Stitching the City Together

The map of Albany on the screen, at quick glance, looked a little like a heat map of poverty and distressed neighborhoods, with one large red area over the Sheridan Hollow, Arbor Hill and West Hill neighborhoods, and another over the South End. There was a knowing intake of breath among the various neighborhood leaders and civic activists attending the Albany Roundtable’s May 21st event.

But the map that Dr. Mindy Fullilove (left), the evening’s keynote speaker, had put on the screen was not a current map. Nor was it a descriptive exercise reporting on building conditions or poverty.

No, that map was a cause. Continue reading

Hey, Albany, We Have a Land Bank

Albany has a lot of abandoned buildings and vacant lots, as most of us know. They can be an incredible drag on neighborhoods, inviting crime and disinvestment, and they represent a tremendous waste of potential, especially in neighborhoods that desperately lack many things, from community facilities to commercial. Many of them are locked in a horrible speculative cycle, bought by people looking to make a quick buck that either do not care about the neighborhoods or are unable to care for them, or often both. Continue reading

Artists and Urban Renewal

Conventional wisdom says that artists and gay people are tend to be pioneers in distressed neighborhoods, signs that change is ’a coming. While there have been some funny, and likely apocryphal stories about unlikely conservatives awkwardly wondering in public meetings if “we could get some of those gay people here” to boost a struggling town, that understanding hasn’t exactly been something people have tried to parley into an economic development strategy.

Artists, on the other hand, are a hot commodity, with special artist housing and art spaces cropping up as part of many places’ revitalization plans.

There are good things about this, and bad things. Continue reading

See, Click?

In a move of technological savvy, last May, the city of Albany became the first city in New York to launch a partnership with SeeClickFix, an app/website designed to encourage people to report various issues to their local governments, last May. This means that when you enter something on the site or app—say, “the snow plow knocked over the street sign on my corner,” city officials will see it, acknowledge it, and assign it to the person responsible.

I had apparently signed up on the site and entered my neighborhood as an area to “watch” long before the city partnership, but suddenly in the past month activity fired up and I began getting all sorts of notices, which inspired me to bring up a signal timing issue that I’ve been complaining about for a long time, but had not done anything about, dreading finding my way through a bureaucratic maze to the right person who may or may not want to be talking to me about it. It was pretty exciting to get a response within days that they’d adjust the timing and thanks for the heads up. Continue reading

The Three-Legged Stool of Economic Development

Urbanist gadfly Richard Florida recently attempted to tip the sacred cow of “eds and meds” (universities and hospitals) economic development by arguing that cities with a high percentage of employment in those sectors tended to do worse on other economic development measures. Florida is always good for stirring the pot, but as Steve Dubb of the Democracy Collaborative wrote when I invited him to respond on Rooflines (the blog of the magazine I edit as my day job), in this case, Florida’s statistical comparisons are a straw man: they have the causality backwards. Continue reading

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? Continue reading

In Sorted Out Cities, Who Belongs?

Many years ago when I was on staff at Metroland covering the ongoing story surrounding office Chris D’Alessandro’s suspension and the efforts of a little innovative community prosecution office headed up by Assistant DA David Soares, who of course went on to challenge his boss in the race for DA, I spent a decent amount of lot of time walking the streets of Arbor Hill and Sheridan Hollow. When I walked home from such an assignment across the city, especially as I approached and crossed neighborhood boundaries along the way, I always had the feeling I was stitching together in my head a picture of my city that was too easily and constantly fragmented by the ways we usually move through it. Continue reading