With a smaller population than it was built for (66,000 vs. 100,000), ancient, crumbling infrastructure and severe fiscal challenges, Schenectady is going to have to do what some other cities in similar circumstances, like Buffalo and Detroit, have done: not only cut back but downsize. The best way to do that is to involve residents when something is closed or taken away or demolished, giving them something worthwhile in its place. A good example is what the city has done with the old Woodlawn Pool.
The pool off Kings Road has been closed for years, a victim of the city's budget problems, and the park around it had become an overgrown, graffiti-ridden mess. Recently a group of residents has come forward to reclaim the park, cutting vegetation, painting equipment, painting over graffiti.
At first they wanted the pool reopened, but when told by city officials to forget it (the cost of repair could be more than $1 million, with another $100,000 a year to operate), they accepted reality and came up with a new plan: fill the pool and use it as an ice skating rink in winter, complete with boards. And this is part of a master plan for the park that includes, over the next several years, such things as an amphitheater with performance space and screen for movie nights, small spray park, and open-air pavilion made from the remains of the old pool building.
The city will fill the pool with sand and seed it, as well as remove the fence around the pool, which will open up the park and make access from front to back easier. But the rest will be up to the residents, who are planning a fundraiser to start the process and will take turns cleaning the park each month.
A closed swimming pool is just one example of downsizing . The city will soon be starting on another kind, demolishing as many of the large number of empty, decrepit, tax-foreclosed homes as it can through the newly created land bank. In those cases, whoever owns and lives in the adjacent property should have first crack at the now-vacant lot next door.
After that, a bottom-up rather than top-down approach should be followed, with the neighbors and community-based organizations, not City Hall, deciding the best uses for the empty parcels. That may be development of some sort, or it could be a mini-park or playground, movie night space or community garden. Planning and making that vision happen can bring the neighborhood together and add value to it, as in Woodlawn, and perhaps even spark a neighborhood-led revival.