by John Wolcott
Suburbs by any other name are suburbs just the same, and need to be solidly opposed by environmentalists and urbanists. Pine Bush sites that are within the City of Albany boundaries are disconnected from the real urban city, besides being in a globally rare eco-system. This applies to the sites of the high tech research facilities being built at the University of Albany. These sites are right next to the “Ship of Academia” (otherwise knows as the Environmental Sciences Building) at Fuller Road and Washington Avenue. That building, by the way, is just a twice warmed over, used design, which originated with the mid 19th century Royal Insurance Company building at Pointe Calliere in Montreal. You can tell it’s an out-of-place design meant for an acute angle urban corner. This ensures one thing — that you can sell just about anything to SUNYA except sound environmental policies.
Because of all of the fanfare and hype attendant upon announcing the grand march of tech valley to our region, some dimensions of it have been overlooked, or forgotten. First there have been repeated statements by government leaders that the high tech facilities “will benefit the region”. Well! This is true, to a degree, but not as much so as it sounds. For one thing, the region doesn’t need to be economically benefitted anywhere near as much as the holes in the region. The holes are places like Schenectady, Albany, Cohoes, and Troy. In other words: the cities in the region, rather than the suburbs.
As aptly pointed out in Conned Again by Daniel E. Halloran in the 1/19/03 Sunday Daily Gazette, Opinion Section, the SUNYA high tech centers will only be for research. The manufacturing loci for Sematech and Tokyo Electron are in Texas. These factories don’t need tax breaks and public handouts. With about 100 million dollars of taxpayers money, so far, going to help start the high tech research centers, they should have been persuaded to locate in Albany’s South End, or Arbor Hill, even if had meant giving the University some of the big patches of wasted, unused spaces in those neighborhoods.
It’s still not too late to impose some beneficial, equitable, and creatively manipulate conditions on these corporate welfare programs. How about requiring the high tech companies to locate, at least, branch manufacturing plants in Arbor Hill, and the South End? How about requiring these companies to give well designed aptitude tests to admit underemployed inner city residents to positions in their plants? How about the State and the City putting this kind of money into establishing things like training centers for high tech, and building rehab, and historic restoration work for inner city residents? This way more people who really deserve and need to be benefitted, will be benefitted, and so will the city and the environment. The more that city tenants are changed to homeowners, the more that unskilled underemployed city people become skilled, better paid workers, the more the city will be liveable, People will, then, want to stay in the city, and move to it.
Environmentalists need to keep blocking sprawl directly, but, at the same time, need to give more thought and support to measures that can improve and upgrade the lives, and surroundings of city dwellers. Helping to upgrade the lives of inner city people is the surest way for environmentalists to fight sprawl, and benefit much of our natural landscape, and preserve farmlands.