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Albany discusses its neighborhoods
Residents, community leaders consider ways to increase quality of life
Click byline for more stories by writer.
First published: Sunday, December 2, 2007


ALBANY -- Mary Ellen O'Connor's family has lived in the same Park Avenue home in the Mansion Neighborhood since 1869.

But O'Connor, president of the Albany Public Library's Board of Trustees, has begun looking toward the day when the front stoop will be too much for her to negotiate.

"It's a tough situation," O'Connor said Saturday, just one of many voices in a wide-ranging discussion on both the assets and challenges to life in Albany's neighborhoods. "Right now I'm thinking about the time when I'm going to have to move out of it."

The suitability of the city's housing stock to accommodate an aging population was just one of many issues discussed at the Neighborhood Works conference at the First Lutheran Church, sponsored by the Neighborhood Resource Center.

Topics ranged from the quality of the schools and the importance of educational choices to young families to fear of walking the streets at night in some neighborhoods, which keeps some people away from community gatherings, to the creation of a comprehensive plan and the appropriateness of the proposed convention center.

Meanwhile, another effort was under way on the other side of Albany to improve the city's quality of life Saturday. More than 50 people turned out for a march up Morton Avenue to the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial to call for an end to violence in city neighborhoods.

At the conference, Joann Morton, president of the South End Neighborhood Association, discussed the necessity for parents to get involved in their children's lives and how their involvement acts as an engine to keep them engaged, focused and out of trouble.

When there was nobody to coach her daughter's softball team, she said she learned the rules and did it herself.

"We do have our weaknesses. We do have our strengths," said Maxine Fantroy-Ford, principal at Albany High School, a native of Albany and graduate of its schools. "We cannot overcome our weaknesses, resolve them, if we don't have involvement from the community."

Fantroy-Ford and others, however, overwhelmingly chose to focus on the positive things they said make Albany an attractive alternative to suburban life for retirees and young families.

In a school as large as Albany High, many students are working to show the community that good things are happening in its halls, contrary to mostly negative media reports that center on violence. Meanwhile, she said, the staff tries to make each student feel as though they have a place.

"Are students coming into school and somebody knows their name?" the principal said. "It's something for somebody to know your name."

Keynote speaker Louise McNeilly, coordinator of the Delaware Area Neighborhood Association and executive director of the Albany Community Land Trust, said the city's challenges -- increasing poverty, vacant buildings and unsmart growth, among them -- are well documented.

But not enough is said about what is good, McNeilly said -- like Albany's historic buildings that feature porches and stoops, its community gardens, parks, cultural institutions, rich history, independent businesses, strong church community and diversity.

What's more, said Gene Solan, president of the not-for-profit Neighborhood Resource Center, Albany already has what many suburban communities -- such as Colonie -- are now striving to re-create through an overhaul of existing zoning laws: walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods.

"We have the basic infrastructure for walking," Solan, also a Pine Hills resident, said of the city's sidewalks. "We don't have to create that."

Jordan Carleo-Evangelist can be reached at 454-5445 or by e-mail at jcarleo-evangelist@

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