SCHENECTADY -- Several residents came armed with suggestions during Tuesday’s meeting on the proposed Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Area at the Phyllis Bornt Branch Library.
Room 1 of the library was filled with residents who gave their ideas on what could be done to improve their neighborhood. Many also felt, though, that if there were revitalization projects going on or if there was funding available to do them, then they weren’t aware of them.
The proposed area is located within the Eastern Avenue, Vale and Hamilton Hill neighborhoods. It’s proposed to be an area targeted for federal funding for projects and activities that promote revitalization.
The city is allocated funding each year from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program. The program puts a 15-percent cap of using the funding toward public services, which can include health care, child care, job training, education, addiction treatment, senior services and fair housing.
Under the Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Area designation, any CDBG funding used within the area would not count toward that 15 percent cap.
The purpose of the designation is meant to help economically distressed neighborhoods.
There are some suggested projects included in the proposal from the city. This includes the demolition or rehabilitation of vacant and dilapidated homes by the Capital Region Land Bank with the hopes of turning them into homes for low- to moderate-income residents. There is also miSci’s Vale Park Education and Conservancy Trail, which includes a nature trail connecting the museum and Vale Park, the creation of pedestrian paths as well as an outdoor classroom.
Gina Gould, president of miSci, said the purpose was to show people how important it was to be outside and how important different aspects of nature can be. But she also was looking for input from residents.
“We want to know what you want in the park that creates a sense of community around it so you embrace it and use it in a way it’s intended to be used,” Gould said.
Kristin Diotte, the city’s director of development, told the crowd that the meeting was about what residents would like to see done in their communities. But it was also about creating benchmarks and how to work toward improving neighborhoods.
Many residents shared their ideas that ranged from addressing unemployment to having more after school activities for kids.
One resident, Tabitha Lawrence, said she would like to see transportation issues addressed in the city. She said there are great programs in the city for kids to enjoy, but she said they have a hard time getting to them.
“Put in fundamental transportation where they can enjoy all the different things in the community,” Lawrence said. “Give kids a chance to experience everything.”
Other residents talked about issues over the lack of afterschool programs for kids and maybe doing something to address that. Some pointed to the new $13 million Boys & Girls Club of Schenectady that will serve both kids in the Hamilton Hill and Mont Pleasant neighborhoods, but that the kids in Eastern Avenue wouldn’t benefit from that.
One resident, Trina Spottswood of Hamilton Hill, praised the Section 3 workforce training program that was started by the city’s Affirmative Action Office, which is meant to help low-income residents and those living in public housing gain employment.
Not too many people know about it, though, according to Spottswood.
“There’s no one to say these projects are going on,” Spottswood said. “[The Section 3 workforce training program] really gives us an opportunity to build our community.”
Several residents said there wasn’t a platform to really know about the various initiatives occurring in the city.
Diotte did agree that there does tend to be an overlapping of different efforts going on between different community groups. And that sometimes, there can be a disconnect between them.
“There are a lot of different initiatives happening but they are not always in conversation with each other,” Diotte said.
Scott Crowder, CEO of Schenectady- based Educational Vistas, said he owns six gated lots on the corner of Albany and Martin streets. He said he planned to open up a farmer’s market there because he felt Hamilton Hill lacked one. But he also suggested it being a place where different community organizations could have a table and let people know about the different efforts they were undertaking.
Crowder said this could help in being able to publicize what initiatives different groups were working on so they don’t step on each others toes.
Diotte said there is a lot of social capital the city has yet to tap into. But she also understands there is a gap in connecting people to resources to make necessary improvements in their neighborhoods.
“I think it’s going to require creating more community liaisons that can help to organize and help to be the spokesperson for their neighborhoods,” Diotte said. “I think that would be more effective in terms of making sure information is getting distilled and building around that.”