My recent trip to Albany, New York lasted about five and a half hours, but the lessons of smart city development are lasting and powerful. Here are five takeaways from my short time in The Empire State Capital.
Lark Street: “Human-Scale” Small Business Growth
Nearly every city today has that human-scale, beautifully bohemian neighborhood that has been recently reinvigorated by small business growth. It is the truest, most organic form of “mixed use” urban neighborhood revitalization. It’s something that cities and developers try very hard to manufacture but rarely get quite right.
Albany’s Lark Street area revitalization is the best kind of city growth… approachable, non-exclusive and the kind we grow together.
Taking The Old And Making It Remarkable
Albany’s Warehouse District is, frankly, visually underwhelming. A kind of sparse collection of old and new industrial buildings, the area has very little “feel” for anything other than utility. And yet, it currently houses one of the most dense collections of breweries, cider works and distilleries I’ve seen in Upstate New York.
It is a constant reminder of two things… A) older industrial caverns are quickly becoming our greatest social creations, a direct result of our continued transition from a manufacturing economy to a service economy, and B) places that attract people don’t necessarily need to be “pretty.” In our cities today, I’ll take a good idea that draws people’s interest over a directionless visual upgrade. Obviously if you can do both, that’s wonderful, but make no mistake, the priority should be on adding real human and locally-based economic value!
The Power Of Public Space
Albany has three legitimate parks in its city center, complimented by many smaller greenspaces and of course the Empire State Plaza, which can accommodate a large number of people.
Having this abundance of public space is vital to Albany’s future as we continue to learn the incredibly positive effect it has on urban revitalization. Smart cities today understand that it is essential we make urban cores livable places again, and few things are more important to livability than public space.
Why Smaller Cities Are The Future
Albany has a population of around 100,000. It has the size keep your attention, but it’s small enough that it does not overwhelm. It’s nice being able to traverse a downtown area on foot in a short amount of time, seeing a diverse set of urban landscapes and areas of interest along the way. In a time when human-scale transportation (walking, biking, public transit) is seeing renewed interest, our smaller cities often have a bit of a “leg-up” with regard to foot navigation. To see all that a city offers in a day one two feet is a very satisfying experience!
Award-Winning Public Transit
The Capital District Transportation Authority is perhaps Upstate New York’s best examples of what a bus system can be. Awarded best mid-sized transportation system in the country in 2017, the CDTA adds gives those who rely on their service a quality experience, while offering a attractive choice for those looking to make sustainable transit a priority.
Iconic but functional bus stations that look more like light rail stops, and sleek-looking buses raise the eyebrows of the casual observer as they provide reliable service.
Albany has a lot to look forward to, and the right building blocks are certainly there. The positive lessons from New York’s Capital can be fuel for other cities as they continue to move our urban centers forward into the next stages of revitalization.