Your Vision for Albany?
couple weeks ago, at the packed-to-the-gills grand opening
party for the new Delaware Avenue library branch, another
parent in the neighborhood commented that looking around him,
he was suddenly struck by the fact that he felt like a part
of a community, for the first time in his life. My husband
said his first reaction to this was to think it was a little
hokey, but then he looked around at all the people we knew—through
our kids, through local businesses, through activism, through
gardening, through chatting on the street—gathered in a public
space that was brought about through our votes and support,
and thought, “No, he’s right. That’s what this is, isn’t it?”
Now imagine if you were going to a celebration in 20 years
of something that had dramatically changed the whole city
of Albany for the better, something that you had identified
and advocated for and joined with your neighbors and with
people from the other side of town to prioritize and get the
relevant parties to act on: What would it be?
It’s time to come together and get those ideas on the table.
Though there were some delays due to state grant funding,
the heart of the Albany comprehensive plan process is now
underway, and the first step is creating a vision for our
city in 2030.
Now, I and others have had some pretty strong critiques of
the many planning processes in the city over recent years.
Some have been inaccessible or unwelcoming to large swaths
of the city’s population. Others have seemed window- dressing,
with a certain limited scope of already-determined project
possibilities overriding residents’ more radical or creative
There is good reason to believe this time will be different.
The city has hired a consultant, Place Matters, to focus entirely
on resident engagement. Early indications are promising: The
first round of public forums include three meetings scheduled
at three different times of day in three different parts of
the city. There will be kids’ activities (and their ideas
will be incorporated). Resident-hosted house parties will
discuss the same topics as these forums for those who “can’t
or won’t” attend a large meeting. Social service organizations
are being engaged to reach their clients, and churches and
schools are being engaged to reach their networks. Physical
door-to-door flyering is supplementing online and TV/radio
promotion. Cell phone technology will be used to engage young
adults in sharing their experiences of their city, and the
large meetings will involve technology allowing anonymous
voting on priorities by everyone present, reducing the advantage
the loquacious sometimes hold in such contexts.
The other side of outreach is of course implementation. Many
people in Albany feel “planned out.” We have a host of neighborhood
or single-issue plans, plus the Sustainable Design Assessment
Team report from 2008, which, though citywide, was a whirlwind
one-month process that resulted in an interesting if scattershot
document that hasn’t really been acted upon—the city says
it was considering it a “dry run” for the comprehensive plan
The differences with a comprehensive plan are that we will
take the time to do this right and especially that it will
tie all of those other pieces together into one vision for
the city of Albany as a whole. A comprehensive plan is comprehensive—it
won’t cover everything you can think of, but zoning
and land use, housing, economic development, transportation,
community facilities, parks, and infrastructure at least will
be on the table, and those things can be catalysts to foster
the more intangible things—public safety, a sense of community,
a cultural scene, an environment of opportunity for our children—that
are so important.
It’s also worth noting that state law says our land use regulations
will need to be in accordance with the plan, which is a little
piece of authority none of our other plans get. Also, developing
steps and partnerships for implementation is part of what
WRT, the lead consultants, consider to be part of their job.
But a comprehensive plan done right will also, importantly,
be a plan with a much larger constituency than any of the
others, and it will be driven by a vision that we hammered
out together and that will stick with us and unite us in a
way that the rushed process and various (good) technical recommendations
of the SDAT did not. For turning around Albany’s sense of
what’s possible, that may be at least as important as the
Of course, that only works if we actually participate. (You
knew that was coming, didn’t you?) The Web site is albany
2030.org. Upload memories, photos, videos to help the consultants
know what makes Albany special to you. The forums are
January 28, 29, and 30. I encourage you to attend and bring
neighbors, and also to think of the people you know who won’t/can’t
attend, but who might come to a small gathering in your home
(or workplace or congregation), and host a house party.
This is not an election or a single development project. This
is a plan that will outlast the current administration, and
all of our current short-term battles. So if we want to make
some points loud and clear about our priorities for our wonderful
city, now’s the time.