A Well Rounded City

Posted: May 8, 2010 in Vision

If we are to work together as a community to revitalize our city, it’s going to take a common vision that the majority of our population can believe in and see themselves as a part of. Otherwise, the number of people needed with the passion and  patience to see a long-term plan carried out will not be there. 

I hear many different ideas from people about what they think is the “key” to our rebound.  Some are focused on our housing and quality of life – ie renovating or cleaning up the deteriorating areas of our city, improving our schools, reducing crime, etc. Others are focused on economics – ie attracting or creating new businesses and industries. Still others are enthusiastic about tourism ideas – ie arts and cultural events, shopping and entertainment.   The argument is that growth in one area will lead to growth in the others. Conversely, it can also be argued that weakness in one area hinders growth in all the others. So discussions of this nature usually end up going around in circles.  

If one takes a step back, it’s clear that there is a lot of passion for all these ideas. And, it’s clear that all these ideas are very interrelated. Therefore, any vision for our city must include all three areas.  Where we can work on multiple areas at the same time, we should, and when we can’t – we need to have a sensible plan to work on issues in sequence. Concentration on one area over another will have the effect of disenfranchising large numbers of people, which will end up  hindering, or possibly stalling the overall effort.

The Comprehensive Plan has a good section that covers this:

Amsterdam’s Comprehensive Plan is about Renewal based on Traditional Values. All communities exist because of economic and social factors. In Amsterdam, the original economic force was waterpower that fueled the development of industry along the Chuctanunda Creek. The City’s social development was based on the influx of people and families from around the world who came to work here. These different ethnic groups retained ties to their separate cultures even while they assimilated and became Americans. Over time, there have been shifts in the economy and social structures throughout Upstate New York and the nation. These transitions are ongoing, and effect all communities. The challenge is to adjust to these transitions, and to reinvest toward the next level of economic and social activity.

Amsterdam has a proud history and strong traditions. The City can build its future based on traditional values – downtown as the heart of the community, vital neighborhoods, diversity and social interaction. It can take steps to enhance its quality of life and to connect to the economy of the 21st Century.

The City of Amsterdam seeks to strengthen its role as a livable city; a great place to live, work, and visit in the Capital Region.

As the original plan concepts were developed, three complimentary strategies, or ways of thinking about the future of the City, were identified:

  1. Bedroom Community
  2. Technology Community
  3. Tourism Community

The qualities necessary to achieve these desired outcomes are not unfamiliar to Amsterdam. At the turn of the last century, Amsterdam had vital neighborhoods (like a bedroom community), was an industrial innovator (a technology community), and its downtown was the center of commerce and culture in the region (a tourism community).  (Page II-3)

The next section of the plan details 7 broad directives that need to be worked on in order to achieve this vision. They are :

  1. Improve Amsterdam’s Image and Identity in the Region
  2. Rebuild Amsterdam’s Economic Foundation
  3. Reestablish Downtown as the Community Center
  4. Stabilize and Strengthen Neighborhoods
  5. Redevelop Old Mill Sites and Improve Connections to Neighborhoods
  6. Enhance Important Gateways to the Community
  7. Create a City Greenway System

My next blog posts will deal with each one of these areas individually. Stay tuned!

  1. LucidDreamer says:

    The comprehensive plan makes for wonderful eye candy, however, and I’ve looked everywhere, there is no mention of lowering taxes. This will be the KEY to amsterdam being able to just survive for the next decade. A mandatory 3% tax increase per year is just that, an increase, are we to hold the city to expect 3% more services already being cut? Taxes Tim, this is amsterdam’s achilles heel. What irks me is that all the elected officials seem to agree that we want our taxes raised, how many of these folks get calls from their constituents saying they want an increase, again politicians lose focus on how they became elected. I’d be willing to bet that some new faces will garnish the new look at city hall. As far as the comprehensive plan goes, in the military we were offered what we termed as a wish list…this is the equivelent.

    • Tim Becker says:

      The vision presented in the comp plan is extensive and I know it gets complicated too. I can understand it can seem like unattainable goals to some. But I do believe it’s the best plan we have, and it is possible to make progress if we can get everyone involved on the same page. Military operations require strategy to succeed, right? Well this is a strategy for our city’s success. And I plan on writing about it alot : ) I would challenge you to dig into it a little more and see what it has to say.

      Taxes – are mentioned all through the plan, specifically, check pages I-6, III-2. Of course no one wants higher taxes, but work has to be done on the underlying reasons we have the tax situation we have. Thats what the plan deals with. I think if you take some time to read it more in depth, you’ll start to see that.

      • LucidDreamer says:

        Yes we can, I do believe we can fix Amsterdams problems but it will require deep cuts to staffing as they have become too large to sustain. Lets face it, most of the increases in taxes are more or less just to compensate for the increasing cost of the city’s workforce benefits and pensions and so on, not to mention the cost of living increase they’ve become accustomed to. Like in the military, we must pick our battles in order to win the war. We should begin with the tax rate, if we continue to increase it and make it unobtainable to the first time home buyer, what good is it to have all this housing stock with no-one to market it to. Again Tim, taxes are too high for what is provided, the school district is almost off the curve with the rest of the country, the services provided by the city are at best sub par. Of course if we continue to raise taxes we’ll force that diversity everyone touts as a strength to “move along to another friendly county”. I really wish the city well but in its current state it cannot survive and when it does succeed you and I will be retired and living like kings in mexico. God bless the working stiff ! Government wants us to believe the world will fall apart if they don’t raise our taxes and in doing so we just naturally expect them to go up and accept this as the rule, this is why they’ll never decrease them, because we might expect them to. Just like the bottom line in the corporate world.

      • Tim Becker says:

        I do hear you on the tax situation. I agree we need to keep taxes reasonable, and there also seems to be a growing sense from tax payers that we are not getting our money’s worth. I don’t think the schools are horrible, but they are underperforming and that doesn’t do any good as far as attracting new people here.

        Some food for thought in regards to taxes – First, the homeowners bear the brunt of the tax burden in Amsterdam because businesses have been steadily moving out of Amsterdam since 1930 or so. I think figuring out a way to get businesses moving back in is what we need to do to really remedy the tax situation. However reversing 80 years of decline is going to take some work (to say the least).

        Second – We have a very high tax rate, but because our property values are so low, the actual tax amounts come out lower than in our surrounding counties such as Saratoga, Schenectady and Albany. Take a look at the maps in this pdf. I think it is important to keep these factors mind, because they do make our area attractive to outsiders.

        In regards to budget cuts – certainly fiscal responsibility demands we make them. But I’m concerned that we’re at the point now where we are cutting things that generate income. AIDA’s grant writer is one example. If this continues, the downward spiral is going to start spiraling a lot faster.

        But, I’m sure that there are some creative ways we can make cuts that don’t end up putting us in a worse condition. Can you think of anything specific?

      • LucidDreamer says:

        Yes, I can be specific. Lets begin with the golf course. I realize this is an issue everyone wishes would just go away. The kids from union college developed a strategy to increase revenues and make the course more profitable. Their ideas fell on deaf ears and they were essentially ignored by ALL our leaders. You’ve got non-players on the focus group or commission or whatever they label it as making decisions on what’s best for the city. The study from Union made very specific recommendations as to how it could generate more income. It barely can pay for itself now and Our course should at least be able to increase its profits by what? lets pick a magic number, say 3% per year. Also, if it can’t, we hold the commission and the pro accountable. I play golf and there is NO WAY that the municipal golf course cannot pay us back 250 k per year. Privatize or get out of the golf business. This is my opinion Tim, this course should be paying us 250k per year…bottom line or they’re replaced, just like in the corporate world.

        BTW the grant writer shouldn’t have been eliminated, simply because he justified his position by securing grants that could easily absorb his salary. And he should have had the authority to administer/or redirect the funds to areas that would be interested in applying for it. Not just isolated to a two block area or a downtown street. But like everything, it would need to be overseen by someone in order to prevent fraud or misuse.

      • Tim Becker says:

        I agree with you on the Golf Course. It should be providing us with a good revenue stream, or we should privatize it so it generates tax revenue for the city.

        Question – you mentioned you are a golfer – Do you play at the city course? Would you have supported the 20% increase in fees the Mayor proposed a while back?

      • LucidDreamer says:

        No, I do not play at muni. My reasons are like any other golfers, being stacked up 8 to a tee box behind slow players isn’t an enjoyable day on the course. So I pay more to go to Van Patten or less to go to Fox run. Either course, the regulars have better etiquette and you can pay for a round with a credit card. I believe muni can cram in 20,000 rounds a season, everyone can do the math. So, this is why muni should be paying back all the favors the city has done for them over the past 50 plus years. It’s much like the thruway, folks claim that eventually will pay for itself but we can SEE how that’s working for everybody. I’d like to take a crack at that golf commission when a seat becomes available, bet your bippy light will be shed on what’s happening there. Like the kids from Union said; start at the cash register or point of sale.

  2. Ann M. Thane says:

    The following is a tweaked response to Gerry Skrocki from last August. It seems an opportune time to repost as much of its content is pertinent to your entry here.

    Thank you for again calling attention to the Comprehensive Plan because we have steadfastly kept to its recommendations since I took office in January of 2008. We have been pushing forward with goals outlined in the plan, though we are constrained by limitations of both staff and funding. Implementation of the $76 million dollar plan is not based on the bias of administration, but on the availability of funding at State and Federal levels. As stated in the plan, it is also expected to take between 10 to 15 years to realize.

    I am proud of the progress we are making toward realizing identified goals. Remember, when the plan was adopted, the City had a Community and Economic Development Department. The plan indicated that the role of the department be strengthened and expanded to pursue “projects identified in the plan in a coordinated and integrated manner.” The past administration chose to eliminate the department completely and little attention was given to this plan for four years. Currently, I do the best I can to make up for the void left in absence of this department, attempting to implement the department’s tasks: “identify and plan for grant funding, develop and administer home ownership/housing and neighborhood commercial reinvestment programs, (and) work to organize downtown initiatives”. Most importantly, I “coordinate the various economic development initiatives as the City’s “one-stop shop” for economic development assistance.”

    Please note that the plan is “organized around seven goals and are not presented in any order of priority.” That said, we have developed our new branding strategy, website and printed materials to “market Amsterdam to the Capital District and beyond.” (goal one) This is especially important now, as opportunity for growth presents itself in the nano-technology, innnovative energy production and bio-medical fields. It is our chance to “rebuild Amsterdam’s economic foundation.” (goal two) We’ve had success in attracting the attention of developers in the region, though the projects ultimately were stymied by politics. We have been diligently trying to establishing “downtown as the community center.” (goal three)” The plan states “a high quality, urban environment is recognized as a critical ingredient for successful efforts to attract and retain businesses and skilled workers.” We have at our disposal several very exciting incentives to kick start this revitalization including low interest loans and funding from a $500K Main Street Grant available to property owners willing to rehab facades and commercial/residential interiors. We are hopeful that we will may celebrate significant success in this regard, again recognizing this is a “long-term, evolutionary process.” This is coupled with planned improvements to Bridge Street and Riverlink Park which will be connected by the pedestrian bridge and a possible relocation of the train station.

    It is given in the plan that we must simultaneously tackle our deficiencies, hence goal four: “stabilize and strengthen Amsterdam neighborhoods“, identified as our “greatest asset.” As I have said repeatedly, most of Amsterdam’s neighborhoods are truly beautiful – meticulously maintained and affordable. I wish more people focused on our fortunes rather than what we are lacking, but perhaps that is human nature. Of course, we must address blighted areas with legislation, more incentives for rehabilitation, aggressive code enforcement and demolition. Yet again, we are challenged by a shortage of staffing and funding. We have bettered our efforts by partnering with the County to demolish dilapidated structures, have reorganizing the code enforcement department (though the elimination of a code enforcement officer in this upcoming budget has me quite concerned) and have had great involvement by residents in our neighborhood watch/beautification initiative. The property maintenance crews fight a continuous war against growing vegetation, trash and graffiti. We have introduced new laws that deal with out-of-town landlords and nuisance situations, and in the coming weeks we will be discussing several new crime prevention initiatives we may consider as a proactive community.

    Goal five (redevelop old mill sites and improve connections to neighborhoods) speaks to the redevelopment of the Mohasco and Chalmers sites as “a catalyst for improvements to the surrounding areas.” Everyone knows where I stand on this topic; historic preservation = economic development. That said, the Chalmers property will be marketed as a prime location for redevelopment and we are quite hopeful that the State will locate their consolidated data center at our Mohasco site on Forest Av.

    Enhancing important gateways to the community (goal six) is perhaps one of our toughest challenges for the same reasons as stated above: staff and funding. Our plan is to target our code enforcement efforts along these corridors, to continue to look for the financial resources needed to rehabilitate these areas and to work with the Department of Transportation to rehabilitate traffic patterns in the City. The Urban Renewal debacle of the 1970′s directly ties to precipitous attrition of businesses and neighborhood demise along Rt. 5 all of the way from the eastern entrance to the City to the west. We have been working with DOT on traffic re-patterning and await their suggestions for implementation after their surveying of 2009, but note that this must be a phased process and not necessarily as described in the plan. They are focusing their initial efforts on RT5 and RT30. I bow to their expertise. Goal seven, “create a city greenway system“ is being addressed by our zoning rewrite committee and is a primary concern of participants in our Northshore Brownfield Opportunity Committee funded through a grant secured by Saratoga Associates.

    Your knowledge of the comprehensive plan, and Gerry’s, would be invaluable in revisiting many of these goals. I hope to revitalize a Comprehensive Planning Committee in the coming month or so. I invite anyone interested in becoming part of this group to contact my office at 841-4311.

    This is an intelligent and balanced site so far. Best wishes for reasonable discourse in the future. A.

  3. […] The Amsterdam Comprehensive Plan — Tim Becker at ParsNova blog (here) is tackling this so I’ll be chiming […]

  4. Flippin says:

    I look forward to your drill down on #1 to 7.

    I just wanted to emphasize the inherent conflict and tension in your observation about moving forward: do you attack things in a holistic way or do you attack them in a sequenced way?

    I think this remains a huge challenge as it’s very difficult to get buy-in on broad array of changes. It’s clear that everyone clamors for change as long as they’re not the ones to compromise anything in the process. This is what makes the plan difficult to execute given so many stakeholders. And it should go without saying that there exists immense inertia to not change by a large number of stakeholders as well.

    My other concern with the plan is that it is already 7 years old and while not obsolete, a plan needs to be a living document which I’m afraid has not really been the case. Again, the buy-in to execute is still lacking and much can change in 7 years. Case in point: Luther Forest as but one example.

    Look forward to your evolving series on this.

    • Tim Becker says:

      Thanks, I’m working on #1 right now.

      Holistic vs sequenced – I don’t think the two have to be in conflict with each other, it just comes down to if you can work on 3 things at once, great, but if you can’t, then decide the sequence and go with it. This is all very abstract of course, I’ll try and think of some practical examples.

      I agree about the difficulty of buy in for new ideas. I’ve experienced this in a few small scale situations. I may write about one such experience and what I learned from it some day. In order to get multiple stake holders working together, it’s going to take negotiation and compromise. Everybody wants something, and if you can convince a person that they will get something they want if they go along with a change, that’s the way it will happen. Building trust is a key part of making that work.

      Mayor Thane has stated in her recent comment that she is going to try to start up a Comprehensive Planning Committee. If that happens, that will be a good step toward getting the process going again.

  5. We need followthrough, people willing to step up to the plate and participate in the effort to carryout the dictates of the Comprehensive Plan. One of which was to institute a Comprehensive Plan Standing Committee as well as utilizing a Community and Economic Development Office (which is currently another missing link).

    I am willing to volunteer my time, are you? Amsterdam is a worthy cause and the planning phase is over. It’s time to get the Common Council onboard with a proactive approach to implementing the plan.

    • Tim Becker says:

      You mean me or Flippin? Or the readers in general?
      Personally, I’d consider helping with the Comprehesive Planning Committee, but I’d need to get a clear idea of what it will involve and what type of influence it’s actually going to have on public policy. As it is, I’m glad to be helping with the Neighborhood Watch/Association in my neighborhood. This is also part of the comp plan and I think it’s very worthwhile and I’ve found to be rewarding as well.

      • I was speaking in general terms. When I posted my comment there were only three prior comments, but today I see many more appearing before mine. Is this listing chronological? If the comments are not kept in chronological order they can be taken out of context.

      • Tim Becker says:

        The comments are in chronological order, but grouped by thread. So a later comment on an earlier thread would appear before yours. Same as Venner Vox. I’ve thought about disabling nested comments, it does make it confusing sometimes, but I do like being able to branch into separate discussions. Preferences anyone?

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