Dominick Calsolaro

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Common Sense for Albany

Published on 10/5/2005

Common Sense for Albany

Albany is a city that is over three hundred years old. Because of its age, the City has many unique problems that much younger municipalities do not have to face. These include an aging infrastructure (water and sewer); a housing stock that, while it is well-built, is in need of rehabilitation; streets that are too narrow for today's automobile culture; trees that are reaching or past the end of their natural life cycle; streets and sidewalks that are in need of repair or replacement; and an ever-changing population whose needs are different today, than the generation that preceded them.

On the plus side, Albany is a city that is over three hundred years old. A city that is one of the last remaining vestiges of our Dutch heritage. Buried beneath its streets and office buildings is the history of our country - from pre-Colonial times, to the Dutch settlers, to the Albany Plan of Union, to the Underground Railroad and the Civil War, to the "Great Wars" of the Twentieth Century - Albany has seen it all! It is a history, that if handled correctly, could turn the Capital City of the State of New York into one of the best historic-oriented tourist destinations in North America.

With this as the background, where Albany goes in the future depends on the application of Common Sense planning. Albany has two ways to go - either as a first class tourist stop with historical displays, upgraded infrastructure including streets and sidewalks, a pedestrian-friendly downtown, and an increase of owner-occupied housing or, a city on the decline with its present trend of blighted neighborhoods full of vacant buildings, pot-holed and litter-strewn streets, violence, and an attitude that it's better to keep buried our ancient treasures than to preserve them for present and future generations.

Common Sense tells us that for Albany to become a city for the future:

1. The City's administration must stop its dependency on borrowing moneys to pay for every day operating expense items, such as the recently negotiated firefighters contract that is dependent upon the city borrowing close to $7 million in 2004. Instead of increasing the debt load at an alarming rate, the City leaders must act to decrease the overall debt. I have proposed that future capital expenditures be at a level which is 5% less than what is being paid off in that year's budget.
2. A long range Master Plan for land use, zoning needs, and neighborhood revitalization must be developed and adhered to. Citizen input is a MUST for this process to proceed and succeed. The current haphazard way that decisions are made, without forethought and open public discussion, has to end. The administration needs to look at every proposal in light of how that particular proposal will fit in the BIG PICTURE of revitalization. The only way to do this is to have a Master Plan in place.
3. The City's past must become its future. Municipalities such as St. Augustine, Florida and Alexandria, Virginia have built their present and future success on their past historical richness. Albany can do the same thing. For this reason, one of my first legislative initiatives, when I became a Common Council Member in 2002, was to introduce Local Laws creating the Office of City Archaeologist and an Archaeological Commission. I am happy to report that the Mayor, in 2003, introduced similar legislation and, after working together to develop the best proposal, the Common Council adopted the proposals in early 2004.
4. Take back our streets. The perception of Albany as an unsafe city must be changed if we are to attract new residents to the city and to make Albany a destination place. To that end, cooperation between all levels of law enforcement - city, county, state, and federal - must be encouraged. I have proposed that a Task Force be created that will promote such cooperation. Community leaders and residents must also be included on this Task Force if we are going to succeed in making Albany a safe and desirable place in which to live and/or visit.
5. Albany Neighborhoods. Albany is a "City of neighborhoods." The health of each and every neighborhood directly affects the health of the whole City. When one neighborhood starts to decline, the adjacent neighborhoods will soon follow. This vicious cycle must be stopped. To that end, I would like to see an Albany Housing Construction Authority created by New York State to provide and/or find funding for rebuilding our neighborhoods. A convention center is nice, and if a private company wants to build one in Albany, I have no objections to it, but I have yet to meet anyone who told me that they chose to live where they do because of their proximity to a convention center. The way to revitalizing our city rests with revitalizing our neighborhoods and making them attractive to prospective homebuyers.

Albany, the Capital City of the State of New York, is walking a tightrope between becoming a City of the Future, or a City which has already seen its future come and go. By using a Common Sense approach for revitalizing the City, Albany will become a City of the Future. It will take hard work, sacrifice, and a vision to see the whole process through to the end, but it can happen. All we have to do is use Common Sense when making our investment choices and self-restraint when it comes to borrowing for today and paying for it later. Let us build on our past to make Albany a city for the new century.