Items tagged with 'urban planning'
The concept of building a gondola or aerial tramway across the Hudson River from the Rensselaer Amtrak station to downtown Albany and the Empire State Plaza has generated a considerable amount of debate in the Capital Region over the last several months.
Readers of my previous commentaries in this space know that I'm suspicious of the need to spend tens of millions on capital-intensive infrastructure projects in the region, preferring to spread the money around to more fundamental improvements such as increased local bus service and CDTA's planned Bus Rapid Transit lines.
The gondola concept, though, presents an opportunity to consider a more basic question: Just why do quirky, perhaps absurd ideas like the gondola keep popping up in regional dialogue about transportation infrastructure?
The Albany metro fares well compared to other large metros for pedestrian deaths -- but there's room to improve
The Albany metro is one of the nation's safter large metros in terms of pedestrian deaths, according to analysis out this month by Smart Growth America. Each year the advocacy org releases a report called "Dangerous By Design" that tracks and compares pedestrian deaths across the nation's 100 (or so) largest metros.
The Albany metro ranks #94 out of 104 metros in the new report's Pedestrian Danger Index -- that is, it was the 11th safest for pedestrian deaths. The index attempts to adjust the number of total pedestrian deaths per capita in area for estimates of the number of people who are walking to work. In terms of raw number of pedestrian deaths per capita, the Albany area fared a bit worse -- 23rd out of 104. (The data are from 2005-2014.)
The rankings for other New York metro areas: Syracuse (#99), New York-Newark-Jersey City (#95), Rochester (#91), Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls (#72). The metros pegged as most dangerous were mostly in Florida and other Sun Belt areas.
The report also ranks states -- New York ranked 38th out of 51 (including DC) for highest Pedestrian Danger Index.
From this year's report, which highlights that older people and people of color are disproportionately killed more often in crashes while walking:
"Now is the time to develop this key parcel in downtown Troy."
That's the last line of the opening page of the new request for proposals that the city of Troy posted Monday for the 1 Monument Square site, one of the most prominent pieces of undeveloped real estate in the Capital Region core. The request is looking to spur the fourth major attempt since 2011 to redevelop the old city hall spot.
Here's a quick scan of what the city is looking for this time around...
The First Prize Center is one of the most prominent sites in the Capital Region core. It sits on the border of Albany and Colonie, right alongside I-90. And even though it's been been crumbling for decades, multiple attempts to redevelop it over the years have fizzled.
And now there's a new a plan: The development firm Richbell Capital announced Thursday its intent to completely replace the site with a large mixed-use development that would incorporate housing, retail, entertainment, and offices.
Here are some details...
Updated with comment from NYSDOT.
One of the more intriguing Capital Region projects to pop up in the state's Regional Economic Development Council funding announcements this week is a linear park that would take over an off-ramp that connects currently connects Quay Street along the Albany riverfront to Clinton Ave downtown.
Here are a few details about the "Albany Skyway"...
What are we really talking about when we use the term "Capital Region"? Is it a geographic place? A population of people? A set of economic connections? A culture?
That's one of the questions we were thinking about while looking over a recent attempt by researchers to define megaregions and lay out a "functional economic geography of the United States." The work -- by Garrett Dash Nelson of Dartmouth and Alasdair Rae of the University of Sheffield (UK) -- takes a ton of Census data about commuting patterns and processes it into a series of maps. It's published in PLOS One.
So, let's have a look at those maps for this area, along with a few thoughts about the results.
Maybe you remember a while back the idea popped up of constructing a gondola lift to ferry people between downtown Albany and the train station over in Rensselaer.
Well, the engineering firm that floated the possibility -- McLaren Engineering Group -- released a feasibility study Wednesday that concludes the project is workable, and "retains the potential of being a transformational project that will create a spark of increased mobility, tourism, and economic development in two areas of the cities of Albany and Rensselaer that are currently underdeveloped."
Here's a quick overview and a few thoughts...
You've probably heard at least a little bit about the big Rezone Albany project, which is working to completely overhaul and modernize the city's zoning code. The process is nearing its completion, and as that approaches, people are starting to get a sense of what sorts of changes the project might prompt.
One that's getting a lot of attention is the zoning designations for parts of Lark Street between Madison and Washington and adjacent areas of neighborhoods there. Specifically, the new "mixed-use neighborhood center" designation along parts of Madison, Lark, and Washington will eventually require businesses to close by 2 am. And the "mixed-use neighborhood edge" designation for zones around the area will eventually require an 11 pm closing time.
The city of Albany has an event lined up for November 1 to get public input on a draft revitalization plan for the West Hill and West End neighborhoods.
There will be a presentation of the draft plan, and a question and answer session. From the city's press release: "Plan is part of initiative to create a vibrant, economically strong, and walkable neighborhood."
Here's a clip from a report pulling together input from a community summit this past summer -- it was produced by Kevin Dwarka Land Use & Economic Consulting, the consultancy handling the project for the city:
A few overall themes emerged from the public engagement process:
+ Addressing the issue of public safety, both real and perceived, is of paramount importance if other strategies produced through the revitalization effort are to be successful.
+ Improved education, workforce training, and career mentorship services are the preferred methods for indirectly addressing the prevalence of crime and illicit activities, while simultaneously improving employment and economic factors within the community.
+ Housing issues within the community are varied and nuanced, and as such will require a comprehensive and collaborative approach amongst the various housing agencies and stakeholders at play.
+ The pedestrian experience, including the existence of crosswalks, the quality of sidewalks, and the aesthetics of streetscape within the community are seen as achievable and high value improvements that can significantly enhance the mobility of residents and visitors within and around West Hill and West End, as well as, enrich overall community character.
This project isn't part of the ReZone Albany project -- but Rezone included a look at the future of Central Ave, which runs along the edge of both these neighborhoods. And as noted during a discussion of the Rezone Albany focus on Central Ave, that neighborhood is one of the area's most vibrantly multicultural places, with a strong immigrant presence.
The public meeting for the neighborhood revitalization plan is Tuesday, November 1 at West Hill Middle School (395 Elk Street) from 5:30-8:30 pm.
The city of Schenectady's ongoing work toward a master plan for bike infrastructure includes a demonstration project that starts today (Wednesday) and runs through the weekend on Craig Street in Hamilton Hill that's focused on bike lanes, shared lanes, and street calming. Blurbage:
As part of the Schenectady Bike Infrastructure Master Plan, riders and residents are invited to participate in this community demonstration project showcasing street-level bicycle improvements designed to increase safety and connectivity. The temporary installation through funding from CDTC, is designed to explore bicycle-related Complete Streets options for improving Craig Street as a City, Neighborhood and Schools connection.
The demo includes a bike fest Wednesday afternoon from 2-6 pm with bike-themed activities and prizes. And the Electric City Bike Rescue will be there helping with repairs and maintenance.
This is the second demostration project as part of the bike master plan process. Earlier this year there was a demo of a contra-flow bike lane on Washington Ave.
The proposed map incorporates the new types of zoning districts included the comprehensive overhaul of the city's zoning rules -- the first since the 1960s -- that's currently in progress. (Here's the current zoning map.)
We've embedded the proposed map and the current map in large format if you'd like to compare (somewhat) side by side.
Zoning might sound like a really boring topic. And it's certainly complicated. But the issues it deals with cover many things that people regularly get fired up about: How can buildings or properties be used? What sort of new buildings can be built? What should projects look like? And so on.
The draft of the city of Albany's new zoning code is out, and there are two public meetings this week to discuss it:
The Rezone Albany process has been going on for almost two years now, and it's the sort of thing that might be easy to just be like, "Zoning? More like zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzonig, amirite?!"
But the issues up for discussion are all the sorts of things that people regularly get fired up about: What sorts of buildings are built, complications that keep rundown properties from being redeveloped, what projects look like, what people are allowed to do with properties, and everyone's favorite topic, parking. Given that the city's zoning hasn't gotten an overhaul since the 1960s, there's plenty to update in order to make the code more in line with the direction the city wants to go, and along the way make the rules more clear, consistent, and predictable.
Here's a short, quick example of how the Rezone Albany process has already made a difference.
Some follow-up on the roll out of the Madison Ave Road Diet in Albany...
Since the new striping has gone down on the section of Madison Ave starting at Allen Street this week, we've heard a lot of comments from people hailing the traffic calming project for slowing vehicle speeds and providing bike lanes.
We've also seen a few complaints that traffic has become very slow during the late afternoon. For example: one person said it took her 25 minutes to get from New Scotland Ave to Allen Street on Wednesday, a distance of 1.3 miles. (Though maybe there was an unusual circumstance contributing to the backup.)
So at the city of Albany's official unveiling of the project's first phase Thursday afternoon, we talked with city officials about these complaints.
They urged patience as construction continues and they work out the snags. But they also called for people to adapt.
More than a hundred people showed up for a public meeting Wednesday evening in Troy to talk about how to redevelop the 1 Monument Square site. And toward the beginning of the event, mayor Patrick Madden mentioned that the city was hoping to have a request for proposals out to developers sometime early this October.
But by the time the event was ending, Madden said his administration would be rethinking the process.
Here's what happened in between...
As mentioned, the city of Albany has started re-striping Madison Ave has part of the road diet in the works for the corridor between Allen Street and, eventually, Lark Street. So we took a a few minutes Tuesday to stop by the western-most section to see how it's looking.
That's a pic above, and there are more after the jump if you're curious.
The Madison Ave Road Diet is changing the street from two travel lanes in each direction to one travel lane each way with a center turn lane and bike lanes running along both sides.
The goal behind changing the road design is to "calm" traffic -- getting cars to move slower and making the corridor more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists -- with an eye toward making the street safer. A representative of Creighton Manning, the firm that's overseeing the road diet project, said at a public meeting earlier this year they're projecting a 25 percent decrease in accidents because of the redesign.
One of the most interesting parts of the ReZone Albany project has been the series of events focused on the futures of specific neighborhoods around the city. The last one, about the neighborhood around UAlbany's downtown campus, was just this past week. Here's a recap of the ideas that came out of that.
These events have been interesting because they've been opportunity to hear what members of the public think about these neighborhoods right now -- what they hope for these neighborhoods in the future.
Another interesting part of the series has been to hear the perspective of the consultants heading up the sessions. The reps from Dover, Kohl -- which is based in Miami -- have had a chance to get to know Albany over the past year. But they also bring a national perspective to what's going on here because they do similar projects all over the country.
So after last week's event at UAlbany, we took a few minutes to talk with Jason King -- the firm's senior project director -- about how he sees things here in Albany. Some of the things he said we suspect will have you nodding your head. And we're guessing some of you will also hear some things with which you disagree.
Here are a handful of quick clips from the interview.
The ReZone Albany project was focused on the neighborhood surrounding UAlbany's downtown campus last week, a process that culminated in a few "big ideas" for the neighborhood and a bunch of renderings imagining how the future could play out there.
The focus on the neighborhood at the heart of the city was prompted in part by UAlbany's planned $60 million renovation of the former Albany hight school building at Western and Lake into the home of its new engineering college. As Jason King of Dover, Kohl -- the consultancy heading up last week's program -- said in reference to the investment and its potential spillover effects: "That makes this one of the most promising parts of the city."
Let's have a look at those ideas and renderings...
What should the future version of the neighborhood around UAlbany's downtown campus look like? What sorts of services, establishments, and amenities should it have? And what the heck do you call that area?
Those were some of the questions that came up Monday evening during the first Rezone Albany public event focused on imagining and shaping the future of the neighborhood at the heart of the city of Albany. It is, as Albany planning director Christopher Spencer explained to the crowd, an attempt to see how connections can be made among the university, the neighborhood, residents, and businesses.
Monday's event was about gathering ideas from the public. Here's a distillation of what people had to say, along with a few thoughts.
As you might have heard, the state has put a large chunk of the Harriman State Office Campus up for sale. It could be a big deal for the city of Albany because it holds the potential of adding taxable land (which the city's budget could use) and transforming a large site.
The state held a webcast about the sale Wednesday. It's online if you'd like to watch it, and only about 15 minutes. But we watched it so you wouldn't have to.
Here are a handful of interesting bits we took from it...
Here are the details for those upcoming public events that are part of the Rezone Albany focus on the downtown UAlbany campus corridor. The events will be in Milne Hall room 200 (135 Western Ave).
+ Monday, August 1: hands-on design workshop with input from the public from 6-8 pm
+ Tuesday, August 2 and Wednesday, August 3: open design studio from 9 am-6 pm at which members of the public can drop in
+ Thursday, August 4: work in-progress presentation from 6-8 pm
From a UAlbany email about the events:
On the agenda are issues like walkability, traffic calming, future development needs, safety, neighborhood identity and parking. Input from people who live, work and otherwise use the neighborhood is essential to crafting a cooperative vision for the area's future.
The consultancy holding the events will be Dover, Kohl & Partners, the same group that ran the neighborhood-specific Rezone Albany events -- the Warehouse District, Central Ave, and the South End -- last year. All three of those mini-series were interesting -- not only to see what members of the public were interested in, but also to hear from the consultants about how what's going on here fits into broader trends around the nation.
Based on these earlier events, if you're thinking you'd like to go to just one of the events, the first one will probably be the best bet for offering input, and the last one for seeing renderings and potential neighborhood plans.
This plan is being developed to address the needs of all user types ranging from novice neighborhood and trail bicyclists to expert road bicyclists. Please take 5-10 minutes to fill out this questionnaire. Your response will help to build a better understanding of area needs and priorities. Even if you do not bicycle regularly, your feedback will be helpful.
The survey is pretty much what you'd expect: questions about why people bike, what would encourage them to bike more often, and priorities for making bike infrastructure upgrades.
The city is working with the Capital District Transportation Committee and Alta Planning + Design on the bike plan. (Alta is a go-to consultancy for bike projects -- it's also working with the city of Albany on the waterfront bike trail connector.)
In what way should the area around UAlbany's downtown campus grow in upcoming years?
Are there opportunities for the city and university to set the stage for the neighborhood to evolve into a better version itself?
Those are some of the questions at the heart of a new project announced Monday by the city of Albany and UAlbany to study the Western Ave/Washington Ave corridor along the university's campus locations in the heart of the city. The process is part of the city's ongoing ReZone Albany project, and there will be events coming up soon at which the public can voice its opinions about which way the neighborhood should be headed.
Here are a few more details, and a few thoughts...
The city of Albany's ongoing process to plan for a more walkable and bike-friendly future took another step forward this week with the public presentation of a draft of the city's "complete streets" manual.
And if that sounds a little wonky... well, it is. But think of it this way: The manual is like a cookbook for city streets, with recipes (so to speak) about how to incorporate elements such as bike lanes. And it's online for public review -- the city will be accepting comments July 27.
Here's a little bit more about the idea, and a few things that caught our eye while looking over the manual...
The Cuomo admin announced a new statewide pedestrian safety campaign with $110 million for projects -- and one of the Capital Region items caught our eye:
$770,000 for a Capital District Transportation Authority project to reconfigure a one-block section of Washington Avenue in Albany between Lark Street and Dove Street to enhance safety for pedestrians, transit riders and motorists. The project will construct a travel lane exclusively for westbound left turns, consolidate six heavily used transit stops, provide a signalized, mid-block pedestrian crossing and extend curbs and revise parking to reduce speeds and traffic congestion.
CDTA has been wanting to reconfigure the bus stops there for a while (you might remember there was some outcry about how such a consolidated stop could affect the Iron Gate Cafe). It'll be interesting to see how this design shapes up. [TU+]
Info about the rest of the Capital Region projects getting money via this program is after the jump -- items include the rest of the Madison Ave Road Diet and improvements along Brandywine Ave in Schenectady.
Also: Apparently the technical term for a rumble strip is "Milled-In Audible Roadway Delineators."
A couple of weeks ago I tackled the question of whether the Capital Region should build a commuter rail system, answering with a resounding "maybe... at least not yet."
As promised then, today I'm taking on whether our area should embrace a different mode of rail transit: light rail.
A paved section of the Albany County's Helderberg Hudson Rail Trail recently (officially) opened from Slingerlands to Albany's South End neighborhood. That end point on South Pearl is just about two miles from where the Mohawk-Hudson Hike-Bike Trail picks up along the Albany riverfront.
And that proximity, of course, prompts the idea: Hey, maybe these should be connected in some meaningful way, right?
The question of how that make connection happen is at the center of the Albany Waterfront Connector project. And Thursday night there was a public meeting laying out some of the possible options.
Here's a quick look.
The topic of bringing rail transit to the Capital District is one that comes up regularly every few years. Certainly, there are a good number of well-intentioned advocates out there in the region who believe that to have a serious transit option, the Capital District must have rail.
I don't -- at least, not yet. And here's why.
The project aiming to connect the Helderberg Hudson Rail Trail and the Mohawk-Hudson Hike-Bike Trail in Albany's South End has a public meeting lined up for June 2. The purpose of the event will be to gather comments from the community about the creation of the trail connector.
There's been a lot of work going on recently with both of these bike/hike trails. The paved segment of Albany County's Helderberg Hudson trail between Delmar and the South End will officially open this month (it's been unofficially open for a while). And the city of Albany has a $5 million project under construction to upgrade pedestrian and bike amenities along the Mohawk-Hudson trail along the Hudson riverfront.
So this connector project is about figuring out the best to link these two trails. As Kate Lawrence, a senior planner and sustainability coordinator for the city of Albany, told us recently: "With [the waterfront connector] study what will be important is to get feedback from people in what they want to prioritize for that multi-use path because there will be a few options available." Among those options will be deciding the route of the connecting path, whether it bypasses or goes through the neighborhood, and how it negotiates I-787.
The public workshop is Thursday, June 2 from 5-7 pm at the Howe Branch of the Albany Public Library (105 Schuyler Street). There will be a project open house from 5-5:30 pm, a presentation from 5:30-6:30 pm, and the open house will continue from 6-7 pm.
Street safety has been a major topic of discussion in the Capital Region recently, from Albany's red light cameras to the Madison Avenue road diet to the death of a young boy in Albany and far too many others across the region. It's pretty clear that everyone agrees something must be done.
To a large extent, though, it seems that the discussion about road safety for all users has focused on more and better enforcement of existing laws as a solution to the toll. And while enforcement of speed limits and road safety -- which, in my experience, is pretty nonexistent in much of the region -- is absolutely part of the ultimate fix, the focus on it ignores that there is, in fact, a much more effective solution at hand: better design of our streets and roads.
Here are a few examples:
The founder of Walk [Your City] -- Matt Tomasula -- will be the featured speaker at the Albany Roundtable annual meeting May 18 at the University Club in Albany. It's open to public -- tickets are $40.
If Walk [Your City] sounds familiar, it's probably because it's been implemented here in Albany. Maybe you've seen the signs around downtown that note the walking time to various destinations.
Tomasula started Walk [Your City] in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2012 as a guerilla project that eventually won acceptance from the city government there. The idea has now been implemented in cities around the country.
Here's a 2014 profile of Tomasula and some of his "DIY urbanism" projects in the Raleigh-Durham area, which include a pop-up biergarten based out of a shipping container.
The Albany Roundtable event is Wednesday, May 18 from 6-8 pm.
photo via Matt for Raleigh FB page
+ Wednesday, May 11, First Presbyterian Church of Albany (326 State Street) 6-8 pm
+ Thursday, May 12, Albany Public Library Delaware Ave Branch (331 Delaware) 6-8 pm
A meeting about zoning might sound like a ticket for the train to Snoresville, but zoning touches on a lot of topics that people regularly get fired up about, including what sort of development should go where and what it should look like. Rezone blurbage:
ReZone Albany is a major initiative to update and streamline the City's antiquated zoning code. This two year effort - funded largely by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) - is designed to reduce make the City a better place to live, work, invest, and play. The project will create a new Unified Sustainable Development Ordinance (USDO) that:
+ Is simpler, more user-friendly, and highly illustrated
+ Is better aligned with the City's Albany 2030 planning priorities,
+ Promotes energy conservation and sustainable development,
+ Reduces burdens on small business owners,
+ Streamlines the City's procedures for reviewing and approving new development, and
+ Protects established neighborhoods.
This is the first major revision of the city's zoning almost half a century. An example of how this process is already affecting things: The new mixed-use overlay district that's been applied to the Warehouse District has smoothed the way for residential conversion projects there.
West Hill/West End
Another planning event: The city of Albany is starting work on a West Hill/West End neighborhood plan this weekend with a party at Swinburne Park Friday from 5-7:30 pm. And then on Saturday, April 14 there will be a neighborhood planning summit at Philip Schuyler Achievement Academy (676 Clinton Ave) from 9 am-4 pm. "This event will include a review of neighborhood assets, walking tours, as well as resident input, ideas & vision for the West Hill/West End Neighborhood Plan."
* It's possible it's just called "Module 3" and we got this mixed up with the sequel of a different franchise.
You might notice these red-and-white signs popping up on buildings in in the city of Albany. So... what's that about?
From a city press release Monday:
The 2X2 foot building identification signs, which will consist of an "X" inside a red-colored square, will be placed on [vacant] buildings that have interior hazards, warning first responders during emergencies such as fires that the building is unsafe to enter. But emergency responders will still enter these buildings if people are believed to be inside one of the designated buildings.
Albany firefighters will be inspecting 600-800 buildings around the city over the next six months making assessments about which buildings should get the warning box, according to the city. The review will also serve as a code enforcement check and violators will be cited.
Earlier on AOA: Map: Vacant buildings in Albany (2012)
Corning Riverfront Park -- wedged between I-787 and the Hudson River -- has always been like a stray puzzle piece for the city, with people looking at it, scratching their heads, and asking: "How does this fit?"
It took the city decades to figure what to do with the slice of land. Should it exist as a nature preserve? Maybe farm land? If it's an active park, what should it include?
More than anything, though, the spot has just been persistently difficult or confusing to reach. It is the place in Albany that you can't get there from here.
But now there's a $5 million project aimed at upgrading pedestrian and bicycle amenities in the park -- and making it clearer how exactly it connects to other parts of the city.
Check out the map clip above -- it's from a new site called AllTransit and it shows the number of transit routes within mile for places around the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area. (There's an interactive version at that link.) The brighter the yellow, the higher the number of routes.
AllTransit has all sorts of maps and rankings and data like this for metros all around the country. Here's a whole bunch of potential uses for info, broken out by type of person who might be using it (city residents, business owners, elected officials, and so on).
The maps might first draw your eye, but the rankings and scores are interesting for getting a bit of context about relative levels of transit services both (with)in the Capital Region and elsewhere. For example, the Albany-Schenectady-Troy metro ranks #42 among metros with more than 500k people for AllTransit's Performance Score, "an overall transit score that looks at connectivity, access to jobs, and frequency of service," with a score of 3.39. But, as you might expect, if you look within the metro area, there is a lot of variation. For example: The city of Albany's performance score is 7.8, the city of Schenectady's is 6.3, and areas of Clifton Park range from 1.4 to 0.
screengrab from AllTransit
Catching up a bit: Plans, renderings, and slides from the recent public meetings for Realize Troy -- effort to develop a new comprehensive plan for Troy -- and are online. And they're worth having a look if you haven't seen them. If you'd like to just flick through one deck of slides, here's the overview presentation.
A lot of the ideas and themes are similar to what's been discussed in Albany in recent years for that city's comprehensive plan and the current Rezone Albany project: developing downtown, making better connections to and use of the waterfront, providing job opportunities, fostering neighborhoods, adjusting codes so buildings better fit their contexts. The "big moves and plan directions":
1. A sustained program of reinvestment
2. Grow people, jobs, and the City's tax base
3. Position the downtown as the cultural and creative hub of the region
4. Grow and expand the success of downtown to the north and south
5. Revitalize neighborhoods and improve access to local amenities
6. Grow the city's skills and knowledge base
7. Reconnect the city to the waterfront and improve its recreational, development and cultural potential
8. Protect and enhance Troy's historical assets
9. Promote an inclusive, healthy, sustainable and green city
10. Continue to engage the broader community in making the Plan a success
The part we suspect that will first catch most people's eyes are some of the ideas floated for downtown Troy, including a re-imagining of the area just south of the Green Island Bridge with a permanent home for the farmers' market and a replacement for the Atrium. We've clipped those slides out -- they're after the jump if you'd like to have a quick look.
The project is currently in the "plan development" phase. It's gathering feedback on the draft plan via an online comment form.
"It is a highway, it is asphalt and concrete, we get a shovel and we hit it enough times it cracks up ... put it in a truck and there is no more highway."
Farther afield, but maybe of note because of the ongoing 787 discussion: The Cuomo admin announced today it's directing $42 million toward ripping out a two-mile section of the Robert Moses Parkway along the Niagara River and gorge in Niagara Falls. The project will include reconstruction of a parallel street, along with new bike trails and green space. Local representatives have been pushing for the highway's removal for years. [Cuomo admin] [Buffalo News]
There are a lot of differences between the Robert Moses Parkway and 787 -- including scale. The parkway carries not quite 3200 vehicles a day, according traffic volume estimates. The segment of 787 just north of the South Mall Expressway carries almost 46,000 vehicles.
But if you're a tear-down-787 person, some of the remarks Andrew Cuomo made today might make your ears perk up.
In my previous post, I took a crack at explaining some of the dynamics behind the economic and cultural malaise that many people feel is afflicting Albany's Lark Street.
But since every good analysis of a problem demands a solution, here's a followup: What can Lark do to get its mojo back in the face of significant competition?
In January AOA ran a piece with a variety of thoughtful responses about the future of Lark Street. I'm grateful to be given the opportunity to chime in a little, as a planner and as a resident of the neighborhood.
As a relative newcomer (I've been on Dove Street since August 2013), I can't claim to have experienced what many people seem to regard as Lark's heyday; but, as is probably apparent if you've read my writing before, I believe strongly that while localized familiarity matters, comparative experience is highly useful as well.
Though reasonable people disagree on the extent of the problem, there seems to be a general sense that Lark Street is suffering from something of a commercial and cultural malaise.
But why? Surely there are multiple factors, but perhaps we can identify a primary one. In the spirit of Hanlon's Razor, I think the most obvious answer is probably the biggest single factor: the stagnation of Lark, perceived or real, is intimately linked to the exciting growth of other neighborhoods in the Capital District that offer similar cultural amenities.
Monday: Draft Comprehensive Plan Overview
"The evening presentation will provide a high-level overview of the Draft Comprehensive Plan directions and transformation over time. This will be followed by break-out group discussions to capture feedback on the information presented." Monday 6:30 pm at the RPI Heffner Alumni House, 1301 Peoples Avenue
Tuesday and Wednesday: Detailed Directions Workshop
The consultants for the project will be giving short, detailed presentations on a range of topics in the plan, including neighborhoods, the waterfront and downtown, and open space. (There's a schedule at that second link above.) Tuesday and Wednesday 6 pm at RPI Heffner Alumni House, 1301 Peoples Avenue
So, what is this comprehensive plan thing? Here's some blurbage from the about page:
The Comprehensive Plan will be developed through significant public consultation and will establish a clear community based vision and action plan to guide the city's overall development over the next 20 years addressing both the current and future needs of the community. The Comprehensive Plan will chart a clear roadmap for the future of the city and it will guide municipal decision-making, investment, development, and land use planning. ... The planning process presents an important opportunity to demonstrate bold leadership and innovation while strengthening the quality of life the city offers and its competitive advantage as a dynamic and desirable place to live, work, invest and recreate.
In other words, if you'd like to see Troy head in a certain direction, this is one opportunity to formally express that.
The city of Albany has made a choice of which direction to go on the much-discussed Madison Avenue Road Diet, a plan to calm traffic along the busy corridor in an effort to make it safer -- and, at the same time, friendlier to pedestrians and cyclists.
The long-developing project has recently been getting more attention because of a push for the inclusion protected bike lanes in the road re-design. A coalition supporting the idea has argued the lanes are both safer for cyclists and feel safer, which would lead to more people cycling.
Consultants for the project explained the reasons for the selected choice at a public meeting Wednesday evening at Saint Rose. So, without further ado, here's the selected plan.
The city of Albany has a public meeting set for March 9 at Saint Rose to discuss options for the Madison Ave Road Diet. As you know, that's the project to reduce the number of traffic lanes along the corridor and, perhaps, add some sort of bike lane.
Blurbage from the meeting flyer:
The City of Albany is progressing a Locally Administered Federal Aid project to design and construct a road diet along Madison Avenue from South Allen Street to Lark Street. The project will reduce the number of travel lanes, while improving bicycle accommodations and completing all work between the existing curbs. The purpose of the meeting is to review concepts and trade-offs for two feasible alternatives and to obtain public input on the preferred Complete Streets solution.
Update March 7: From a new press release from the city Monday: "The meeting will present the preferred Complete Streets alternative, including the selected bicycle infrastructure."
The path to this point hasn't been a straight line. After the city presented five options for the road diet last summer, it scheduled a public meeting last November to present proposed plan -- and then the meeting was cancelled.
One of the most vocal groups leading up to road diet decision was a coalition pushing for protected bike lanes along the corridor -- these would lanes that are separated in some way from car traffic, either by some sort of barrier or parked cars. The argument for these lanes is that they are not only safer for cyclists, but they also feel safer, encouraging more people to bicycle. The argument against is that they could cut into the number of parking spaces available and would be more costly to maintain.
It appeared at the time, based both on the earlier public presentation and unofficial word circulating, that the city was probably leaning toward "regular" bike lanes rather than protected bike lanes. But then the meeting was cancelled and the city said the road diet was getting further review.
So... it'll be interesting to see which options are presented at this meeting -- and the arguments made for and against those options.
The public meeting is Wednesday, March
6 9 at 6:30 pm in the Lally School building (1009 Madison Avenue) at Saint Rose.
Earlier on AOA: A new pitch for protected bike lanes in Albany
Two projects in fermenting Albany's Warehouse District -- the 24-unit residential/restaurant conversion in the old liquor warehouse building at 960 Broadway, and the wine bar in the building next to Wolff's -- got site plan approvals from the city planning board Thursday night. (The approvals are conditional on a handful of reviews for things like sewers, traffic, and street trees.)
So, here's a little bit more info about that wine bar project -- and also a quick look at an issue that could potentially complicate development in the neighborhood.
The draft of the latest module for the Rezone Albany project is out, and there are two public meetings coming up next week to go over them.
A meeting about making over the city's zoning code? That might sound like a business-class trip to Snoresville. But all sorts of issues that often interest or fire up people are wrapped up in this project -- including which sorts of businesses go where, what neighborhoods look like, and everyone's most favorite of all topics... parking.
So we flipped through this latest of chunk of documents this week, and here are two things that caught our eye...
UAlbany will be building a new complex on a chunk of the Harriman State Office Campus for the new College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity, the Cuomo admin formally announced today.
That's a rendering of the complex above. Here's a larger version, along with an aerial view of the complex's position on the Harriman campus.
The development -- called the "Emerging Technology and Entrepreneurship Complex" or ETEC -- will be on 12 acres in the southwest corner of the Harriman campus. (Yep, that's the portion right next UAlbany's uptown campus.) It'll house both the new college and New York State Mesonet, the statewide weather monitoring system that's currently being rolled out.
Press release blurbage:
The $184 million project will be financed through $92 million in previously appropriated State capital funds grants as well as $92 million in previously appropriated Campus-funds. It is anticipated that 1,600 construction jobs will be created by the project. When fully occupied, the complex will become an active hub of research, instruction and business development, with some 1,000 daily occupants including faculty, researchers, industry partners, and students. Site planning is underway and construction is expected to begin in 2017, with completion targeted for 2020.
About the Harriman campus and the city of Albany
The Harriman campus is ongoing issue not just for the state, but for the city of Albany -- because it's enormous, roughly 330 acres within the city limits. And it's tax exempt, a fact that Albany leaders routinely bring up when banging the drum for more state aid.
The future of I-787 often pops up in conversations about downtown Albany - specifically, the desire that many people apparently have to see the elevated highway torn down.
There's a currently a longterm effort by a group of state and local agencies to study this overall topic. And you're probably already familiar with some of the potential benefits the tear-it-down crowd touts: A boulevard replacement would reconnect the city with the waterfront. It could improve air quality, especially in some underprivileged areas. And it could open up considerable portions of land for development.
Of course, one of the counter arguments is that 787 is necessary to handle the large amounts of traffic that flow into Albany each weekday, and tearing it down would tip downtown into traffic gridlock.
But what if it was just the opposite -- what if tearing down 787 could actually make traffic in Albany flow more smoothly and efficiently?
Back in November the city of Albany was set to present the much-awaited plan for the Madison Ave Road Diet. And then, just a few days before the public meeting to announce plan, the city canceled the announcement and there's been no public word since then about what's up.
There are a bunch of interesting ideas wrapped up in the road diet, among them that the city can reduce the number of travel lanes to slow speeding vehicles while at the same time maintaining overall volume and flow of the corridor. But the idea that's gotten the most attention is the possible inclusion of protected bike lanes -- both from advocates who say the lanes would be a big step forward in the city's effort to become friendlier to cyclists, and from skeptics who worry about the cost of maintaining the lanes and their effects on the number of parking spaces.
It's hard to say what exactly is holding things up. A spokesman for mayor Kathy Sheehan told us this week that the city is still gathering info from its consultants on the project and there weren't any new developments. But there's a sense among cycling advocates that the bike lanes are probably a sticking point.
So now those advocates have a new pitch that is, essentially, the city should do an experiment.
If there is one constant about cities, it is that they are always changing. Businesses open and close. People move in and out.
In Albany a lot of the recent discussion about neighborhood ebb and flow has been focused on Lark Street and the Washington Park neighborhood. The last few years have seen a lot of change on the stretch of Lark between Madison and Washington, and the recent closing of Justin's leaves another empty storefront on the street.
So is this part of the natural ebb and flow of a neighborhood? Or is it something more?
We asked a handful of people who live, work, and own businesses on Lark Street and in the surrounding neighborhood to share some of their thoughts about the direction of Lark Street -- and to tell us what they'd like to see happen in the neighborhood.
Some quick follow-up to that series of Rezone Albany events focused on the future of the South End last month: The work-in-progress presentation from that week is online, and we've pulled out some of the renderings for easy gawking (they're after the jump).
Here's a clip from one of the presentation slides, summing up what the Rezone Albany consultants -- the firm Dover Kohl has been handling these neighborhood-focused, "form-based code" reviews -- gathered while working with the public that week from working with the public:
big ideas for the south end
• strategic infill & redevelopment street-oriented buildings; reconnect historic grid; mix of uses; mix of housing types; focus on blighted properties; vibrant activity
• improve access & enhance the waterfront connect the neighborhood to the waterfront; develop the waterfront with market-rate housing, hotels, parks, amenities to create an environment not available elsewhere
• lasting economic development diversify local economy; add quality jobs; education & training; redevelop aging affordable housing; mix in market rate housing; add missing housing types
• balanced transportation & better connectivity more transit; bike facilities; connect under highways both physically connections and mental connections; utilize underside of 787 to support connections to the waterfront
• strengthen neighborhoods & create "gateways" unique sense of place; mix of housing types; community amenities, historic preservation, repurpose the Bath House & St. John's Church
The whole deck of slides is worth a look. And even without narration they provide a glimpse at potential possibilities for the neighborhood and some of the ideas discussed.
As with the two other neighborhoods that got an intense focus and visioning during the Rezone Albany process -- the Warehouse District and Central Ave -- we wonder where the people and investment would come from to fuel some of these proposed futures. But if anything, the ideas and renderings are a way of having a discussion about what people do and don't want for the neighborhood. (The whole Rezone Albany project has been interesting in that sense so far.)
OK, on to the renderings...
We had this thought a few weeks back during a public meeting. And we suspect it's true -- both in the real world and the virtual world. (Though maybe the line should slope even faster.)
By the way: If you've never been to a meeting of your local planning board (or similar panel), you should go sometime. A lot of things people tend to be interested in -- new buildings, news businesses, parking -- get discussed at these meetings. And, if anything, it gives you another peek into how local government works.
The Rezone Albany project is focused on the South End this week. And as with the other two neighborhoods that have gotten an intensive focus during this process -- the Warehouse District and Central Ave -- there was a an event Tuesday night at which members of the public got together in small groups to brainstorm ideas for the future.
As Christopher Spencer, Albany's planning director, said to us of the overall Rezone Albany project: "We want to have the right rules in place to get what the community is looking for."
Here are a few ideas and topics that bubbled up from the working groups Tuesday night...
The South End Design Workshop is a three-day visioning, zoning and form-based coding discussion that will inform the City's ReZone Albany initiative. This workshop will focus on the area around Albany's South End, gathering input from members of the public in order to arrive at a collaborative solution. The Warehouse District Workshop began the process in May, followed by the Central and Manning Design Workshop in August. ...
This is your community. You are the expert. Who knows the community better than someone who lives and/or works here? ReZone Albany is a rare chance for you to be a part of creating positive change, impacting the growth of your City for years to come. We need your ideas, input and feedback to ensure that the vision reflects community values and aspirations.
The South End presentations are at the Capital South Campus Center:
+ Tuesday, December 8 from 6-8 pm for the hands-on design workshop
+ Thursday, December 19 from 6-8 pm for the work-in-progress presentation
We've stopped into the two previous workshops -- for the Warehouse District and Central Ave -- and they've been interesting, both as a way to learn more about the Rezone Albany project and just to hear the thoughts of the national consultants about various parts of the city. The South End workshop is the last of the currently planned events of its type.
The products of these workshops are being rolled into proposed mixed-use zoning district that will help direct what sorts of development goes on there in the future.
At some point in the near future the city of Albany will be releasing its plan for the Madison Ave Road Diet, an effort to reshape the traffic flow a long a large portion of the Madison Ave corridor.
Bike lanes are expected to be part of the plan, and exactly what sort of bike lane has become a hot topic -- "regular" bike lanes separated from car traffic by a stripe on the road, or "protected" bike lanes that are separated by some sort of barrier (such as parked cars or vertial pylons).
Listening between the lines this past summer when the city and its consultants presented the options for the road diet, it sounded like the city might be leaning toward regular bike lanes because of concerns about the impact on the number of parking spaces and the costs associated with clearing snow. And ahead of a meeting that had been scheduled for last week (and was then canceled) to release the plan, word was circulating that the city would be heading in that direction.
Perhaps in an attempt to make a pre-emptive case, a group called the Albany Protected Bicycle Lane Coaltion released a report today that attempts to head off some of the arguments against protected lanes.
So, let's have a quick look.
Update: The meeting has been cancelled, according to the Albany Police Department (traffic engineering is part of the APD), and will be rescheduled. [APD FB]
The city of Albany has a public meeting lined up for Monday, November 9 to present the recommendations for the Madison Ave Road Diet. The meeting is at the College of Saint Rose's Lally School Building (1009 Madison Ave) from 6-7 pm.
The Madison Ave Road Diet is a project to reconfigure the lanes on the busy thoroughfare with the aim of calming traffic and making the street more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists. That could involve reducing the number of traffic lanes from the current two in each direction, to one in each direction with a turn lane.
The part of the project that's gotten the most attention lately is the possibility of the addition of protected bike lanes to the corridor.
The first "module" of the Rezone Albany project, and there are two public meetings coming up to review it.
Zoning might not sound like the most exciting thing, but it plays a in role all sorts topics. Examples? Well, this first chunk of the project (technical term) describes new zoning districts and potential uses -- so there are proposed rules for marijuana dispensaries, urban agriculture, food trucks, electric vehicle charging stations, and live-work spaces.
But the stuff that will probably first catch your eye are proposed special mixed-use districts for the Warehouse District and Central Ave.
So, let's have a quick look at those...
The development team backing the 1 Monument Square project presented the latest iteration of the mixed-use building to the Troy planning commission Wednesday night. The presentation included new renderings, a somewhat reconfigured plan for the river side of the building, and some discussion about what the space that has been set aside for the Troy Waterfront Farmers' Market might (or might not) be.
And then things took a bit of a turn toward the dramatic. An attorney representing a group called We Care About the Square stood up for the first public comment of the night and raised the possibility of legal action if the project moves forward.
Trees are often one of those things you don't really have a real sense of until they're gone. It's remarkable how much emptier, starker, hotter a street can feel after a few longstanding trees are taken down.
The city of Albany is facing the possibility of experiencing this sort of impact on a large scale. Last year an invasive beetle was detected in the city for the first time and the city's ash trees -- of which there more than 2,000 along the city's streets and in its parks -- are threatened with being killed off.
We talked with Albany's city forester, Tom Pfeiffer, recently about dealing with this threat, the problems associated with uniformity, trees that stink, and trees as infrastructure.
What direction should Central Ave take? What are the possible destinations?
Those questions about direction -- metaphorical rather than geographic -- were the theme of a discussion this week about the corridor's future as part of the ongoing ReZone Albany effort.
"There seems to me, from the perspective of traveling around a lot, that there is a lot of untapped economic potential in this area," Jason King, from the architecture and planning firm Dover Kohl, said about Central Ave after Wednesday's public presentation at The Linda, the culmination of a three-day intensive look at the corridor. "And I do actually think it's inevitable that it will come. And the question is when it does, what form will it take. Will it be respectful of what's here or will it be intrusive. Will it be fought or will it be integrated and appreciated."
Here's a look at some of the potential visions presented for one of Albany's main arteries, along with a few thoughts.
The Central Avenue / Manning Square District Design Workshop is a three-day visioning, zoning, and form-based coding discussion that will inform the City's ReZone Albany initiative. This workshop will focus on the Central Avenue corridor, gathering input from members of the public in order to arrive at a collaborative solution.
The events will be at the The Linda (Central and Quail). Schedule:
+ Monday, August 10: hands-on design workshop for the public (6-8 pm)
+ Tuesday, August 11: open design studios for members of the public to drop in (11 am-noon, 11:30 pm-3 pm, 4-5 pm)
+ Wednesday, August 12: work in-progress presentation for the public (6-8 pm)
This focus on Central Ave follows a similar intensive look at the Warehouse District earlier this summer. Those events were interesting -- the consultants working the citywide rezoning effort explained some of the considerations that go into zoning, and looked at how rezoning could affect possibilities for the neighborhood.
The "playbook" for the Impact Downtown Albany project is out. It's aimed to be a set of specific ideas and steps the city can take to continue the redevelopment of downtown Albany -- touching on topics such as residential and retail development, taxes, parking, pop-up events, and branding.
"Impact Downtown Albany was designed as a game changer," said Sarah Reginelli, the president of Capitalize Albany, the city's economic development arm. "It was designed as a tactical approach to downtown revitalization."
The report was produced for Capitalize Albany by a team of consultants over the last two years. Capitalize Albany released it this week so that it might help the Capital Region's bid for one of those $500 million Upstate Revitalization grants from the state.
"Downtown has wonderful assets already, downtown has a strong momentum," Reginelli told us Thursday. "Part of it is changing perceptions of downtown and understanding that this momentum has been occurring and that there is potential here for people to reach out and grab."
We read through the report. And there's approximately three tons of stuff in it. So, if this topic interests you -- go skim through it (pdf). But here are a few chunks of it that caught our eye...
Can Madison Avenue in Albany's Pine Hills neighborhood be a better version of itself, one that both moves cars along but also provides a safer, more comfortable experience for cyclists and pedestrians?
That's the question at the heart of the proposed Madison Ave Road Diet, one of the region's most interesting transportation projects -- and a high-priority focus for cycling advocates pushing for protected bike lanes. Wednesday night at the College of Saint Rose city officials and consultants unveiled the menu of proposed options for reconfiguring the thoroughfare.
"It's most important that we get it right," Albany mayor Kathy Sheehan told the crowd Wednesday in emphasizing the importance of public feedback on the project. "We're really going to have one opportunity and then this will become the model for what we do in other parts of the city."
Here's the menu of options, along with a few thoughts...
This Wednesday is a big day for one of the most interesting transportation projects in the Capital Region because the city of Albany will be publicly presenting options for the Madison Ave Road Diet. The range of options will be on display, and public comments collected, at the College of Saint Rose Wednesday at 6 pm.
The project is aiming to make the popular thoroughfare through Albany's Pine Hills neighborhood safer by reducing the number of lanes in an effort to "calm" traffic. It's a notable example of how the thinking about the way people get around is evolving from a perspective that places a high, almost sole, priority on cars, to an approach that intends to be more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists.
The Madison Ave Road Diet is also potentially important because it could end up including the first protected bike lane in the city of Albany -- that is, a lane designated for bikes that's protected from car traffic by some sort of barrier. Cycling advocates have been pushing for such an amenity, and see it as a significant step towards more bikeable city.
Here are three thoughts about the push for protected bike lanes.
The latest iteration of the third major attempt to redevelopment the 1 Monument Square site is down to a one building.
The development team aiming to build a residential/restaurant/farmers' market project on the prime spot in downtown Troy presented its latest plan Tuesday night to the Troy Planning Commission. And the commission gave the site plan a preliminary approval.
So, let's have a look.
The planning project for the future of I-787 -- and the waterfront -- got off to its public start Wednesday with presentations at the Albany Public Library.
The I-787/Hudson Waterfront Corridor Study is sponsored by Capital District Transportation Committee, the state Department of Transportation, and the city of Albany. Its focus extends from the Port of Albany along the riverfront north to Watervliet. And its aims include helping develop strategies for improving waterfront access and guiding future transportation planning.
We stopped by for the early presentation (the same presentation was to be repeated in the evening), and took some time to check out the various posters and other "visioning" materials.
Here are four impressions/takeaways...
The Empire State Plaza and its history are getting a lot of attention this summer because it's the 50th anniversary of the official cornerstone being laid for the ESP (the exact anniversary was this past Sunday). And even in non-round number years, the ESP gets a lot of attention in discussions about the history, architecture, and planning of downtown Albany. Because of course.
But here's something new to us -- Albany Archives pointed it out to us this week -- so maybe it will be to you, too: There was was a proposed plan for the state to remake the area near the Capitol in Albany that pre-dated the ESP -- by more than 50 years. And the plan helps add some context for how things actually did turn out.
A bit of follow-up to that discussion about trends that are shaping the way people get around the Capital Region: The Capital District Transportation Committee has a couple of public meetings this week to go over the draft version of its New Visions 2040 Plan -- this is the map (of sorts) for thinking and planning all sorts of regional transportation stuff, including roads, bridges, traffic congestion, CDTA, bike lanes, car sharing, road diets, even stuff like self-driving cars.
The meetings are:
+ Tuesday, June 16 at the Empire State Plaza (Meeting Room 6, Concourse Level) from 6:30-8:30 pm
+ Thursday, June 18 at Niskayuna Town Hall from 6:30-8:30 pm
The full draft plan is online if you'd like to have a look (there's also an executive summary and listing of key recommendations.) If you're curious about any of the topics mentioned above, you'll probably find at least a few interesting bits.
After a quick read through, here are a handful of things that caught our eye:
The planning project for the future of I-787 -- and the waterfront -- has a pair of public workshops lined up for later this month. As the flyer for the events says: "Help Us Visualize the Future of the Corridor."
Join us at one of two public workshops on June 24th in Albany or June 30th in Watervliet to discuss the future of the I-787/waterfront corridor. The purpose of the workshops is to introduce the study and its objectives, to share information on existing land uses and the transportation system and to provide opportunities for input on short and long term transportation and land use strategies.
Along with a brief presentation, workshop attendees will be able to view study area maps and data, can offer initial input on strategy and evaluation criteria and can participate in a hands on "map your ideas" station.
The first workshop is June 24 at the Albany Public Library main branch on Washington Ave from 4-7:30 pm (with presentations at 4:30 pm and 6:30 pm).
The second workshop is June 30 at the Watervliet Senior Citizen Center (1541 Broadway) from 5-7:30 pm (presentation at 5:30 pm).
The I-787/Hudson Waterfront Corridor Study is sponsored by Capital District Transportation Committee, the state Department of Transportation, and the city of Albany. Its focus extends from the Port of Albany along the riverfront north to Watervliet. And its aims include helping develop strategies for improving waterfront access and guiding future transportation planning.
Whenever we ask people here at AOA about things they'd like to see changed about area, 787 gets mentioned. A lot. So this could be a good opportunity to get your concerns and ideas on the record with planners.
Furthermore: A lot of cities have been facing the issue of what to do with their urban (often elevated or waterfront) highways. Just down the Thruway, Syracuse has been trying to sort out what to do with I-81, an elevated highway that runs right through the middle of downtown, a process that's included conflict between the city and its suburbs. (Here's the latest on the I-81 storyline.)
As part of the planning process for the next I-81, the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council put together a bunch of case studies about how other cities have handled remaking urban highways -- it's worth a look if you're interested in the topic.
Quick follow-up on the Albany Warehouse District rezoning project: The consultants who were in town last week to study the neighborhood, talk with people, and start roughing out new guidelines for the Warehouse District presented some of their work at a public event Friday evening.
The presentation included what might be possible in the neighborhood with new design standards -- and the potential transformation is significant.
A couple of the renderings are after the jump, along with a few quick bits.
The Realize Troy City Summit is a free three-day citywide community visioning and brainstorming event that will bring community leaders and residents together to explore key issues and challenges facing the city, and discuss ideas, opportunities and directions for the future. The Summit has been structured into a series of theme-based discussions, wherein participants will be presented with important background information relevant to a specific theme or topic, and then invited to explore opportunities within the theme that can best enhance Troy's quality of life, community enjoyment and prosperity.
There's a kickoff event Thursday, but Friday and Saturday are the visioning sessions at the Troy Italian Community Center -- you can register online, it's free.
To go along with the events, the consultants orchestrating the project have posted their take on the current state of the city -- "a synopsis of the strengths, challenges, issues and opportunities currently facing the city" -- it's called Snapshot Troy.
By the way: If you're curious about what a finished comprehensive plan looks like, the city of Albany went through a similar process a few years back -- the product was the Albany 2030 plan.
We stopped into the public workshop about rezoning Albany's Warehouse District Tuesday evening. It was interesting to hear people talk about their aspirations and concerns for a neighborhood that appears poised for a possible transition to something different. And if anything, it was heartening to see so many people -- more than 50, easily -- commit a few hours to discussing the future of their city on a beautiful summer evening.
Many of the ideas expressed will sound familiar: a desire for walkability, waterfront access, mixed-use housing, boulevarding 787, ways of possibly fostering businesses that draw on the arts, a supermarket. There was also a notable segment of people who wanted to make sure industrial businesses aren't pushed out.
This intensive look at the neighborhood continues through Friday, when there's another public session to discuss some of the work produced by the zoning consultants this week. So we'll probably circle back around to this topic again in the near future because there are a bunch of interesting threads.
But here's one sort-of-big-picture thought we had while listening Tuesday night...
What's become known as the Warehouse District in Albany has a long history as an industrial area -- populated by foundries, factories, and breweries -- dating back more than a century.
But its future could look much different, in large part because people have started to view it as a scene for entertainment and residential, both now and in the near future.
So, what's possible in the Warehouse District? Or, to put the question a bit differently, what should be possible in the Warehouse District?
That's one of the questions people will be answering next week at an event focused on the future of the neighborhood.
The city of Albany is more than three centuries old, so over the years some things are bound to be overlooked or lost in the shuffle. But an 80-acre nature preserve?
Yeah, that sort of happened.
"Tivoli Preserve has the potential to really be an attraction, and also a refuge, that is recognized by people within the city of Albany as an asset to the city. Right now, that's not true," Kate Lawrence, the city of Albany's sustainability planner, told us this week. "A lot of people don't know it exists. And the people who do know it exists avoid it because they don't know what's in there, because it's not very clear what the conditions are in there. Or it's a secret that only a few people can enjoy."
But there's a plan mapping out a possible new future for Albany's Tivoli Lake Preserve.
As it turns out, there are already similar signs here in Albany. Nicole spotted a few of them in downtown Albany this week (that's her pic above).
The signs went up last fall as part of the "tactical urbanism" plan that Capitalize Albany is pursuing, the org's president, Sarah Reginelli, told us this week. The signs in Albany were inspired by Walk [Your City].
"The intent was to show the wealth of approachable opportunities within walking distance of the employment and retail center at Tricentennial Park," Reginelli said to us in an email. "It's all about embracing walkability. This method helps get the public, who may be used to walking directly to one destination, to alter their choice of transportation methods when going between others, or to explore their environment beyond what they are used to."
Reginelli said the current signs are a small test program -- there are seven of them around the Tricentennial Park area -- before possibly making a bigger investment in the idea. She said Capitalize Albany welcomes feedback about them as it thinks about the signage's future.
Speaking just from our own experience, the more you walk or take the bus, the more your mental map of a place -- and that sense of "how far" things are from each other -- changes. You can actually get pretty far in 15 minutes while walking. But that's sometimes hard to internalize until you make the trip a time or two.
A "mini-festival" of films from the influential Streetfilms project -- which is focused on urban planning, cycling, and transit -- is queued up for the Madison Theater in Albany on April 13. Event blurbage:
These short films show how smart transportation design and policy can result in better places to live, work and play. The event will include a Q and A with Streetfilms' own Clarence Eckerson following the screening. Mr. Eckerson, a UAlbany alum, is often called, "the hardest working man in transportation show biz" for his dedication to making difficult, wonky concepts more accessible and entertaining to the general public. He's been documenting transportation advocacy for 15 years and has produced over 600 Streetfilms.
The short video embedded above -- Gronigen: The World's Cycling City -- is an example of the sort of film Streetfilms produces.
The Streetfilms Mini-Festival is being organized by the Albany Protected Bike Lane Coalition, which (as the name would imply) is working to get protected bike lanes built in the city. We hear that about eight short films will be screened, with a total runtime of about 45 minutes.
The screening at the Madison on Monday, April 13 is at 7 pm. (Information tables will be set up at 6:15 pm.) Admission is free.
What is the next life of the southern edge of Albany's downtown?
That's the question at the heart of the request for proposals (RFP) issued today by Empire State Development for the collection of land that had originally been gathered for a convention center. From the RFP:
With its large size and premier location in the heart of downtown Albany, this Project offers a unique opportunity for a major development in the City's urban core. The Site features convenient proximity to the area's transportation access points and is less than a quarter mile or closer to the City's commercial, cultural and governmental destinations. The Project will serve as a key component of the City's initiatives to attract urban re-investment downtown to meet market demand while simultaneously revitalizing the area with a vibrant mix of uses.
So, yeah, this project -- whatever it ends up becoming, if it ends up becoming -- could be an important part of the ongoing redevelopment of downtown Albany.
Here are a few bits from the RFP that caught our eye, along with a few thoughts...
Check out these before-and-after aerial photos of Northeast cities posted by an academic institute at the University of Oklahoma. Albany is among the cities featured -- that's a screengrab above -- in the series of before/after sliding photos.
From the Institute for for Quality Communities post:
60 years has made a big difference in the urban form of American cities. The most rapid change occurred during the mid-century urban renewal period that cleared large tracts of urban land for new highways, parking, and public facilities or housing projects. Fine-grained networks of streets and buildings on small lots were replaced with superblocks and megastructures. While the period did make way for impressive new projects in many cities, many of the scars are still unhealed.
We put together these sliders to show how cities have changed over half a century.
One of the things that struck us as we moved the slider back and forth on the Albany photos was that, sure, the Empire State Plaza took up a lot of space -- but it's remarkable how the wide path was plowed for the South Mall Arterial connecting I-787 and the ESP.
photo compilation: Institute for for Quality Communities at the University of Oklahoma
This week Impact Downtown Albany -- the ongoing project to develop a "tactical" plan for downtown development -- released its vision of what downtown Albany could become over the next 5-10 years.
"This is the shared definition of success based on the hundreds of stakeholders that have been part of this process," Sarah Reginelli -- the new president of Capitalize Albany -- explained to us Tuesday afternoon. "This is really what's been identified as the opportunities that we need to take advantage of to make downtown the best downtown that it can be at this point."
Among the identified possibilities: continued growth of new housing units, unique retail, a "high line"-type park connecting downtown with the riverfront, and transformation of part of the warehouse district.
Here are a few things that caught our attention.
The Albany Common Council passed the ordinance for a red light camera demonstration project in the city Monday night. The ordinance passed 11-4 after some impassioned comments from council members.
Pending a signature on the bill from mayor Kathy Sheehan, who supports the measure, Albany will be on its way to becoming the first municipality in the Capital Region to get the automatic cameras.
Comments, the votes, the ordinance, and a few thoughts...
The Albany river front -- how to better connect it with downtown, how to add amenities, what to do with 787 -- has been a frequent topic of conversation for years.
How many years? At least a hundred.
We took a few minutes Friday afternoon to check out some of the displays for Park(ing) Day in Albany (as mentioned), an event that temporarily repurposes parking spaces to help prompt discussion about how urban space is used.
The scene above is from Pearl Street -- it's a dog park set up outside the Downtown Albany BID offices. Some of the spaces around the city included a camp site, a play area, a pondside hangout with Adirondack chairs.
If anything, the displays put some attention on the amount of space that parking takes up along streets. Next year it'd be interesting to see if the event could take over a long strip of spaces for some sort use -- or, in a different sort of event/project, maybe even the city could experiment with temporarily making a few streets pedestrian zones. NYC experimented with this on Broadway in Manhattan a few years back (obviously a different scale and density compared to Albany) and it prompted some permanent changes.
The proposed One Monument Square development in downtown Troy is one of the area's most interesting projects -- and it's evolving.
The latest version of the plan (itself the third major proposal for the site) sticks to the original concept -- a bunch of residential units, mixed-use space including a permanent spot for the Troy Waterfront Farmers' Market, a plaza with access to the riverfront -- but it shifts the arrangement of the two buildings planned for site.
The new massing diagaram for the project is above (and after the jump in large format) -- it was shared by the developers at a meeting of the Troy City Council's planning committee Tuesday evening. Where the original version of this plan had the two buildings roughly splitting the site down the middle, the new plan includes one wide building and one much narrower building.
Here's more about the current version of plan, and a few other bits...
What could a parking space be if it wasn't a parking space?
That's one of the questions posted by Park(ing) Day, an event that will temporarily repurpose parking spaces in cities around the world on September 19. One of those cities is Albany.
Park(ing) Day blurbage:
PARK(ing) Day is a annual open-source global event where citizens, artists and activists collaborate to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into "PARK(ing)" spaces: temporary public places. The project began in 2005 when Rebar, a San Francisco art and design studio, converted a single metered parking space into a temporary public park in downtown San Francisco. Since 2005, PARK(ing) Day has evolved into a global movement, with organizations and individuals (operating independently of Rebar but following an established set of guidelines) creating new forms of temporary public space in urban contexts around the world.
The mission of PARK(ing) Day is to call attention to the need for more urban open space, to generate critical debate around how public space is created and allocated, and to improve the quality of urban human habitat ... at least until the meter runs out!
The city of Albany is making spaces available at spots around the city from 11 am-4 pm on September 19. If you'd like to take over a space, contact Mary Millus in the city's Department of Development and Planning: firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline is September 15 (here's a pdf of the application).
One example of what people have planned: The Graduate Planning Student Association at UAlbany is working to cobble together enough spaces to create a pop-up protected bike lane on Madison Ave along Washington Park. If you'd like to help them do that, we get the feeling they'd be happy to hear from you (there's contact info at that link above).
A few bits of follow up on last week's post about the Capital Region bikeshare:
Protected bike lanes
We mentioned that one of the ideas to make parts of the Capital Region more bike friendly are protected bike lanes -- generally speaking, these are bike lanes that are separated from car traffic by some sort of barrier. These sorts of lanes are said to be safer for cyclists, and they may help more casual cyclists feel better about using a bike for transportation.
As it happens, there's a group organizing to support the creation of protected bike lanes in Albany, specifically as part of the redesigned Madison Ave (the "road diet"). The group's FB page is posting information about protected bike lanes and other bike-friendly ideas.
Also, a proposed Madison Ave redesign that incorporates protected lanes floated our way. The design is above -- here's a large-format version. It was created by Lorenz Worden of the Albany Bicycle Coalition. And it provides an easy-to-understand layout of how redesigned Madison Ave could maybe work.
We gotta admit we're not totally sold yet that protected lanes will prompt a significant number of people to start cycling more often. But the idea looks promising and it's worth a shot. Madison Ave seems like as good a place as any to try it.
Over at the TU, Tim O'Brien has some numbers from the Capital Region bikeshare now that the pilot has ended: there were more than 250 participants, who averaged 2.8 rides during the trial period.
The recently announced project to develop plans for reusing a handful of historic industrial buildings around the Capital Region -- and specifically, a very early plan for a restaurant/residential conversion on Broadway in Albany -- got us thinking (again) about Albany's warehouse district.
It's one of those areas that might necessarily jump out as a place with notable buildings, but there is interesting architecture there. And the neighborhood might have a lot of potential.
After the jump, a photo tour -- and a few thoughts on that potential.
Updated with newer renderings
The plan to clear and redevelop two whole blocks in Albany's Park South neighborhood got approval to move ahead from the city planning board Thursday evening. Phased demolition of the existing buildings will be starting soon, and construction is slated to begin this October.
The $110 million project -- a collaboration between Albany Medical Center and Tri-City Rentals -- includes more than 265 residential units, retail space along New Scotland Ave, a large medical office building, and a parking garage. Much of the plan has been met with enthusiasm and support by city leaders and community members, but the garage -- and its size -- has been a frequent target of criticism. And Thursday evening was no different.
Check it out: A comprehensive plan for redeveloping the city of Albany -- as proposed in 1963.
Albany Archives sent along the link. And as AA commented:
A convention center on Elk St, housing at Jennings Landing, "The Washington Park Arterial"... it's so scary! Heres the take away quote: "By 1980, central area of Albany, like cities all over the United States, will be almost completely rebuilt."
The plan is fascinating, both because parts of it are remarkably prescient and others are totally bonkers.
We've pulled a handful of images and maps, along with a block of text that floats some options that now sound completely unbelievable...
How much is enough?
That's one of the questions at the center of the parking and transportation study for the plan to clear two whole blocks of Albany's Park South neighborhood near Albany Med, one of the most interesting projects in the Capital Region.
The study -- from Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates, a consultancy hired by the city -- looks at the projected demand for parking created by the residential/medical/retail project, and the number of spaces that would be available after completion. And it concludes that the current proposal exceeds the number of necessary spaces as figured under industry guidelines. The report figures that peak parking demand on the site would fall short of capacity by about 120 spaces.
That more-than-enough finding might not be notable if not for the attention the project has caught for the size of its parking garage, which developers reduced to about 816 spots after getting feedback. The consultancy's report doesn't frame the finding as a prompt for an even smaller garage, rather it's "a great opportunity to accommodate the parking for other future uses at this site."
But the report does focus some attention on details related to the parking garage, with an eye toward lessening the impact on appearance and pedestrian safety.
Check it out: "The Making of the Mall," a short documentary produced in the 1960s and 70s about the creation of the Empire State Plaza. The doc includes film of downtown Albany before the ESP, scenes of the area being razed, and shots of the buildings under construction. It really puts the scale of the ESP into context.
From the narration:
The promise of the mall was magnificent. The reality discouraging. Ninety-eight acres of devastation, dust, and debris loomed more like the aftermath of war than urban renewal.
Violent legal and political wrangling had been in evidence from the outset concerning the feasibility and value of this grandiose project. 6800 residents and 350 small businesses had been displaced with no housing planned for their relocation and, it seemed, no concern for their future.
And then later in the doc...
Though the years that went into making the mall were often painful, especially for longtime residents who had seen their homes, their schools, and their churches obliterated to satisfy the ego of one man, today they are proud of what they once called Rocky's Folly. But which has transformed a 300-year-old Dutch town into the most spectacular capital in the country.
Not entirely sure what year it was from, but it appears to have been the work of Helen C. Welsh, a school librarian, library studies instructor, and serious amateur filmmaker whose other gems, such as the story of the Tulip Festival, we can only hope to uncover.
The film is about 17 minutes long and well worth a look. We've pulled a few screengrabs to give you a sense of what it includes -- they're after the jump.
Urban planning and development often prompt a lot of discussion here at AOA, so we thought it'd be interesting to have an actual urban planner look more closely at some of the topics that bubble up. Meet Alison Bates, who takes up the issue of a downtown Albany supermarket today.
As the discussion of downtown Albany's redevelopment progresses, the call for a neighborhood supermarket has become central to the conversation. A place close at hand to get good food if you live or work downtown, a way to avoid driving to a strip mall each week to do your grocery shopping -- many of us would like this.
Not only would it be a convenience, but it would speak loudly about downtown Albany. Downtown grocery stores are an important piece of a city's redevelopment. They're a classic urban amenity that sends a message that your downtown is doing well, and that breathing new life into your city is not only possible, it's already happening.
So what would it take to make this a reality? There are some sizable economic, political, and logistical challenges. But there is hope.
Let's look at some of the economics -- because urban planning usually comes back to the numbers (and because everyone secretly enjoys econometrics) -- and some different ways of thinking about the situation.
There were 88 pedestrian deaths in the Albany metro area between 2003-2012, according to a recent report from the org Smart Growth America. The Albany metro area's rate of pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people was 1.06, which ranked in the lower middle of metro areas in New York State.
A handful of bits from the report -- which details some of factors in pedestrian deaths, and calls for changes in how roads are designed -- are after the jump.
With the news that Walmart is planning an enormous (technical term) new supercenter at the Latham Circle Mall redevelopment, we were curious about how Capital Region supermarkets compare in terms of square footage.
So we looked up a bunch of examples.
A table with the results, and big graphical comparison, along with a few notes and thoughts, after the jump.
The number of residential options in downtown Albany has been steadily growing over the last few years. And as mayor Kathy Sheehan at an Impact Downtown Albany event Tuesday at 60 State: "We really are gifted with a lot of the great bones that we need to fulfill the promise of downtown living."
So, how does the city move from promise to actual development? What are the challenges? What's the potential?
The Tuesday event focused on some of those questions. Here are a few bits from the discussion...
When Albany Med introduced the big plan for the two-whole-blocks redevelopment in Albany's Park South neighborhood last summer, one of the questions was: What about the Quintessence building?
The Fodero diner building that housed the restaurant Quintessence -- twice -- has been in Albany since the 1930s (or 40s), after it was shipped up from New Jersey. And while the land it sits on is part of the redevelopment plan -- the building itself is not.
As a result, Albany Med was offering to give it away -- for free -- to anyone willing to move it. But word is that the building is in pretty rough shape, and even after about a dozen inquiries, there were no takers.
So, here's the current plan, according to Rich Rosen, VP of Columbia Development, which is coordinating the Park South redevelopment: Architects for the project are looking into which elements of the diner building have some sort of notable historic or aesthetic value. They'll then try to work those parts of the diner building into the new mixed-use building planned for the site along New Scotland Ave -- say, in the lobby, along with information about the diner building's history.
And if someone turns up tomorrow willing to take the building away, is the original offer still on the table? Maybe. Rosen told us that if the building would be staying in the area, then they'd consider the idea because it would preserve a bit of local history. But if the person wanting the diner would be moving it out of the area -- or scrapping it for parts -- they're not interested.
About the Park South redevelopment: The $110 million plan to completely redevelop two whole blocks of Park South took another small step forward Thursday evening when reps appeared before the city planning board for what was essentially a getting-to-know-you-again presentation. A few quick bits...
The $110 million Park South redevelopment project in Albany headed for another important point on its timeline in early March when the proposal goes before the city planning board. The project is now on the agenda for the March 6 planning board meeting.
The large-scale redevelopment in the neighborhood just south of Washington Park was a big topic of conversation late last year. The part that caught the most attention: an 800+ space parking garage that critics said is too big for the neighborhood. Prompted by the reaction, the developers heading up the project returned with new designs for the garage that fit in better with the surrounding buildings -- though the number of spaces in the garage was still held in the 800-space range. Those changes helped open the way for the Common Council to approve amendments necessary for the plan to advance.
Throughout the back-and-forth on the garage, both advocates and critics of the plan pointed to the city's planning board as another step that would shape the final project. So it's worth watching how the project is adjusted (or not) by the planning board process. It's one of the last hurdles before construction starts. (When the project plans were introduced last year, the development team indicated it had hoped to have the site demolished by now.)
The Park South redevelopment is an ambitious, unusual plan. It aims to completely clear two whole blocks adjacent to Albany Med and rebuild with a collection of buildings that would include two six-story mixed-used buildings on New Scotland Ave, a medical office building, the parking garage, and 268 residential units. It could fundamentally transform the neighborhood, the sort of project that doesn't come along very often.
Earlier on AOA:
+ Park South redevelopment plan advances
+ Two new options for Park South
+ Six not-boring parking garages
+ A bit more about the Park South redevelopment and that big parking garage
+ A big topic for the Park South redevelopment: parking
+ The big plan for residential and retail redevelopment in Albany's Park South
Over at The Atlantic Cities today there's a good overview of the situation surrounding the impending replacement of I-81 in Syracuse, which runs right through the heart of the Salt City's downtown. The situation will probably sound very familiar to anyone who's thought about the future of I-787 in Albany. A clip:
City leaders like Robinson, along with downtown developers and advocates for smart growth, would like to see I-81 rerouted around Syracuse and replaced with a landscaped boulevard. But suburban business-owners and many of the 45,000 drivers who use the highway to commute fear that any change could hurt the local economy. It's a debate that goes beyond the immediate question of how Syracuse workers will get to work -- to what kind of city Syracuse will be in the 21st century.
Similar discussions are happening across the United States, says John Norquist, president of the Chicago-based Congress for the New Urbanism, which publishes an occasional list of interstates ripe for demolition. Many urban freeways -- a staple of mid-20th century car-centric development -- are beginning to fall apart, and today cities from New Haven to Seattle (not to mention others around the world) are taking the dramatic step of tearing them down. A former Milwaukee mayor, Norquist oversaw the conversion of an elevated highway to a boulevard there in 2002, following a model pioneered by Portland in 1978 and San Francisco in 1991.
"It's starting to happen all over the place, and there's a reason for it," says Norquist. "Freeways don't add value to cities. They're all about one dimension, which is just moving traffic. It's a rural form, visited upon the city, that destroys property values, commerce and vitality."
The article, by Amy Crawford, is a good overview because it captures many of the tensions of the situation -- between city and suburbs, between walkable and automobile infrastructure, between local and state decision making. And, oh yeah, cost.
As that clip mention, the thing about these elevated highways, 787 included, is that they eventually will reach the end of their lives -- because they will be literally falling apart. That will mean hard choices -- and maybe also big opportunities.
+ In another upstate city, a discussion about an urban highway
+ "The Life and Death of Urban Highways"
+ The Albany 2030 plan included a goal of evaluating possible alternative designs for 787
+ The Stakeholders org released a report in 2011 that imagines the Albany waterfront with a boulevard
map: I-81 Challenge
Earlier this month the city of Troy announced that it had selected a redevelopment plan for the vacant Monument Square lot, the site of the former city hall. It's a prime piece of land offering a lot of possibilities. But Duncan Crary -- a Troy resident and urban design observer -- argues the current proposal could be a lot better.
Most developers can only dream of having the chance to shape a site like One Monument Square. The team chosen for this endeavor has the potential to create an enduring expression of our generation's best values and optimism, at the heart of our city. This is a legacy building commission, here.
So why, then, is this crew proposing to cram the worst architectural elements of the worst structures around into a couple of soulless boxes in the dead center of our charming 19th century downtown?
It seems completely at odds with what's happening here in Troy, and what's really behind the renaissance in this place "Where the Finest Antiques Can't Be Bought," and where "A wave of renovation is... (opening) ... the way for new urban economy and culture."
But they don't come for the modern abominations in our built environment. They don't come to fawn over the Bell Atlantic switch building with its blank fortified walls, or the Troy Medical Plaza sheathed in black reflective glass.
I just don't get why anyone would want to replicate those loathsome styles at the focal point of our city, where beautiful architecture is our greatest asset.
The city of Troy formally announced today that it's picked a proposal for the redevelopment of the former city hall site on Monument Square downtown. And the proposed $27 million project includes a lot of potentially interesting bits: residential, retail, commercial space -- and maybe most interesting of all, a permanent home for the Troy Waterfront Farmers' Market.
Here's an overview of the plan with renderings, details, and whatnot...
Albany has a riverfront. It's just that there's not much there. And it's hard to get to what is there.
In attempt to address both those issues the city of Albany is working on a Corning Preserve Master Plan that could serve as a map for improving riverfront amenities and access. And on Tuesday (January 28) there are two public "open houses" at city hall for people to get a look at what's being proposed:
noon-1 pm: lunchtime open house with illustrated displays
4:30 pm-6:30 pm open house with displays, presentations, and opportunities for Q&A
If you're interested in this topic, but can't make the presentations -- or just want to review ahead of time -- there are docs and images related to the master plan posted online (first link above, at the bottom).
Among the ideas proposed in the draft plan: a multi-purpose boathouse with waterfront dining, and "grand staircase" access to the river.
image: Albany 2030
The Albany Common Council passed the resolutions necessary to advance the $110 million Park South redevelopment Monday night. The project -- which includes wiping two whole blocks clear in the neighborhood by Albany Med -- now moves on to further review by the city's planning board.
There wasn't really any drama about whether the resolutions would pass -- and they did so easily, each with 10 votes in favor (out of 13 present council members.)
A portion of the the council's actions Monday covered three amendments to a redevelopment plan approved in 2006: increasing the height of mixed-use buildings along New Scotland Ave, increasing the number of residential units, and changing the footprint of a parking garage. Those first two amendments weren't controversial, but the parking garage -- specifically its size and appearance -- had drawn a lot of attention during the process. And it did again Monday night.
With all the talk about an aquarium for Albany, the Biz Review's Mike DeMasi went to Chattanooga to check out the Tennessee Aquarium, which has been used as case study in the aquarium conversation here. One of the things we took away from his article: The aquarium was just one part of an overall redevelopment picture. A clip:
Chattanooga and Albany are similar in other ways: Both are on a river, home to a major state university, and within a three-hour's drive of major cities.
There is another direct parallel: accessibility to the river.
One of the elements to Chattanooga's rebirth was removing what had been a physical and figurative barrier between downtown and the Tennessee River: a four-lane highway.
In the mid-2000s, then-Mayor Bob Corker, now a U.S. senator, drove the charge to raise $120 million in public and private money to expand tourist attractions downtown and upgrade the waterfront.
A key piece was reducing a portion of the highway next to the aquarium to two lanes and building new exits to alleviate traffic, making the area more welcoming.
"It's a huge asset if you can figure out how to integrate it," Arant said.
Earlier on AOA:
+ Albany aquarium study: there's potential demand here
+ Thinking differently about what a destination museum in Albany could be
+ Push continues for Albany aquarium
+ "The Life and Death of Urban Highways"
photo: Tennessee Aquarium / Todd Stailey
The evolution of the plan for the $110 million redevelopment of two whole blocks in Albany's Park South Neighborhood -- and the big parking garage that's prompted so much conversation -- continued Friday with two new options presented to the Common Council committee examining the plan.
New renderings, comments, and a few thoughts post jump...
There's been a lot of focus recently on the proposed parking garage for the Park South redevelopment in Albany. Much of the talk has been about the fact that the garage is, well, enormous relative to structures around it, prompting concerns that it's out of scale. Also: The thing just kind of looks boring.
So we thought we'd look around for not-boring parking garages. Many of the designs we found would be impractical for Park South -- because of setting, cost, or whatever -- but we thought it'd be interesting to see a wide variety of approaches to the problem of making a parking garage that's useful, appropriate to its surroundings, and visually appealing.
Here are six examples from other cities that caught our eye...
Some follow up on the Park South redevelopment in Albany, and the rather large parking garage that's raised a few eyebrows...
The city planning board gave the three amendments to the plan -- taller buildings along New Scotland, more residential units, the siting of the parking garage -- its "qualified" approval last week. The qualified part of that: the planning board noted the approval was "subject to further review of the elevations for the parking structure" (link added).
Also: The city's planning staff issued a memo on the parking garage, which highlights many of the concerns that have been raised about the size of the garage and how it relates to the other buildings around it. A clip:
The height of the parking structure should ideally not exceed that of the liner buildings proposed to buffer its presence on adjacent residential streets. The distribution of residential, office and commercial could be redesigned to allow for appropriately-sized liner buildings and/or below-grade levels could be incorporated into the design. In the event that any portions of the garage façade is visible beyond the buildings or from the street, it must be treated appropriately so as to not visibly detract from the surrounding areas.
The full memo is after the jump. It addresses not only the garage itself, but also the whole parking picture for this part of the project. The memo was flagged on Twitter this week by Common Council member Leah Golby, who's part of the council's ad hoc committee reviewing the amendments to the project.
The parking issue is shaping up to be the focal point of the debate over the amendments to this project, which aims to clear two whole blocks of the Park South neighborhood for new retail, office, and residential development. The companies involved with the development -- Columbia Development and Tri-City Rentals -- have asserted that without the parking spaces provided by the proposed garage, the project is not feasible.
The targeted start date for the $110 million redevelopment of two whole blocks in Albany's Park South neighborhood is fast approaching, so we stopped into a couple of public meetings Wednesday night to get a feel for how things are coming along. And -- surprise -- a lot of the discussion centered on parking. More on that in a second.
But first, check out the 3-D "fly around" of the latest proposed design of the development. It's embedded above, and there are a few screengrabs after the jump. The fly around really gives a better sense of the scale of this project than the flat renderings.
So, the thing that immediately jumped out for us: the parking garage. It's... big. The latest proposal is for a garage with 855 spaces. It would be the tallest structure in the development.
We stopped by the Impact Downtown Albany event Wednesday evening to check out the "Glimpse of the Future of Downtown Albany" Pecha Kucha-style presentations. We were kind of curious about both the format -- basically a quick succession of very short talks -- and what some of the speakers -- including Albany mayor-elect Kathy Sheehan and SUNY chancellor Nancy Zimpher -- would have to say.
It turned out to be pretty much what you might expect if you've been following the discussion about downtown Albany for a while -- talk of residential, retail, the waterfront, leveraging things.
But, in the spirit of the format, we figured it'd be interesting to pluck one quick takeaway from each talk -- whether it was a fact, an idea, an impression, whatever. And here we go...
On Tuesday Capitalize Albany be down at Ten Eyck Plaza interviewing people and collecting stories and ideas for improving downtown Albany. It's the launch of a twelve month public/private collaboration called Impact Downtown Albany.
The company that's been pushing the idea of an aquarium for downtown Albany -- Omni Development -- released the first phase of a feasibility study for the idea yesterday. And the very short story: the report concluded there appears to be demand for something like an aquarium here.
After hearing hearing a presentation about the study, and going over the materials distributed from the first phase, here are a few bits, observations, and thoughts...
This Saturday at Russell Sage College: The second annual New York State Neighborhood Revitalization Conference. Event blurbage:
The purpose of our conference is to bring together neighborhood activists, educators, business people, and elected officials to share successes and develop strategies to maintain healthy and vibrant neighborhoods throughout Upstate New York. As residents and businesspeople, we believe that the strength of our past and our diversity in people, cultures, and businesses, will enable us to make our neighborhoods destinations to live, work, and visit.
Scanning through the list of conference workshops, it looks like there are a bunch of interesting people who are doing interesting things. Among the presenters: Abby Lublin from Troy Compost, Laban Coblentz from Tech Valley Center of Gravity, and Anasha Cummings from Project Nexus.
The conference starts at 8 am Saturday (September 21) and wraps up around 5 pm. Registration is $25 / $10 for students.
Can we talk about something? Bicycle riding on the sidewalks seems to be on the rise. I'm a believer that the sidewalk is for pedestrians, and that the bicycles go in the street (exceptions if you're under 15). I noticed that in west coast cities bicycling on the sidewalk was ubiquitous, but appreciated that our east coast corner of the country did a better job of keeping the wheeled traffic on the proper side of the walkway.
But there's a shift happening, and I don't like it. We can reverse this. And safety-wise, I know we're not a city replete with designated bike lanes, however, oddly enough, accidents decrease when there are no bike lanes in the streets. Because when you're right there next to the cars, the cars are more cautious. You don't have a siphoned off safe space...you know it, and the cars know it. It's human behavior at it's oddest (this isn't praise for our lack of lanes, just truth). So my question is this: adults on bikes on city sidewalks: friend or foe?
As avowed pedestrians, we generally frown on cycles on the sidewalk because we don't like dodging bikes, especially when they approach from behind without warning. And in many places -- such as the city of Albany -- it's against the law (if you're not under 10 years of age) to ride a bike on the sidewalk.*
That said, having seen some less than accommodating behavior by motorists with regard to bicycles on streets around town, well, we can't exactly blame someone for taking refuge on the sidewalk in some stretches. And while we've heard the claims (and counter claims) about how bikes and cars flowing together is a good thing -- as Alison states above -- we're skeptical. Maybe it works OK if you're a confident, in-shape cyclist. But you shouldn't have to be Hardcore Bike Guy to tool around town on a bike.
This specific topic -- and Alison's question -- get at the broader issue that legislation like Albany's recently-passed "Complete Streets" ordinance is intended to address going forward: that streets should be designed to safely accommodate cars, bikes, transit, and pedestrians.
One arrangement that we've thought could be good for the Capital Region: bike lanes like those in Copenhagen -- where it's traffic | parked cars| bike lane | curb. Of course, you need a wide street for that arrangement. But, as an example: one of the options in the "road diet" proposed for Madison Ave in Albany includes lanes for traffic, bikes, and parked cars (in that order). So maybe there's a way to make it work.
* Other parts of city code related to bikes: all bikes are required to have a bell, and there's an 8 mph speed limit.
Omni Development announced today that it's hired a consultancy to "study the potentials and challenges for an economically rejuvenating project to be located in downtown Albany." In other words: Omni wants to see how feasible it would be to build the proposed aquarium/science museum/IMAX theater/thing at the site of the land gathered for the Albany convention center project.
From the press release:
Omni decided to take the lead with this investment in the future of the Capital Region after receiving weeks of enthusiastic public support to their proposal for a destination-caliber project to transform downtown Albany economically and culturally. In June, Omni provided numerous examples of how such a venue -- featuring an aquarium as the hub of an educational, scientific and entertainment attraction -- would be a regional stand-out and generate extensive visitation and revenue for the area. The study now initiated by Omni will be specific to Albany, with expert analyses and projections of current and future demographics, revenue potentials, competition, trends and "right-sizing" of facilities.
Earlier this summer Omni pitched the idea of a large development at the convention center site that could include an aquarium, museums, entertainment venues, and parks. And, of course, the Albany Aquarium group has also been rallying attention and support along its own track.
So, this could be a good thing for the conversation. It's one thing to toss an idea like this out there for discussion, it's another to put a team of people to work on figuring what might it actually end up involving. (And yet another to find the money to pay for the project if it moves ahead.)
The consultancy that Omni's hired -- ConsultEcon in Cambridge, Massachusetts -- worked with a bunch of aquarium and museum clients around the world, and helps clients with "determining concept definition and refinement, establishing market proof of plans and concepts, determining financial viability, supporting project funding or creating sustainable operating strategies," according to its website.
Omni says it expects something back by the end of September, and that it will share the results with the public.
Update: Here's some good follow up by the Biz Review's Mike DeMasi about whether the consultancy would actually return a study reporting an aquarium is a bad idea, and skepticism from Albany mayoral candidate Kathy Sheehan.
Earlier on AOA:
+ Soapbox: Thinking differently about what a destination museum in Albany could be
+ Push continues for Albany aquarium
image: Omni Development / MLG Architects
Lately, plenty of people have been talking about building an aquarium in Albany. I support any efforts to make the Capital District more fun, informative, and entertaining for families, and I like aquariums and have visited several with my family.
But if we're trying to draw people into our area, I don't think that an aquarium is our best choice. There are some terrific ways to encounter water creatures not terribly far away, including the New England Aquarium in Boston, Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut and The Wild Center in Tupper Lake. Granted, these aren't close enough to be easy day trips for us locals, but the point is, don't we want to draw visitors from outside the Capital District? Who's going to drive from Boston or Connecticut to see an aquarium in Albany?
Is there anything we can offer that's unique enough to draw visitors from far and wide, while being fun and active enough to build memberships and repeat visits from us locals? My whole family was inspired by such an idea on a recent trip to St. Louis.
We enjoyed flipping through this project Aaron sent along today: re:albany -- in which he basically re-imagines empty buildings around the city via Photoshop.
The image above is a good example. It's his imagining of what the long-empty Larkin building on Lark Street could be. As explains on the site:
Remember the Larkin? It used to be a great Lark street spot between Eldas and Crisan. ... I like the use of garage doors in bars/restaurants. If it's nice out, you're open to the outdoors. When it's cold, keep it closed and its still a good look. Wood siding on the upper half to balance out the industrial beams of the lower half. Hopefully it doesn't look too much like a wild west saloon.
Sometimes the here-let-me-redesign-that-for-you approach doesn't necessarily play well. But in Aaron's case, it seems to be coming from a good place. As he explained via email:
I believe in small cities. I think they are the key of getting the best of both worlds (character, food, and places as amazing as your closest big city, BUT without all the stress that comes with living there.) So, I wish nothing more than downtown Albany to be a destination, full of shops, restaurants, lofts, and bustling foot traffic. Something similar to what it was back in the day when breweries ruled and packed trolleys ran down the hill. However, the best I can do is give a suggestion and maybe some inspiration to someone who can do something.
His Tumblr has just a few re-imagines so far -- but it sounds like he has more in the works. We hope he keeps at it. (And we hear he's taking suggestions...)
By the way: You might know Aaron from Barons in the Attic.
Albany Medical Center announced today that it's ready to move ahead with the second phase of the redevelopment of Albany's Park South neighborhood.
The plan for this next stage -- a $110 million project focused on residential and retail -- will wipe clear two whole blocks of the neighborhood for new buildings. And it holds the potential to fundamentally transform the surrounding neighborhood.
A few more bits about the push for an aquarium in downtown Albany:
Omni and the convention center site
Omni Development continues to advocate for an aquarium/science museum/IMAX theater on the site of the land collected for the stalled Albany convention center project -- despite a cold shoulder from the convention center authority. ( The authority's executive director says it's staying the course of trying to build a convention center until directed otherwise by the state.) [Biz Review] [TU]
Omni has been using the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga as a model for what an Albany aquarium could be -- and today in a press release it urged Jerry Jennings to talk with the mayor of Chattanooga and schedule a trip to see the aquarium there (it even said it would pay for the trip). Jennings told JCE he'd call, but he's not making the trip. [@JCEvangelist_TU]
More details about Omni's preliminary proposal -- along with concept renderings -- are after the jump.
The Albany Aquarium group -- which has been rallying support for the idea on Facebook -- announced that it's organizing a public meeting July 15 at the Albany Public Library main branch. The goal: to "outline their vision and solicit public feedback."
Related to the I-787 discussion that pops up now and then: There's an interesting situation in Syracuse regarding what to do with the the elevated portion of I-81 that cuts right through the middle of that city. The thoroughfare is falling apart, so something has to be done -- and the options have been narrowed down to either: turn the stretch into a six-lane boulevard through the city, or completely rebuild the elevated highway. [I-81 Challenge] [Syracuse Post-Standard]
Some of the numbers involved in the decision are eye-popping: both the boulevard and reconstruction of the 1.4 mile stretch could cost as much as $900 million, according to the Syracuse Post-Standard article linked above. Other options -- such as burying the road -- have been dismissed because they'd cost in the $1.5 billion range.
The situation in Syracuse has ended up polarizing along city/suburb poles, with the county legislature and developers opposing the boulevard because of concern it would make it harder for suburban commuters to get in and out of the city. In a recent op/ed, David Rubin -- a former dean at Syracuse University, which sits right along I-81 -- called the project "the most important civic decision of the past 60 years or more" and argued for the boulevard plan. [Syracuse Post-Standard] [Syracuse Post-Standard]
Case studies: The state Department of Transportation and the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council have collaborated on an ongoing public discussion about the project called "The I-81 Challenge." It produced a report that includes a bunch of case studies of how other cities have dealt with the reconstruction or reconfiguration of urban freeways. If you're interested in the future of 787, the case studies are interesting reading.
+ "The Life and Death of Urban Highways"
+ The Albany 2030 plan included a goal of evaluating possible alternative designs for 787
+ The Stakeholders org released a report in 2011 that imagines the Albany waterfront with a boulevard
+ The removal of 787 in downtown Albany was on Martin's urban wish list
map: I-81 Challenge
This has been a bad week for pedestrians. One person was killed on Central Ave in Albany, another hit just up the street during a vigil for the first person. And in North Greenbush, a pedestrian was hit by truck with a snowplow attached. [TU] [Troy Record]
Unfortunately, a week like this isn't surprising. I walk a lot -- because I have a dog, because I prefer it to driving when possible, just because I like it. Rare is the week that I don't have a an encounter with a vehicle that's a little too close. A lot of times it's a result of something a driver did (or didn't do) -- roll through a right on red, not respect a crosswalk, or just not pay attention to what's going on. But I'm also sure there are times I could have been a better pedestrian.
So, pedestrians and drivers need to come to some sort of understanding. And toward that end, here's a pledge for pedestrians and drivers (and municipalities) to do better...
Map of the day: Here's a map of vacant properties in the city of Albany, drawn from a recent vacant building report published by the city.
The map is courtesy of Tim Varney, who put it together after taking a look at the report and concluding it was something less than user friendly. He passed it along to us today: "You guys seem to like this sort of thing." (Tim, you know us well.)
Tim also made a map of the "buildings no longer vacant" list from the report. Both maps are after the jump in large format. (We've also embedded the report post jump.)
The map is not all that surprising. It really highlights how much an issue vacant buildings are in the city and how acute the issue is for some neighborhoods. It's been a controversial topic -- both in measuring the scale of the problem, and about how it should be tackled. [TU]
There are currently 809 vacant buildings in Albany, according to the report from the city's Division of Buildings & Regulatory Compliance. It says that as many as a third of those buildings "may require demolition at some future point" because they're "upside-down" -- the cost to renovate is much higher than the expected return on the investment.
The bizarre drama over whether a kid should be able to ride his bike to Maple Ave Middle School in Saratoga is rehashed in a recent issue of Bicycling magazine. The long article by David Darlington -- "Why Johnny Can't Ride" -- details the many turns in the story, but also argues it's part of a broader context involving health, urban planning, and helicopter parenting:
Schoolwise, this might be referred to as the Maple Avenue Mind-Set: passive acceptance of a status quo that promotes not only pollution and disease but also the lesson that children (who grow up to be citizens--and parents) are helpless. Amid this grand civic failure, the chief cause for encouragement comes from individuals who refuse to give in: the Marinos, Olsons, Skenazys, and Robinsons who prioritize fresh air and exploration and exercise, the powers-that-be be damned.
In a twist we wouldn't have guessed, the Shen school district and its superintendent -- Oliver Robinson -- are held up as an example of a more bike-friendly district.
photo: Nathaniel Welch / Bicycling
The Albany Rountable's annual meeting next Wednesday (May 23) at the University Club will feature John Norquist, president and CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism. CNU describes itself as an org "promoting walkable, mixed-use neighborhood development, sustainable communities and healthier living conditions."
Before heading up CNU, Norquist was mayor of Milwaukee during 90s and early 2000s. During his tenure he made a successful push to replace the city's Park East Freeway with a boulevard. He also wrote a book called The Wealth of Cities, staking out a position that doesn't necessarily fit on the standard political spectrum: safety-focused, pro school choice, fiscally conservative, urbanist, pro public transit, and anti-sprawl.
Tickets for the Albany Roundtable talk are $35, and an RSVP is required by May 18 (this Friday).
photo: Flickr user Center for Neighborhood Technology
Chuck Schumer was in town today to push for the inclusion of a pedestrian walkway on the Livingston Ave Bridge -- regardless of what direction the project takes (rehab or total replacement).
Said New York's senior senator in a press release:
"For decades, people could easily walk over the Livingston Avenue Bridge and its sister, the old Maiden Lane Bridge, providing an important link between downtown Albany and the Rensselaer waterfront. ... Then all of that stopped, and the gates went up, shutting down the pedestrian link between these great cities. When the new bridge is built, we have a fresh chance to reconnect these two downtowns [Editors: Albany and Rensselaer] and funnel more visitors to key areas on both sides of the river. Failing to include a pedestrian component in this bridge would be shortsighted, and we can't make that mistake. That's why I'm urging everyone from CSX to Amtrak to NYSDOT to climb aboard with this plan, so that every design going forward will link up the biking and walking paths on both sides of the scenic Hudson."
In a Soapbox piece last fall, Martin Daley explained why local transportation planners are pushing for a pedestrian walkway on the bridge -- and the obstacles the idea has encountered:
Interesting: a coalition of groups, orgs, and firms is holding a charrette -- "a multi-day collaborative planning event" -- this week to create a plan for transforming the Sheridan Hollow neighborhood in Albany. From the blurbage:
The goal of a charrette is to identify the priorities for a community redevelopment project, create practical designs that address these priorities, incorporate feedback from local residents, and serve as a kick-off for the project. This planning session will help create strategies for eliminating blight and promoting re-investment in an important and historically significant Albany neighborhood.
In order to encourage as much community participation and input as possible, the charrette will be open to the public each day, with several specific public meetings focusing on transportation, housing, sustainability/environment, urban design/historic preservation, economic development, and parks and recreation.
Here's the schedule of events -- many are open to the public. The charrette is organized by Capital District Habitat for Humanity, the Touhey Home Ownership Foundation, the City of Albany, 3tarchitects, and Housing Visions, Inc. (Press release is embedded after the jump.)
Sheridan Hollow is the neighborhood in the ravine between the Capitol and Arbor Hill. It has a long history -- much of it downtrodden. There was an infamous garbage incinerator there during the 80s and early 90s.
More recently, though, there's been a lot of development at the eastern end of the neighborhood, including residential. There are the 24 condos at 17 Chapel, the 43 apartments planned as part of the Boyd Printing Co. building conversion ("The Monroe") at 47 Sheridan, and 13 units at 4-6 Sheridan.
A post over at Atlantic Cities about the "most walkable cities" in the United States has been circulating locally on Twitter because it mentions that Albany is among the top 10 most walkable cities in the country, according to data from Walk Score.
It turns out that's not actually true.
But that doesn't mean Albany -- and a few other local cities -- don't fare well in the rankings.
Another log for the "tear down 787" fire: The Life and Death of Urban Highways, a survey of why cities around the world have been tearing down urban highways -- and what has happened when they've done so. (Update: That link wasn't working for some reason Tuesday evening, so the report is now embedded after the jump.)
Among the reasons cited by the report that urban highways have fallen out of favor:
+ Costs of reconstruction and repair: Cities are finding out how much it costs to maintain these highways and are deciding the money is better spent other ways.
+ Economic revitalization: Removing the highways, which serve as dividers in the urban landscape, has opened the way for new development of neighborhoods -- and in many cases, higher property values.
+ Making accessible waterfronts: Many urban highways -- like 787 -- parallel waterfronts, and removing them reconnects the waterfronts to the city, again opening the way for parks, development, and higher property values.
The report also includes case studies from cities such as Portland, Oregon, San Francisco, and Milwaukee.
The orgs responsible for the report, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and EMBARQ, advocacy orgs that both appear to be very much of the Jane Jacobs, pro-public transit school -- just something to keep in mind while reading through the report
so grains of salt. It's interesting reading, and it's easy to see how many of the issues brought up could apply to the Capital Region.
The thing to keep in mind about 787 is that there's no "do nothing" option over the long run. If it stays, it has to be maintained -- and that's not cheap. If it goes... that's not cheap, either. So, the question really is: if we (the region/state) are going to spend (tens, hundreds of) millions on this key piece of infrastructure, what do we ultimately want to end up with? And is it worth it to us to spend more upfront to have something possibly better (though not necessarily guaranteed) in the future?
+ The removal of 787 in downtown Albany was on Martin's urban wish list
+ The Albany 2030 plan included a goal of evaluating possible alternative designs for 787
+ The Stakeholders org released a report last year that imagines the Albany waterfront with a boulevard (it's also embedded after the jump)
+ Syracuse has been considering the removal of the elevated portion of I-81 that runs right through the heart of the city [Streetsblog]
I've written a lot about what I wish for in the Capital Region: A walkway on the Livingston Ave. Bridge (for which I have a petition), chickens, and preservation of our historic/unique architecture.
These are fairly practical ideas. In fact, I think they're no-brainers, which is why I get more than a little irritated when I hear we can't have them or our elected officials brush them off.
But my imagination is filled with an even longer urban wish list filled with things I'd make happen if I had a billion dollars to spend.
Potentially interesting: Troy mayor Lou Rosamilia has floated the idea of permanently closing some downtown streets to vehicle traffic in order to create a pedestrian mall, the Biz Review reports. [Biz Review]
But the pedestrian mall isn't a new concept. Kalamazoo, Michigan first tried it in 1959. Many cities followed with their own pedestrian malls -- and a large majority of them failed. (Kalamazoo re-opened part of its mall to vehicular traffic in the late 90s.) There have been some notable successes, though. For example, Burlington's pedestrian mall, Church Street, is great. [Wikipedia] [Indianapolis Downtown Inc. study] [Kalamazoo Public Library]
The thing about a pedestrian mall area is that you need people. Downtown Troy has good foot traffic during the day -- it's maybe our favorite Capital Region downtown in daylight. Will there be enough people the rest of the time to make it worth it? Public spaces without people tend to go the wrong way. If the City Center and City Station projects are successful, maybe. [Governing]
Of course, there are a lot of details that would have be figured out for this idea -- which streets, how to address parking issues, how to address access for shipments to shops and businesses. But it's an interesting idea.
photo: Flickr user redjar
Rob (@paintaneight) pointed out a recent letter to the editor in the TU calling for the construction of an aquarium in downtown Albany instead of a convention center. From the letter by Lino Verelli of Slingerlands:
... An educational center to see, feel and be able to interact with the creatures and beauty of the oceans.
Open seven days, it would provide jobs for a dedicated staff of professionals and the countless support services necessary to its maintenance.
If managed correctly, this center would generate jobs, sales taxes, hotel taxes, visitors' fees and something totally unique to the fabric of this city.
Rob was curious what people thought about this idea (we get the sense he likes it, but we're just reading between the tweets) -- and so are we. So, aquarium -- yes/no/maybe?
We re-tweeted Rob's question yesterday and there were a handful of responses -- they're after the jump. Update: We've also embedded comments from AOA's Facebook page.
Our initial reaction to the idea: skeptical. It seems like an urban planning cliche, a possible white elephant (or maybe "white whale" is more apt).
photo: Flickr user seannaber
Duncan Crary has been in love with Troy since he was a child, "hatched," as he puts it, "on a cul-de-sac in the American suburbs" in Delmar.
Maybe it was the defiant brownstones, or the alleys that time forgot, that turned his head. Most likely it was the comic-book shop on Fulton Street. Troy was where he wanted to be.
But it wasn't until his teen years, when he devoured The Geography of Nowhere, James Howard Kunstler's attack on suburban sprawl, that he understood and could articulate why.
Brunswick is a film about landscape change, told through the personal story of a farmer's lifelong connection to his now-threatened land. The film weaves together the plight of Sanford Bonesteel, an aging farmer in his 90s, with the dynamics of small-town politics as a residential development is planned on Sanford's former land.
The film takes place in Brunswick, New York, a small country town facing the challenge of balancing economic growth with the preservation of its rural character. It is a story both specific to Brunswick and yet recognizable to rural communities all over the United States.
All we've seen of the doc is what it's in the trailer embedded above, but it appears to be about the proposed Highland Creek development, that was to be built on farmland acquired in a deal involving the town supervisor. The development was the subject of multiple lawsuits and allegations of conflicts of interest. Bonesteel passed away at the end of 2008. [Troy Record 2008] [Wikipedia] [Troy Record 2006] [Troy Record 2008]
The first screening of the doc will be December 7 at the Spectrum. Tickets are $6.
For four years, Kunstler and Crary met in person to record their ongoing conversations (totaling more than 150 hours) about suburbia, sprawl, car-dependence, cities, peak oil, American culture and many other topics for a weekly audio podcast (also called "The KunstlerCast"). Their ongoing dialogue revisited and updated many of the major ideas contained in Kunstler's body of work, while exploring many additional topics as well. The KunstlerCast book presents the best of those conversations in a highly readable, organized, indexed form.
The book will be released in November. But there's a book party Tuesday at Daisy Baker's in Troy -- both Duncan and Kunstler will be there to sign books. The party starts at 5:30 pm.
It's a frustrating thing to watch bureaucracy get in the way of great vision. It can result in some pretty bad decisions, the kind that make you look back and say "woulda, coulda, shoulda..." when it's too late to make changes. Which is what we may be saying soon about the pedestrian walkway on the Livingston Avenue Bridge.
The bridge has become a very important issue to many cycling advocates and pedestrians. I am one of them. I tell people this is my "chickens issue" -- a project that could significantly transform Albany.
So what's so special about a walkway on a bridge?
Albany 2030, the effort to develop a comprehensive plan for the City of Albany, released a draft of the plan this week. The "guide for the management of change" (or "a 'to do' list" for the city) is long, really loooong. The pdf is 272 pages.
Who would ever read through the whole thing? Uh, well... that would be us.
The draft plan mostly covers general goals, things like promoting economic development and increasing transit options. But it also includes specifics, some of which are worthwhile but still kind of oddly specific (example: incentives to increase the use of rain barrels).
If we had to distill the whole document down to one sentence, it would be, in our own words (deep breath):
Albany aims to become a prosperous, diverse, well-educated, safe city, ready for climate change, with a mixed-use downtown and neighborhood centers, where people walk more and drive less.
But there's a lot more to it. We've gone through the whole document and pulled a bunch of bits that we thought we were interesting and notable (with page numbers so you can reference the context).
A scannable list of those bits is after the jump.
I am what you may call a recovering car junkie.
I. Love. Cars.
I've had over 10 of them -- even a couple of classics. And I still pine for the restored 1986 Jeep CJ-7 I once owned.
But a couple of years ago a muffler shop noticed a ton of frame rust on my barely-broken-in Toyota Tacoma and told me about a buyback program created to address the problem. After a month of back and forth, Toyota eventually bought my beloved truck back.
Since then, we've been a single car household.
Here's how it's worked out.
The Capital Region had one of the lower fatality rates in the state -- 1.1 deaths per 100,000 people. Of the four core counties, Albany had the highest pedestrian fatality rate at 1.3 deaths per 100,000 people.
Transportation America's report also includes a map of the pedestrian deaths. Of the 92 deaths reported in the Capital Region, 13 of them occurred along Route 5, according to the map.
The City of Troy announced today that it has picked a mixed-use proposal for the redevelopment of the former city hall site. From the press release about the "Troy City Center":
The $31.5 million project emphasizes two of the most important aspects of redevelopment: enhancing physical and visual access to the City's waterfront, and promoting the aesthetics and walkable nature of Troy's historic downtown. The design proposes to have a piazza acting as a pedestrian extension of Broadway and terraced grand entrance to Riverfront Park, which is undergoing its own multimillion dollar transformation. This piazza will be framed by two buildings that complement the historic Rice and Cannon buildings in height, construction, and sidewalk frontage, while adding new, high-end retail and residential space.
A "piazza"? Fancy.
The design still has to be approved by the city council before the project can move forward. That discussion could be... interesting. The city council and mayor Harry Tuntunjian have a relationship that doesn't lack for drama.
A few more details, the full release, and large versions of the renderings are after the jump.
Quick commercial real estate quiz: what business is opening in this Saratoga building?
The answer might surprise you. It's after the jump.
Like lots of Albanians, I have a love/hate relationship with the Empire State Plaza.
I've never known Albany without the ESP. It's just always been there for me. I know I'm coming home when I see it on the horizon. It's a symbol of this city, and there's no changing that.
Nelson Rockefeller sure knew how to make his mark.
Ever wondered why the Dunn Memorial Bridge provides a ramp to thin air? Why the Livingston Avenue exit of I-90 is so overbuilt, and ends so abruptly? Why there are extra tunnels underneath the Empire State Plaza? Or why Corporate Woods has its own highway exit?
They're all vestiges of a highway system that was never built.
We're pulling out the AOA soap box each Sunday for people to praise, complain, suggest, joke, or make an observation about things they see going on in the Capital Region.
Nostalgia can encourage people to play fast and loose with their memories.
I'm sure I remember my childhood in Albany's Helderberg neighborhood as far more exciting and enjoyable than it really was. I was born in Boston, but I was three when we moved here, and I can say with certainty that I'm Albany-bred, of Albany stock, a true Albanian.
As a kid, your definition of "worst things ever" is pretty undeveloped, so it's certainly likely I wallowed in the misery of dating (lack of), homework, and boredom, but my brain doesn't store much of that stuff. The good memories of childhood (including sunny summer days playing football; late fall nights playing street hockey; making race car tracks in the yard for matchbox cars; riding bikes; and general mischief) are the memories that resonate.
I didn't realize until years later that the layout and landscape of the neighborhood I grew up in played a strong role in shaping my values -- and my career.
I'll admit, there were signs very early on that I might grow up to be an urban planner: I loved Sim City, my favorite book was New Providence, and I had a gigantic Lego city laid out in the basement.
Sometimes, you just don't see the forest through the trees.