At the March dinner, SPB welcomed Aaron Mair of the Arbor Hill
Environmental Justice Corp., to speak about environmental justice.
We learn something every day. We learn how dynamically we are
all linked, our species, all human beings are linked to each
We are also learning about unfortunate tradeoffs as well. Like
sprawl. Sprawl is the unorganized growth, the unplanned growth
of human settlements. Smart growth is organizing space. Accelerators
of sprawl include new roads and widening old roads, building
schools on the fringe, extending water lines and sewer lines
into rural areas benefitting wealthy people and city residents
pay. Look at the State Budget: economic development is a priority
with tax breaks and incentives subsidizing sprawl to bring industry
Why do people move out of the City? It has less to do with
taxes and mostly to do with schools and jobs and open space.
The question is how much good planning has gone into the development
of the City. The dump, the landfill was not well planned, not
well designed, not well operated. It is a cash cow for the City;
garbage as a source of income. Look at the Answers Incinerator.
Low income people paid the price and continue to pay.
In Arbor Hill (a place where many low income people live) parkland
and swimming pools are gone. Kids swim in Patroon Creek which
is polluted. The dump leaks into the Creek, which flows into
the Hudson. In the City the question is always how much money
can we get. The City doesnÕt have a plan and a city without
a plan means disaster. Without a plan, without a clear understanding
of the relationship of residents to the City, to the urban environment,
to the green space means that people donÕt have confidence in
the present, in the future and donÕt want to live here. Middle
class people wonÕt move here.
Arbor Hill, with its many historic buildings, is an impediment
to the way the City wants to go. Families that have lived here
for generations Ōare in the wayĶ. The plan for the redevelopment
of North Swan Street in Arbor Hill includes tearing down historic
buildings, many now owner-occupied, and building new buildings
and increasing the density of low income people greatly, which
means ghettoization, deteriorization, further destruction and
alienation of the residents.
It is not surprising that the population is shrinking. The
people who are left are economically tied to the City for the
most part. Planning is done by people who do not live in the
downtown, people who may not live in the City at all. Residents
are not involved in the planning to any meaningful extent. Archeological
treasures are seen by the City as major inconveniences. The
people who make decisions have financial involvement in the
outcome of the decisions. There is no looking at the larger
questions. How does the building of parking garages fit into
the use of city space, into the transportation planning for
the entire region, into the relationship to the business community,
into the relationship to the residential community, into smart
growth and into sprawl, into the liveability of the City?
If you can cash in on garbage, if you could cash in on people,
if you could cash in on sprawl, this city is for it. This city
has educational institutions, colleges and the University, professional
schools but this city does not have a plan and without a plan
the City does not have a future and people donÕt want to settle
here in a city without a future. The City has the neighborhood
associations and the Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations.
The people recognize the need for planning: neighborhood master
plans, business district master plans, parking master plans,
transportation master plans, school building master plans, recreation
facilities master plans, green space master plans, master plans
for the renovation and reuse of vacant buildings and brownfields
and more. These folks are doing their civic duty but the old
saying is true: you canÕt beat City Hall!
Somehow we have to persuade politicians, decision-makers, to
listen to our pleas. People do know what is needed. Smart zoning
decisions are part of it. Decision-makers have to live in the
city and care about the city. They have to have a direct connection
to the outcome of their decisions. But there is something wrong
when decision-makers have a vested interest in the outcome of
their decisions. Cities need planners; AlbanyÕs planner lives
outside of the City. What can happen? Light rail would help.
Make the downtown pedestrian-friendly. CanÕt trains stop on
this side of the river? Clean up and reuse the brownfields along
And there has got to be more to the Pearl St. BID redevelopment
than creating a ŌBeer Improvement District Ō!
Congestion on our streets and highways is the result of lack
of smart planning, smart growth. Two vital forces are colliding
in the City: the quest for culture, for historic preservation,
for sustainability and the suburbanitesÕ quest for easy access,
the fastest way in and out of the City. So what do we need to
do? Put the City first, put the people first, develop a master
plan. Swan St. is not an accident. Arbor Hill is an inconvenience.
It is an historic district. It canÕt be torn down and paved
over. There are rules governing what can be done in an historic
district, rules to preserve the past, the architectural heritage.
Because of its history, this City is a blessing to the Nation
and its architecture is second to none.
Somehow developing an entertainment district is supposed to
fix everything. But this is a dream, not reality. Low income
people are not integrated into the CityÕs economy. Poor people
are pitted against home-owners. It is beneficial to depress
land values because it makes it easier to take the land. Poverty
is used for economic benefit. The biggest losers are the residents
of the City and the biggest gainers are the privileged and the
rich. The City has lost so much: green space, historic buildings,
archeological sites, places of interest. Federal funds have
been used not to help the neighborhoods but the likes of the
Steuben Club. As Albany sinks, the whole region sinks and eventually
the suburbs, too. Some residents have started microenterprises
and made a go of them but the City hasnÕt helped. Why? Because
people took power, control over their lives, their neighborhoods.
So City Hall has taken over. Community based organizations have
lost out, volunteer organizations, self-help organizations have
lost out. The disconnect of people and their history, their
culture means they donÕt know where they came from and they
donÕt know where they are going. What we have lost we can never
get again. These districts, the entertainment district, Central
Avenue and so on, are not integrated into the whole, are piecemeal
and useless in really changing the direction of the City.
We need a master plan, we need a vision, we need people to
help shape our future, the future of the City, to stop the sprawl,
to reinvent the City in the pattern of smart growth. We cannot
Printed in the May/June 2001 Newsletter