Tag Archives: Schenectady

Are you ready to travel back to the 90s?

I’m not talking about Portland.

A city known for its historical scientific progress has brought about something that’s currently only available in science fiction. It’s possible right here in Schenectady to travel back in time.

In fact, the city of Schenectady is so generous, even you can be transported. It’s really simple. Just type in www.cityofschenectady.com into your browser, and you can revel in the glories of busy, hard-to-read websites that are as difficult to navigate as they are informative. The clip art traffic light gif is especially nice on the metrics page.

It’s time for a facelift. The city should ditch the various PDFs and make the site cleaner with easier navigation. City employees’ emails, not just their phone numbers, should be listed so they can be contacted when it’s convenient for the resident outside of working hours, and more forms and information should be made electronic. As much as I love playing phone tag with the wrong person, I’m confident that they have enough to do besides call me back. And that’s the crux of it. An easier to use website will not only help improve civic engagement, but it will help improve employee productivity. Now that’s tax dollars well spent.

How do you know Schenectady doesn’t suck?

So, bashing Schenectady is one of the top things to do if you’re from Upstate NY (#25, apparently), and certainly there are many things one could complain about…or as I like to say, there is a lot of potential. Ever since the Gazette ran the article about a couple of instagrammers trying to change the image of Schenectady, I began to think about what it is that makes a place ‘suck’?

Should we define whether or not a place sucks by our desire to live there? If so, then there are many places that would suck for no other reason than the weather. Many people would lump the entire Northeast into that category. San Francisco has many great attractions, great scenery, beautiful weather, great food, and an avant-garde art scene, but with home prices higher there than almost anywhere else in the country, I certainly wouldn’t want to live there unless I made significantly more money.

Perhaps a place sucks because of bad schools and dilapidated buildings? It’s tempting to think of less-than-perfect locations as places that suck, but it’s also important to realize that less expensive places to live provide valuable opportunities for people on fixed or small incomes to establish themselves. These places define the American dream more than any wealthy suburb. Does Schenectady have that vibrant churn of prosperity? I’m certain it could be much better, but I know that Schenectady doesn’t suck because its citizens are low income. The schools also do not suck because of bad test scores, since they are tied to income as this summary of SAT scores versus family income shows from the NY Times. The income and schools, however, are the reason why people think Schenectady sucks. This thinking is a symptom of the growing socioeconomic divide plaguing the country, and all the more reason to have a day to celebrate Schenectady, as I’ve argued before.

Growing up in my hometown, I would always complain about the lack of things to do. Compared to Schenectady, a city of similar size, that was certainly the case. Schenectady has Proctor’s, which shows great performances year round, as well as SLOC and Schenectady Civic Players. I haven’t see the Civic Players, but I was very pleased with SLOC’s performance of Next to Normal. Not to mention its own museum, scientific history, and delicious local food. My hometown had a mall and a movie theater. So, Schenectady doesn’t suck for a lack of things to do even though I hear the same complaints from high school students as I had for my hometown when I was their age.

Ultimately, what matters are the people we interact with on a daily basis because even in the wealthiest zip code in Manhattan, if your neighbors are rude and mean spirited then where you live will suck. Last winter, two teenagers in the neighborhood came to help me clear snow from my car after one of our large snowstorms, and my neighbor helped me keep my sidewalk clear during the day, so when I came home from work I had less to shovel. I meet people across the city who are deeply concerned with improving their neighborhoods by picking up trash, as was revealed during the Goose Hill NA citizen awards. Even just last night, a biker ran into my car and broke the cover on my taillight, but instead of leaving anonymously, he rang my doorbell, told me about the accident, and gave me his information so he could pay to get it fixed. That sure beats the time I had my side view mirror smashed intentionally in CA!

So, does Schenectady suck? It’s certainly not perfect. Quality of life issues, e.g., litter, noise, potholes, can all be improved; but when it comes to the people I live with, Schenectady doesn’t suck at all.

Goose Hill NA Community Recognition Awards

Below is the transcript for the Goose Hill NA Community Recognition Awards given at the conclusion of the Steinmetz pavilion dedication ceremony.

Don Birch

Don Birch, owner of the Sawmill Tavern in Schenectady, is one of the city’s finest volunteers. In addition to running his business, Mr. Birch is involved in running several overwhelmingly successful motorcycle charity runs benefiting children and elderly and everyone in between.

In need of a meal? Don’t worry, Don will feed you. He provides shut ins with weekly meals as well as holiday meals. You may live alone, but Don makes sure that you aren’t forgotten or overlooked. The list goes on. He moves people, shovels snow, mows lawns, and provides his community with copious amounts of charity, kindness, and thoughtfulness.

Needless to say, Don is one of the first to take time from his schedule to “step up to the plate” and see to it that whatever needs doing, gets done.

Smiling and shaking hands, Don treats everyone with the utmost respect. You meet him for the first time and you’re made to feel like family.

Out hats are off to you! Thank you for the example you set.

Karen B. Johnson

Karen B. Johnson is a former mayor and former city council member for Schenectady. Currently, she is the Vice Chair of the County Legislature. Karen has given 40 years of service to the constituents of Schenectady.

Karen always makes herself available to anyone with a question. Legislator Johnson, 1 of 3 representatives for this district, has worked hard guiding, outlining, and suggesting various ideas and avenues to the Steinmetz Park Community. We have this lovely pavilion to thank her for, as well as the success of Phase 1 [of the Steinmetz Park renovation].

She has kept her eye on the funds allocated for our park and has made sure that our tax dollars have been properly used. Her 40 years of service extends way beyond her job description, and her dedication is admirable. Our sincere appreciation goes to Karen B. Johnson as well as our heartfelt thanks.

Margaret Novak

For the past 3 years, Margaret has organized and prepared a block party for her section of Randolph Rd. This includes sending out emails to her neighbors, getting the proper permission from the city, and planning for the food to be brought by the residents. The block parties have been quite a success, and that is due to Margaret’s hard work and dedication. Keep up the good work, Margaret. Perhaps, you can share your ideas with the other residential areas. We salute you, Margaret!

Peter Rieck

If you need a good neighbor to be around, Peter Rieck is that man. While he walks his dog around Steinmetz Park every day, he picks up trash and checks to see if there is a broken swing or a park bench in need of repair. He goes home for the appropriate tools and repairs them if possible. Peter alerts the proper authorities if he sees any foul play or negative issues regarding the park. One thing about Peter is that he offers help without being asked. He is willing to lend a hand on various projects which can include taking pictures and videotaping different events…exactly what he is doing today! We can’t say enough thank you’s to Peter Rieck!

Mildred White

Another good neighbor to know is Mildred White. Not only for information and advice, but for cleaning up her street. There are many residents who have for years served their community just by taking regular walks and picking up trash and litter along the way. Mildred does it without any interest in getting noticed or getting a thank you. Millie does what she can in her own way not expecting anything in return. Along her walks she makes friends with some of the animals and feeds them. Also, she has been a faithful supporter of the Goose Hill Neighborhood Association. All of us can be like Millie, helping our neighborhood in our own way. Thank you Mildred White!

Smoking near an open window

One of the first things I noticed after moving to Schenectady was the prevalence of smokers. It seemed that everywhere I went someone was smoking. Even my current neighbors smoke. In the Summer, the whiff of cigarettes comes in through my windows.

I especially noticed this because I moved from a place that restricted smoking almost everywhere (California). No smoking restrictions existed at bus stops, in front of businesses, in any commercial zone, and near any medical center. Parks were also restricted, but it seemed that only the tobacco smoking ban was actually enforced, but not other forms of smoking.

My initial impressions were confirmed when the results of the UMatter survey were released showing that more than 37% of Schenectady residents were current smokers. This compares with a national average of 18.1% according to the CDC. Once might think the high rates of smoking correlate with Schenectady’s relatively high rate of poverty, but the breakdown at the CDC suggests it may be more closely related to the education level of the community (9.1% smoking rate for a person with a college diploma vs. almost 42% for a person with a GED).

Even the very high tax rate on cigarettes in NY has not seemed to deter Schenectady residents from smoking.

So what can be done about the high rate of smoking? Many health professionals are working on this issue, and I don’t have much more to add. But one easy switch that can reduce the negative impact of smoking on others would be to promote the use of E-cigarettes, or vapes, instead. If my neighbors all used E-cigarettes instead of regular ones, I wouldn’t have to frequently inhale second-hand smoke, and we may be able to avoid one of these sticky situations.

Yet states and the Federal government are starting to restrict their sales. That is a shame.

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!

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.