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Neighborhood Works III

Keynote (Outline)

By Paul M. Bray, President of the Albany Roundtable, environmental attorney and columnist

In the Keynote for Neighborhood Works to  the conditions and elements for a New Urbanism (urban culture, public realm, links and civic engagement) were discussed.  It is timely to see how this view of the New Urbanism has been doing in Albany during the last two years.

Public realm.  There have been some significant improvements in Albany. Particularly it is worth calling attention to:

 -Washington Park Mall with its new "Albany benches", resurfaced walkway and newly planted elm trees

 -Lincoln Park Bath House improvements

 -Bridge to the Hudson River

 -Expansion of the Pine Bush Preserve and forthcoming Pine Bush Discovery center

Urban culture.  Albany's heritage has received a great deal of attention during this 350th anniversary year and some significant steps have been taken to celebrate the City's heritage and preserve its assets.The

 -Albany Heritage Project - 350 Anniversary of Beverwyck/UAlbany

 -State Street exhibit at Ualbany and the Dutch painting exhibit at the Albany Institute of History and Art

 -Historic Albany's efforts: Vacant Buildings paintings

 -Steps to preserve the landmark St. Joseph's Church

Linkage.  Albany has gotten on the global map as a center for IT research and bio-tech research among other links near and far.

 -Sematech North and Tokyo Electronics projects

 -DANA with Marty Silverman for walk to work home buyers program (4 forgivable loans made to new home owners and funding available for another round of loans)

 -Erie Canalway National Heritage Area

Civic engagement.  Civic engagement is our greatest need:  Prospect of great change from Sematech, bio-tech and faster train to NYC

 -could be a flash in the pan

 -could be transformational and, as we were regrettably reminded again by the loss of the Defreest House in East Greenbush, we aren't prepared

 -rapid growth like Austin attracts big money and development pressures that could steam roll us

Our greatest challenge: Overcoming the Patroon psychology on both the part of the Mayor and the citizen.  Recent events clearly demonstrate continues to act in the traditional Patroon manner that has characterized political life in Albany.

 -Lark Street project. Mayor Jennings unilaterally substituted the Federally funded $7 million dollar street improvement project that was initially developed by neighborhood residents for use in another part of the city and placed it with a smaller $2 million improvement project

 -Harriman campus. Without consulting with surrounding neighbors or any public discourse on the proposal for a 300 acre high tech campus on the site of the State Harriman Campus, Mayor Jennings simply declared that he had the ear of State officials and would take care of the City's interests (whatever they happen to be as he didn't state how he saw those interests).  Neither he or any representative of city government testified at the environmental impact statement on the Campus plan that continues, for example, to exclude public transit from the Campus.

-Austin trip. Mayor Jennings visited Austin where the original Sematech is located to look at education, minority needs, arts and culture, and other issues affected by potential exponential growth from high tech development.  He went with members of Capitalize Albany and ALDC and city employees

       (Jennings, Leveille, Lori Harris, Michele Vennard, Robert Curley, President of Charter One, Tracy Metzger, Chris Miles, Kevin O'Connor, David Swaywaite of Omni Development, Lynn Taylor of the Chamber, Anders Tomson-regional VP of Community Preservation Corps). Where, for example, were representatives from the neighborhoods, from the Board of Education and the NAACP?

 -Harold Rubin only one to testify on city budget. In 1980 there were more than 20 people testifying.  

All of the aforementioned reflects a City Hall that is out of touch with the residents of the City and residents that have reached a low point in speaking out of their interests.


At Neighborhood Works I, former Ualbany Professor Todd Swanstrom talked about sociologist Robert Putnam's book Bowling Alone and about civic/social capital/ Patroon psychology

Social capital is built on networks and trust.

 -Putnam wrote- "To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven," sang the Hebrew poet in Eccleasiates."  It is time to reweave the fabric of our community, to get over the hang over boss politicsto .  

Civic Engagement Agenda for Albany:

1. Get neighborhood representation on the Capitalize Albany committee and create a focus for downtown development that will create a Central Social Districtbbb

2. Institutionalize neighborhood organizations in process with the city like Rochester's program of Neighbors Building Neighborhoods

Putnam wrote: "…cities that have institutionalized neighborhood organizations, such as Portland (Oregon) and St. Paul (Minnesota), are more effective in passing proposals that local people want.  These cities also enjoy higher levels of support for and trust in government."

If he Mayor doesn't go along, go to the City Council to initiate a formal process of requesting and receiving input through CANA

3. Reestablish the Albany Educationway committee or a reconstituted committee to address the educational needs of all residents Albany residents (life long learning)  and relations between town and gown

4. Call upon the Mayor and City Council to prepare a comprehensive city plan to address the potential development impacts from Sematech North and other changes on the horizon