Enter your card with the stripe up and to the right

I love the Albany Airport. The security lines are rarely long, except in the morning. The staff are friendly, it has free WiFi, and despite an increase in fares recently (and relatively pricier flights), it’s still my airport of choice for domestic flights.

But perhaps the most endearing aspect of the airport is the voice at the parking machines – a voice with an assertiveness and accent perfectly suited for NY. I was recently reminded how noticeable the accent is when my out-of-town relatives visited and immediately commented on the accent, not once, but twice…and without speaking to each other first.

I wish I had a recording of the voice to share, but alas, all I could find was this video of the parking garage elevator ride. I guess you watch this video if you need to ride the elevator one final time.


Stop idling…it’s time to raise the gas tax

I am constantly amazed at the number of people in the Capital Region who leave their cars idling while they walk into Stewarts, the bank, or some other place. I see these cars year round, not just in the dead of winter when one could possibly (but not really) justify leaving the heat on with no one in the car.

Perhaps people do this in other areas of the country I’ve lived, but to me, it seems that it’s no where to the extent that I encounter an idling car here. Not only is it a waste of money, but it’s bad for the environment. It seems ridiculous to pass a law prohibiting idling, although it’s currently in the works, since it will be difficult to enforce and there’s an exemption for remote starters. It’s not clear from the proposed bill for how long a remote start exemption would apply, either.

It’d be far better to raise the gas tax, which will strongly discourage wasting precious fuel without the need for another law that’s difficult to enforce while encouraging the use of public transportation, walking, biking, and other activities that will promote sustainable living. Not to mention that it will provide a sustainable revenue stream to fix the transportation budget, unlike the accounting tricks currently being employed in Washington.

The negative impact to low income individuals can be mitigated through direct money transfers based on income while still discouraging idling and other fuel consumption. How can we not support a policy that will reduce pollution, promote public transportation networks, and fully fund our transportation infrastructure needs without the costs of additional enforcement?

Turn left at the Dunkin’ Donuts

One of the first things I noticed after moving to upstate NY was the proliferation of Dunkin Donuts. I personally don’t see the attraction, but to each his own.

The stores are so frequent, that I joked that if asked for directions, just say, “Turn left at the Dunkin Donuts” and you’ll be correct 50% of the time…the rest of the time, you should have turned right.

A quick Google search confirms the proliferation of Dunkin Donuts all over the Capital Region.

But I especially like the map at the Boston Globe showing the locations of Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks around the country.

I guess when I’m used to a Starbucks on every corner, the presence of Dunkin Donuts instead is noteworthy. It reminds me of the following scene from Best in Show.

Now, I need to get used to meeting people at Dunkin’ Donuts instead.



Schenectady’s almost in the top 10…and that’s not a good thing

While traveling in Brazil for the World Cup, I was seriously concerned about being robed, especially given all the bad press on crime in Brazil and repeated statements from Brazilians I know to stick to the touristy areas.

After one particularly nerve wracking drive outside of Rio, I inquired with the hotel if the drive at night along rural, poorly lit roads was of significant concern. His response, I thought, was particularly illustrative:

This is Brazil. Sometimes you walk in the jungle and you see lots of birds. Other times, you don’t see any. I drive that route with a heavy foot.

When I returned, I came across this ranking by Movoto Real Estate of the most dangerous small cities in America. Schenectady was number 11.

The rankings are of cities with populations between 50,000 and 75,000 people with available crime data from the FBI’s 2012 Crime Report.

While I definitely felt concerned in Brazil, I don’t in Schenectady, and unfortunately, these types of rankings serve to perpetuate a preexisting idea of the city. There are also some legitimate concerns over the validity of the statistics, as noted in this response from another city on the list.

For example, a city must report the data to the FBI to be included in the ranking, which will affect the results based on which cities submit the data. Furthermore, similar analysis by the same firm has produced results which are counter intuitive (Ithaca is the most exciting place in NY?) Skepticism should be applied to the crime rankings as not all residents or visitors have an equal chance of being victims, which raises the question as to whether the results should be truly meaningful to a visitor or potential homeowner.

Despite the criticism of the ranking, crime is certainly a concern, and I hope the police department’s effort to use more data to be more efficient will pay off. At least Schenectady is #2 for access to ice cream that can be bought concurrently with a buttered roll!

Can Solar Roadways Transform Our Lives?

I came across this post the other day about Solar Roadways.

I’m intrigued, but also skeptical at the same time. I love the idea of not having to shovel snow anymore, as is currently a luxury of the wealthy in Manhattan. These solar roadways would essentially do the same thing, but from solar power.

As with most great sounding ideas, there are many technical challenges ahead. We can certainly dream though, right?

Economic development should focus on people, not places

What does economic development mean?

The term is certainly common enough that everyone has heard it, but when asked to define economic development, I’m willing to bet that most people will give different answers.

Often, we speak of economic development of place. We speak of Schenectady’s downtown being in a Renaissance with new buildings, refurbished streetscapes, new companies, and new restaurants turning downtown around. Downtown is showing new signs of life.

But downtown is not a person. It has no well being, no soul. It matters not to downtown if a new business moves in, nor if the buildings are collapsing. Therefore, money spent to make downtown a nicer place is wasted money.

So, if investing in a place is not worthwhile, then what is? How should we define economic development?

First we must give some thought to why we think investing in a place is worthwhile. The most obvious reason is that we take pride in showing off our city to the word, and an attractive looking downtown is one way to do it. A nice looking community engenders a sense of community pride, while a decaying building evokes feelings of regret and worry about things falling apart.

At its base, investing in a shiny new downtown makes us feel good. But is that the best use of our money?

Instead of focusing on development of place,  we should focus on development of people. When we change the focus away from place to people, new development gets scrutinized differently. We should be asking, “how does this investment improve the quality of life of existing residents?” or “Is there a more effective use of the money to improve residential quality of life?”

Changing the paradigm away from place and towards people is important because people are what matter. It is people’s lives that should be improved with economic development, not places.

Why I chose Schenectady

I am frequently asked by colleagues why I chose to live in Schenectady.

Aren’t you worried about the schools?

What about the taxes…aren’t they too high?

These are just 2 examples of common questions I receive when I tell people I live in Schenectady. Rather than address them directly, I would rather explain why Schenectady is preferred over Niskayuna, Glenville, or Clifton Park.

When I was looking for a place to live, I had 3 criteria (for location):

1) I had to live within walking distance of shops and restaurants. Basically, the more walkable, the better.

2) My commute to work had to be short. I was not going to waste time sitting in my car. I value my time too much for that.

3) I had to find a home in my price range.

That’s it.

The bottom line is that because of where I work, I could not live in Clifton Park and wait in line at the Rexford bridge every day, nor could I live in Niskayuna, a town without sidewalks.

Niskayuna - Where the sidewalk ends
Niskayuna – Where the sidewalk ends

Needless to say, Schenectady is certainly affordable.

And that’s it. I have strong feelings about the questions at the beginning of this post, but I’ll save that discussion for another day.