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Old ideas at office campus

First published: Sunday, May 12, 2002
The Harriman State Office Campus represents a style of large-scale development prevalent between the 1950s and 1970s.

The World Trade Center, the Empire State Plaza and the University at Albany campus are other examples of this phenomenon of anti-urban urban renewal. They are set apart, worlds onto themselves.

Some people call the Harriman campus "the gulag'' because of its isolation. It's uninviting from the outside and lacks a clear entrance. One enters only by navigating an unwelcoming wrap-around road system.

Hopefully, this type of development won't be seen again. Take the blueprint emerging for the World Trade Center site as an example of current thinking. It calls for reconnecting streets disrupted when the complex was built, adding significant retail and residential space, and enhancing transit services.

Yet look at the cover of the recently released report, "Redevelopment Strategy for the Harriman State Office Campus,'' and you'll see the same old suburban, car-oriented campus design advanced by Gov. George Pataki as a "high-tech center for the 21st century.''

Creating a Harriman Research and Technology Campus as a "place where university researchers and technology entrepreneurs can innovate side-by-side'' couldn't be better for Albany and its metro area. But indications that the existing auto-centric pattern will remain are dreadful on all accounts. One hopes the state will do some more planning on the road to delivering a good concept.

In a Legislative Gazette article on the campus proposal, Ray Bromley, a professor in UAlbany's Department of Geography and Planning, is reported as noting that the suburban environment would not appeal to those in the information technology fields.

So one can only wonder why such a visionary concept has come packaged, at least initially, so mundanely.

Why didn't the "environmental'' governor present a campus meeting the highest standards for being green, with state-of-the-art sustainable buildings, waste prevention and recycling, storm-water pollution prevention and energy conservation? Wouldn't that create the right setting to foster cutting-edge research and development?

Why isn't the campus envisioned as the linchpin for a new generation of non-auto dependent mobility, rather than a collection of parking lots? Kristin Younger, a Capital District Transportation Authority planner, says the existing campus is not easy to serve with mass transit. The proposed campus doesn't correct that shortcoming.

Why doesn't the concept link the Harriman campus, UAlbany and its nearby Center for Environmental Sciences and Technology Management with surrounding streets?

Why is there only a qualified possibility of including residential development when the campus is projected as attracting 8,000 private-sector workers?

UAlbany will be a big player in the high-tech campus. So far, the university has left a lot to be desired in physically improving its community, both uptown and downtown. The most recent example is the Empire Commons dormitory development with its back to Fuller Road.

UAlbany President Karen Hitchcock talks about a desire "to involve the entire community in the conversation.'' Saying it's "time for a new vision,'' the governor must be thinking about something more than the existing campus design.

Let's have that conversation on how a tech research-and-development campus should be designed to make Albany and the region healthy, livable and attractive.

Paul M. Bray is the founding president of the Albany Roundtable Civic Lunch Forum.