At SPBs April lasagna dinner at the First Presbyterian
Church, SPB welcomed Helen Desfosses, President of the Albany
Common Council to speak about Forces for Change in Albanys
Future. Ms Desfosses opened her presentation by noting that
we are always running after a moving bulldozer.
Albany has an incredible archeological and historical heritage.
But look at Savannah: almost a thousand homes built before the
Civil War have been preserved. People are surprised at the beauty
of Albany and at how much is left of our historic heritage.
The Mayor has hired an archeologist and established a Task Force
to deal with these issues. What are the forces for change and
what are the trends? Globalization effects large cities but
small cities are like a lot of little villages.
For the first time in decades, the population of Albany has
dropped below 100,000 to about 95,000 which is very distressing.
An important question is what will happen to the 28% of the
Citys population that live below the poverty line.
You may have noticed that there was no debate about city issues
during the recent presidential debates. Crime has decreased
in America, on the whole, but increased in small cities. Why?
Neighborhoods are the backbone of the city but neighborhoods
are extraordinarily fragile. It is obvious a neighborhood is
changing when there gets to be a lot of litter, when people
start parking their cars on the lawns, when trash piles up and
there is a lot of noise. These are the first indicators that
more profound changes are taking place. It is important to bring
a multifaceted approach to deal with code violations and all
the other changes for the worse.
What to we have going for us? Civic organizations have a lot
of energy and people have good ideas. Albany does not have a
master plan, a plan to deal with the city as a whole. The city
doesnt do enough to incorporate the good ideas and the
interest and energy of the people. Government cannot do it all.
We have looked at other cities, Seattle, Portland, Charlottsville,
to learn what is working.
Albanys population is now more diverse which is good
news; since the 1990 census weve added 977 Russian immigrants,
several hundred Vietnamese and the Hispanic population is the
fastest growing segment with the Asian population second in
growth. We even have an Islamic Center. In addition to the Polish
Community Center and the Italian Community Center, we have the
Chinese Community Center and many new businesses, restaurants
and the like.
One of the biggest forces for change in Albany is the University.
The Governor has called it a Center of Excellence.
New buildings are going up (in the Pine Bush!). The University
is connecting with high schools and community colleges to educate
a workforce for the future. Keeping crime down correlates with
jobs; a high level of unemployment leads to high levels of street
crime which leads to more serious crime. The greatest export
of the Capital Region is our young people. We need jobs here
now and to train a workforce for the future. Another factor
in keeping crime down is in mobilizing people on every block,
on every street to be street eyes, people who care
enough about happens and are active in their communities. You
may remember that when Henry Hudson sailed up the Hudson River
in 1609, he called our area A beautiful and fruitful place.
People can look around today and say, He was right.
One of the forces of change is the growing awareness of the
importance of the Citys historical heritage and of the
Hudson River. We need light rail. We need downtown housing.
Many middle class people want to live in the downtown. We need
redevelopment of the business district downtown, reinvestment
in the downtown. Another force for change is connected to the
University in the development of high tech businesses and industries.
These are all positives for Albany.
The comment has been made that the city has encouraged sprawl
and the University is contributing to that sprawl, that locating
businesses and factories outside of the downtown has a negative
impact on the City. If people train for and get jobs outside
the City they will move to where the jobs are as soon as they
have the means to. Cities are great places to live and work
in. So how do we bring jobs to the downtown? Can we use the
many empty buildings in the downtown to locate new businesses
and factories? Surely the City could help to attract reinvestment
in the downtown. And we need to tell people what the downtown
has to offer: its historic sites, its business and cultural
centers, its river, its waterfront.
Printed in the May/June 2001 Newsletter