting Rights Act has opened the door to renewed disenfranchisement. What measures will you take to explicitly advance racial equity in the city of Albany?

What values and standards should be applied to determine whether city tax breaks should be awarded to developers, as is typical done through the Industrial Development Authority? What sorts of benefits should accrue to the city to make up for the lost revenue? Should there be local hiring requirements? Living wage requirements? How should the likelihood of a given development proceeding without the subsidy be assessed?

The city continues to labor under a bookkeeping sleight of hand from Mayor Corning in which the county handles our tax foreclosures, taking decision making power about this land out of the city’s hands. Outside experts have repeatedly suggested that this is hampering the city’s ability to make decisions about its own land. Will you consider changing this arrangement?

Ideas are only as good as their implementation. How will you build a functional city administration that balances existing expertise with willingness to change, smooth functioning with independence from inappropriate influences and loyalties? How do you view the relationship between the city council and the administration?

San Francisco has achieved an 80 percent diversion of its waste stream away from the landfill. How can we learn from San Francisco so that composting, increased recycling, and waste reduction can be part of our strategy in response to the landfill crisis?

Albany Public Library’s branch building project was one of the most popular and equitable city development projects in recent history, creating well-used and well-loved community anchors throughout the city. Recognizing that the library system is an independent entity, how can the city continue to support and leverage these incredible neighborhood assets?

Albany is blessed with a large number of so-called “anchor institutions”: hospitals, universities, state government, cultural facilities. These institutions spend billions of dollars on goods and services every year. How could the city work with these institutions to harness their buying power to support and grow a vibrant local economy, as is being done in Cleveland with the Evergreen Cooperatives?

(Note: This column unfortunately had to be submitted before last night’s mayoral forum at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Albany. Here’s hoping that many of these questions were addressed there. If not, you still have a couple weeks before Sept. 10 to flag down the candidates, who are likely to be out and about constantly, and ask them—and your own questions as well. See you at the voting booth.)

(This column was originally published in Metroland, the Capital Region of New York’s former alt-weekly, on Aug. 29, 2013.)

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