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Albany Times Union article about the Neighborhoods Work Convention held on Saturday, November 18, 2000.

By THEOLA S. LABBE, Staff writer
First published: Sunday, November 19, 2000

Albany Times Union

Group urges action on blight

Albany -- Neighborhood leaders cite survey in call to restore buildings

The decaying condition of buildings is the biggest problem facing the city's neighborhoods, a group of neighborhood leaders said Saturday.

Even if a building is abandoned, its facade should be as well-kept as the renter-occupied brownstones and row houses surrounding it to maintain integrity in the community, they said.

The Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations and the Neighborhood Resource Center convened a workshop Saturday to discuss the result of a quality-of-life survey that had been distributed in the city. It was the first such citywide meeting the group has held in 10 years, and while the agenda that emerged held few surprises, the gathering used the findings and the event to plan action.

About 26,000 surveys were sent out to city residents and 1,313 were returned, said David Phaff, president of the new Albany Neighborhood Association.

Phaff reported to the roughly 160 people attending an afternoon session that the most pressing problem for survey respondents citywide was upkeep of apartment buildings and two-family dwellings. About 40 percent ranked the issue as the first priority, followed by drug dealing and winter sidewalk shoveling.

Marggie Skinner, chairwoman of the Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations, which includes about 30 neighborhood groups, said historic preservation is crucial to the city's future.

"There's still a tear-down-and-build-something-new mentality instead of taking what's there and revitalizing it,'' she said.

After its 10-year hiatus, the "Neighborhoods Work'' conference was resurrected last year when Albany Roundtable President Paul Bray brought it up at a CANA meeting. Bray, Skinner and Gene Solan, leader of the Neighborhood Resource Center, then worked on putting together workshops and speakers for this year's conference.

Bray had the keynote address Saturday.

"The city is at a critical juncture,'' Bray said. "The mayor has done a good job of getting the city's act together fiscally, but which road is it going to take -- to restore and build on neighborhood associations, or to tear down buildings?''

The group will forward survey results to the Common Council and mayor, Skinner said.

Common Council President Helen R. Desfosses said the concern about the upkeep and restoration of city buildings was in line with comments that she has heard while sitting on the council. She planned to share the information from morning workshops -- including historic preservation, community policing, transportation and homeownership -- with other Common Council members.

In her closing remarks, Desfosses reinforced to those in attendance the importance of their work on behalf of their communities.

"A neighborhood is durable but fragile,'' she said. "A neighborhood can start to tip and it's because of the energy, and quick response of people that we have a chance of tipping it back,'' Desfosses said.