We like what the city is doing with Eastern Avenue, and we like how it’s doing it.
The what is rehabilitating an intact but blighted neighborhood, situated on a key gateway to downtown. The how is working with two important agencies, the new land bank and Metroplex, and involving the community.
Like other parts of Schenectady, Eastern Avenue was a once-thriving mix of residential and commercial properties. But many of the businesses have closed and a significant number of houses are vacant, abandoned and deteriorating.
Ideally those houses would be bought by an owner-occupant, fixed up and painted; but with a smaller population than the city was built for (66,000 vs. 100,000), and a poorer population, that’s unlikely to happen. Demolishing the worst of them, and putting the properties to other uses, makes the most sense because it removes the blight and allows the city to downsize. That’s what cities in similar circumstances, such as Buffalo and Detroit, are doing.
The means by which Schenectady will be doing it is new and encouraging. The land bank is just starting out and needs properties to develop and funds to work with. In this case, it will be getting the properties from Metroplex, which will buy them and pay back taxes, or purchase tax liens on them so they can be foreclosed on, then demolish the buildings and donate the property to the land bank. It will also provide a $60,000 facade grant to a business to upgrade two buildings, an office and warehouse. We, and others, have long urged Metroplex, which has done such good work downtown, to do more to help the neighborhoods.
The city’s bottom-up approach — asking the neighbors how the properties should be used, rather than dictating — is also to be commended. One idea, and a good one, is to create an entrance to Vale Park, which abuts the back of three adjoining properties slated for demolition. (This would connect nicely with trails that the Vale Park organization will soon restore on the Eastern Avenue side.) Other properties might be sold to a neighbor as a side lot, or turned into a community garden, mini-park or green space. Parking is another possibility, but is ugly and to be avoided.
The city’s partnership here with the land bank and Metroplex, and involvement with the residents, could be a model for other neighborhoods in need of reinvigoration, which, unfortunately, is most of them.