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Old City; New Visions

The (Re)Imagining Troy project seeks to inject the city with fresh ideas from those who care the most—its citizens

by Molly Eadie on June 26, 2013

This past winter, The Arts Center of the Capital Region asked citizens for creative ways to improve Troy, and they received ideas as small as a smartphone app and as grand as building a Ferris wheel on the waterfront.

The Center received 75 submissions for its (Re)Imagining Troy project. A panel of 15 local stakeholders, with a wide range of backgrounds, chose about 20 ideas they would like to see realized.

“People who do city planning always reach out to the usual suspects—the experts—and rightfully so,” said Chris Marblo, president of the Arts Center, “but we want to reach beyond experts to common citizens—to creatives and artists.”

Marblo came up with the idea for the project, and says that although it’s unusual for an arts group to participate in city planning, this project is “not an exhibit of art, but an exhibit of ideas.”

“We wanted a project that would engage the community in answering the question: How can Troy be a more livable city?” said Marblo.

Some answers focused on the natural resources of Troy, like stocking Frear Park’s ponds with fish, completing the Frear Park trail, or making the park a place for winter sports like skiing and snowshoeing. Other submissions included creating a new hiking trail that connects downtown Troy to Prospect Park and a project called the “Collar City Ramble,” a “linear park—a necklace of developed sites, strung together on a pathway for nonmotorized transportation.”

Submitter David Sampson championed the idea that Troy should build a Ferris wheel, preferably on the waterfront, to honor RPI graduate George Washington Ferris, who invented the ride.

Bill Skerritt, an RPI alumnus who never left the area, would like to see the visitor’s center reopened. He is on the board of the Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway, which operated the center from 1997 until it shut down in 2011.

“Any city of any reasonable size should have a visitor’s center—some place where strangers can come and find a smiling face,” said Skerritt. “You come into a city and you don’t know what’s going on—what do you do, go knocking door to door? No, you go to a visitor’s center.”

Skerritt would like to see the center in the Monument Square area. He pointed out that the signs for the old visitor’s center are still up around the city. “You want to make the city a destination—not someplace where they come in, see one little thing and then they leave.”

Nicholas Stipinovich, a recent graduate of RPI, said that moving RPI’s School of Architecture into downtown Troy would be beneficial to both city and students.

“The point of the exercise is to create a symbiotic relationship between Troy and RPI’s SoA—the city benefits from students directly supporting the town, and the school gets the benefit of being immersed in an urban environment,” he said in his proposal.

Stipinovich says students work on hypothetical projects around the world, but “right on our door step is this beautiful little city, right in front of our noses.”

When Stipinovich submitted his idea, he wasn’t aware that Evan Douglis, the school’s dean, was on the panel to select ideas. The panel was looking to select “creative, impactful and practical ideas,” according to Marblo, and Douglis himself helped select Stipinovich’s proposal.

Stipinovich points out the many vacant spaces in downtown Troy that could be used by the school. “It wouldn’t be RPI coming down, staking turf, but rather expanding the school within the fabric of the city,” he said.

While the Arts Center does not have the power or resources on its own to see these projects become reality, the hope is that by putting them out there, the community support will follow.

“We’re hoping that people who can act on [these ideas] will try to make them happen,” said Marblo.