Over the past few months, I’ve been haunted, for lack of a better word, by something I read in one of Hugh Reynolds’ columns. In his Aug. 6 piece, he wrote this, reporting on the Town of Ulster Conservative Party caucus:
“What I hear going door to door from [elderly] people is, ‘Who’s going to buy my house when it’s time to move?’” [Town Supervisor James]Quigley said. “Retail is important, but there are no good jobs for the young people. How can they buy these houses? We’re a community sustained by IBM pensions and Social Security checks.”
What haunts me and what should haunt all of us is the hugeness of what this implies. For your average family, the value of their home is their biggest asset. If they can’t get what they need out of it by the time it’s time for them to sell, they’re in danger of living and dying in poverty.
It’s from this direction I would like to approach, and argue in favor of, the Building a Better Broadway plan. When I first was made editor of this paper in 2009, I wrote, “Kingston needs to get cooler, nicer and safer” in order to succeed. Six years later, the city’s come a long way toward those goals. The BBB plan would bring it even closer to the ideal, and help Midtown enjoy the same kind of revival Downtown and Uptown enjoy.
I would be very happy to be proven wrong on this, but I really don’t foresee a large business adding thousands or even hundreds or even scores of jobs at one fell swoop coming to the greater Kingston metroplex and thus saving our local economy, deus ex machina style. To paraphrase Rick Pitino (a basketball coach who made a famous speech 15 years ago trying to get Celtics fans to accept that their team was in a rebuilding phase), IBM is not walking back through that door, and anybody who tells you they (or something like it) will is either bullshitting on purpose for whatever reason or bullshitting by accident because they honestly don’t know any better. Jobs will be and are being added, sure — in twos, threes, dozens at most, by small businesses and entrepreneurs, largely working in the service, arts and professional fields.
In his weekly column, Geddy the publisher has methodically laid out the case that the most important source of new money coming into Ulster is from “young creatives” from downstate. The county government agrees, and earlier this year made a good video pointing out to city people how nice it is to live in and telecommute from Ulster in hopes of adding their big-city incomes to our economic base.
I know the concept of special accommodation for people who ride bikes can be hard for some people to support or see the need for — the Hudson Valley has been a hotbed of automobile supremacy for decades. When I was growing up in Hyde Park, the default assumption was that any grownup walking or biking on a public highway wasn’t worth much, because if he was, he’d be driving a car like anybody else. To this day in this city, decisions are being made in Uptown (the War on Traffic Lights) which value the convenience of drivers over the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. I think these decisions are short-sighted, both from a public safety and a real-estate value perspective.
I’ll take a minute to note that a lot of the cyclists we see on our streets today are hometown folk for whom a bicycle is the only option they can afford, and this plan will make their lives a little easier. I’ll take another minute to note that the money for the BBB plan is coming from the state, not the local budget; recapturing tax money flowing out of town is one of the hallmarks of effective local government and we should take what we can get.
While bike lanes are not the only part of the BBB, they’re important because the people who are going to buy houses here one day down the road are more likely than not going to see those bike lanes as a big positive, not a big negative. Cooler, nicer, safer. That’s not to say the concerns of Broadway businesspeople about the impact a more difficult parking scenario will have on their trade aren’t legitimate. But the fact that the number of parking spaces that’ll be lost has been pared to 13 (none of which, according to the plan’s authors, will actually be eliminated expressly to accommodate the bike lanes) and that the most sensitive part of Broadway, the bottleneck at City Hall and Kingston High School, will be dealt with at the end of the BBB’s implementation (concurrently with the end of the KHS renovation) gives officials a chance to adjust as needed. Perhaps a deal can be struck with the Rite-Aid people to (formally) allow public parking in their lot.
The BBB plan will be a selling point, serving to drive up, not depress, property values in Midtown and help make Kingston a place where people want to buy houses. Those housing buys will allow families who have so much invested in those houses to get what they need out of them. That’s enough to support the plan’s adoption by the Common Council.