Schenectady County

Schenectady still gets bad rap despite drop in crime, downtown growth

Whatever the origins of its name, the city of Schenectady’s bad reputation persists, despite highly
Plenty of people turned out for the first-ever 'Miles of Smiles' event on State Street in Schenectady on Aug. 12. (Gazette file)
Plenty of people turned out for the first-ever 'Miles of Smiles' event on State Street in Schenectady on Aug. 12. (Gazette file)

Arian Horbovetz thinks this city’s name could have a lot to do with why people trash it.

“It’s just one of those names you kind of say, ‘What does that word even mean?’ I think that’s kind of a fun name, and that might be why it’s kind of a catchy thing to hate on,” said Horbovetz, a travel blogger and photographer from Rochester who wrote about Schenectady in March.

The name Schenectady has Mohawk origins meaning “beyond the pines,” which is reflected in the name of a crime drama filmed here in the summer of 2011, “Place Beyond the Pines,” that didn’t help curb the negative perception.

Whatever the origins, the city’s bad reputation persists, despite highly visible progress in safety, and downtown growth and development over the past two decades.

A BuzzFeed article from 2013 lists “Hating on Schenectady” as one of 49 things people from Upstate New York love. In mid-July, a Little League all-star game slated for Schenectady’s field was moved to Scotia after parents in Saratoga said they were afraid to play in Schenectady. An Aug. 6 Tweet from @SMACKHighNY, an account with more than 91,000 followers, reads “Schenectady HS: the Compton of New York.”

“I think Schenectady gets a worse rap than Troy or Albany,” said Kelly Marr, a 27-year-old Capital Region native who lives in Schenectady.

Defenders of the city, such as Marr, say the bad rap is unjustified, even in the aftermath of a recent spate of shootings in the city’s Hamilton Hill neighborhood. No arrests have been made in the three shootings on Schenectady Street that left 18-year-old Kusaan Tolliver dead and two men in their 20s recovering from gunshot wounds at Albany Medical Center.

“[The shootings] have been in an isolated area,” said Marr, who started a pro-Schenectady Instagram account, @schenectadydoesntsuck, in March of last year with a goal of reversing the negative vibe.

“The majority of the city is really nice. If you look around, there’s beautiful houses and things going on, and things to do. The downtown area is being revitalized and something new is popping up every week.”

Philip Morris, who has been at the heart of much of that revitalization as CEO of Proctors, said the theater has had just one customer report a car being broken into over the past 12 years. He said he often tells people their cars are better off parked in downtown Schenectady than they are at Colonie Center.

“Perception and reality often don’t match,” he said.

Sadly, he said, people shoot people they know, “and Schenectady suffers that just like any city suffers that.”

Morris said he has heard people say “‘I’m not going downtown,’ and when they say that they almost mean every downtown.” People should not be afraid to come to Schenectady, he said.

“The more people, the more safety,” he said, “so in fact, the more people come, the less likely trouble will be.”

On Wednesday morning, about 1,000 people lined State Street, from MVP Health Care to Schenectady County Community College, to show their community pride during a “Miles of Smiles” event hosted by Buzz Media Solutions. The event aimed to promote the city’s positives.

Schenectady police Chief Brian Kilkullen said the city, for the most part, is safe.

“People looking to come to Schenectady typically are coming to frequent or to patronize the businesses,” he said. “Those types of businesses are not in the areas where we are having some issues with our shootings.”

Crime is actually down citywide from last year, although shootings have gone way up.

Crime is down 22 percent this year, with violent crime down 14 percent, the police chief said. There have been 23 shootings this year, compared with six through Aug. 4 last year. Kilkullen confirmed that most of the shootings are confined to the Hamilton Hill and Mont Pleasant neighborhoods, and involve a “relatively small number of individuals.”

“Our crime analysis is producing regular reports mapping out our crime, and we’re putting resources in those areas,” he said.

Marr, whose Instagram account has grown to nearly 3,000 followers, said she thinks more people have started to “kind of stand up for Schenectady” since she started @schenectadydoesntsuck a year and a half ago. “I think so,” she said. “It feels that way.”

She said a lot of the negativity comes from people who are “taking other people’s word for it and not thinking for themselves.”

“I think if an outsider came to Schenectady for the first time and had no idea what Schenectady was, or hadn’t heard any of the biased Capital Region residents’ opinions, they would say ‘Oh, this is kind of a cool little city,’ ” she said.

Horbovetz, the travel blogger, said he had heard very little about Schenectady, only that “that there’s nothing there,” when he visited for the first time in March.

“That’s why I set out to find out myself,” he said.

What he found, “a thriving downtown on the up and up,” impressed him. He wrote a nearly 5,000-word blog entry called “Schenectady: The Lights Shine Again,” highlighting the city’s restaurants, shops, nightlife and architecture.

The people he met in Schenectady also had good things to say about their city.

“There were so many people who were really high on what was going on in Schenectady,” he said. “If the people here are fired up about this community, then I should be fired up, too.”

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