Who knew waterfronts could be so enjoyable and profitable to a city?
Certainly not the people who authorized the construction of the hideous but functional Interstate 787 in Albany back in the 1960s and early ‘70s.
The multi-lane, multi-level Hot Wheels-style track severed Albany’s historic downtown from its beautiful Hudson River shoreline, leaving only a sliver of greenery along the water.
The giant concrete barrier deprived the city of some charm, deprived residents of recreational and business opportunities, and deprived the city government of potential economic benefits that shore-front cities like Boston, Baltimore, San Francisco and Miami have derived from their waterfront areas.
Short of tearing the highway down, government leaders have to find a way to improve public access and economic opportunities near the Albany waterfront.
The proposed Albany Skyway, which would convert a portion of an underused I-787 exit ramp into a multi-use linear park, could be that connection.
The project, which received $3.1 million in state money on Monday, would turn a portion of Exit 4B into a half-mile-long park featuring green space, a bike/walking path and benches, and would make it much easier and more enjoyable for people to access the Corning Waterfront Park that hugs the river.
Such parks, using existing infrastructure as the base, have proven to be great successes in other cities.
The model for the modern linear park is the High Line in New York City. A decade ago, officials turned an abandoned New York Central Railroad spur into a 1.45-mile-long elevated park on the west side of Manhattan. It features a wide walking/bike path, wooden benches, trees and flowers, food vendors, water features and local artwork. It’s wildly popular with residents and visitors, and has spurred millions of dollars in housing and business investment.
Maintenance and upkeep is done by a nonprofit group in conjunction with the city parks department. The group raises money from private and public sources to support the park’s budget.
There are still many questions that need to be addressed about Albany’s version of the High Line, such as the total cost, maintenance and design. And we’d like to see more about how the city plans to capitalize on the walkway’s potential for economic development, such as apartments and retail/restaurant businesses.
This project has great potential to revitalize Albany’s waterfront and downtown area.
It’s a plan worth investing in.