Monday, February 1, 2016

The De-vitalization of a City

The city I live in, Glens Falls, New York, was once an economic hub for the region. Extractive industries like logging and pulp mills led the charge followed by manufacturing and the pollution of the Hudson River. After WWII American prosperity brought the proliferation of the automobile. The electric trolleys for urban and inter-urban development were bought and dismantled by front companies working for Standard Oil, General Motors, and Firestone making way for a private car monopoly that would take over the lion's share of what was once the public domain. The adjoining township of Queensbury became a prosperous suburb as taxes paid by Glens Falls merchants were re-distributed by the state to award infrastructure "improvements" in Queensbury to accommodate shopping malls and big box retailers. These national chains practiced predatory marketing to drive local businesses to close. A car-centric society blind to its excessive petroleum consumption preferred the huge parking lots and wide roadways to the "quaintness" of a 19th Century city.

 Local planners had little idea what to do. A municipal center that would logically be placed in an urban location was built in the boondocks. The same thing occurred with the local college sited in a cow pasture depriving the city of an academic community. Urban renewal gave the coup de grace destroying the Paramount theater and several blocks of retail stores to put in parking lots, a suburban style burger king and a civic center that became an economic albatross costing the city tens of millions of dollars.

I've lived here for over twenty years. I've watched successive administrations flail about looking for the formula that would re-vitalize the city. Millions of dollars have been spent on consultants. New Urbanist principles have been discussed even if not understood. The bottom line is that nothing has worked. The tipping point has not been achieved. The amount of money that has been hurled at this project of re-vitalization could have purchased enough public art to put Glens Falls on a par with Florence, Italy. Imagine that if you will.