in 2030 has built on its history and diverse natural, cultural,
institutional, and human resources to become a global model
for sustainable revitalization and urban livability. The city
promotes a balanced approach to economic opportunity, social
equity, and environmental quality that is locally driven,
encourages citizen involvement and investment, and benefits
That is the draft vision statement that has been drafted upon
which to base Albany’s comprehensive plan. It is followed
by five “vision elements”: safe, livable neighborhoods (“every
neighborhood in Albany is a desirable place to live . . .”);
model educational system (“. . . promoting excellence in education
at all levels . . .”); vibrant urban center (“. . . Downtown
Albany is a vibrant mix of business, residential, educational,
arts, culture, cultural, and entertainment uses connected
to the Hudson River”); multi-modal transportation hub (“Albany’s
neighborhoods and centers are connected to each other and
to the rest of the region by an extensive, efficient, and
safe network of complete streets, mass transit, bikeways,
trails, and sidewalks”); and sustainable city/prosperous economy
(“. . . providing quality employment opportunities for all
residents with a focus on green jobs and technology”).
Important stuff. Hard to disagree with. (In fact, hard enough
to disagree with that the polling exercise at last weekend’s
round of public forums on whether we agree with each part
was pretty meaningless. Like an election with one candidate.)
But if it also sounds annoyingly vague and squishy to you,
well, that’s because it is.
Forgive me, I am an editor. I get nit-picky about words. But
in a case like this, wording matters. This is our vision for
the future of Albany. It needs to be said succinctly, and
also in such a way as will inspire people to work for it.
Something that sounds like a policy term paper will make people’s
eyes glaze over and even the best implementation plan in the
world will have no energy behind it.
So, to be specific: Our shining, ideal city 20 years from
now is not one that merely “promotes a balanced approach to
economic opportunity and social equity,” whatever that means.
It’s one where every resident has economic opportunities.
It’s not one that “encourages” citizen involvement. Nominally
we have that now. Just about everywhere (in a democracy at
least) encourages citizen involvement, if often ineffectively
or insincerely. No, our vision is of a city where citizens
are actively engaged. We don’t want schools that “promote
excellence.” We want all our kids to be learning. See the
difference? Squishy, passive terms are hard to demonstrably
fail at, but they don’t inspire anyone either.
Also, it’s a little hard to see that this vision applies to
Albany specifically as opposed to any of the other dozens
and dozens of cities that currently want to reinvent themselves
as green and global.
to the Hudson River” is a good exception—it reflects what
a lot of people said in the first round of public input, and
it’s specific to place. (I think the Pine Bush bears mentioning
too as a potentially equivalent and even more unique asset.)
We need some more of that, whether referring to the physical
and historical characteristics of the city or its social character.
One point that comes to mind is balance—between urban amenities
and social qualities of a smaller place, lots of culture and
quick to access natural areas. That’s a theme that I heard
coming up a lot in the visioning process and it is a virtue
that is, if not unique to Albany, then at least more specific
to it than “history” or “natural resources.” It would be worth
But the big question is how to make this a document that will
inspire people to participate in moving Albany forward.
Portland, Ore., has a famous vision statement. It is only
two short sentences: “Everyone can always see Mount Hood.
Every child can walk to a library.”
So much is encompassed in those 13 words. What goes into keeping
the air clear enough to see the iconic Mount Hood, forty miles
away? Controlling sprawl, pollution, and auto use and all
that goes with that. What goes into every child being able
to walk to a library? For starters, accessible public services
distributed equitably in every neighborhood and safe streets
(traffic wise and crime wise). You get the picture.
Also you can remember it. And it’s tantalizing: something
you want to be a part of.
Can we make Albany’s vision more like Portland’s? Maybe not
only two sentences, but at least something closer to the spirit?
I’d like to challenge everyone interested in Albany’s future
to either go to the Albany 2030 Web site (www.albany2030.org/
node/add/share) or host a house party (before June 14, for
instructions see www.albany2030.org/participate/host-house-party-about-albanys-future),
and along with general feedback on the vision statement draft
and the fun and important brainstorms about goals and strategies
that will support it, also brainstorm a list of simple and
inspiring statements like Portland’s that embody your vision
for Albany and recommend at least one for each element. I
promise to do it too. I look forward to reading yours.