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Foss: Is Schenectady undergoing a renaissance?

Foss: Is Schenectady undergoing a renaissance?

Foss: Is Schenectady undergoing a renaissance?
A pile of garbage in a lot off Albany Street in the city's Hamilton Hill neighborhood.
Photographer: SARA FOSS/GAZETTE COLUMNIST

Is the city of Schenectady undergoing a renaissance? 

The answer probably depends on who you ask. 

Or where you look. 

I've spent a lot time driving and walking around Schenectady's neighborhoods in recent weeks, and signs of a renaissance are hard to come by. 

I saw huge amounts of litter -- plastic bags, empty liquor bottles, Styrofoam containers, scraps of paper and wrappers -- and graffiti. 

I saw broken windows and glass on the sidewalks, potholes that rattled my car and discarded furniture dumped behind vacant buildings. In one particularly disgusting garbage pile off Albany Street, I saw mattresses, an old toilet, tires and bed frames. 

"That's been there for years," a man named Ibrahim Singleton told me, adding, "I'd love to see it all cleaned up." 

I didn't ask Singleton whether he thinks Schenectady is undergoing a renaissance, as Mayor Gary McCarthy claimed last week when announcing his bid for a third term. But his desire to see trash picked up and properties better maintained echoes what I often hear from residents. 

Venture downtown, and things look different. 

You see new buildings and businesses -- new apartments, restaurants and shops. 

The Mohawk Harbor development has turned the city's waterfront into a place where people can live, work and play. 

The casino remains controversial, but I much prefer the mix of apartments, homes and stores to the brownfield that once existed there. Last summer, free outdoor concerts drew thousands to Rivers Casino and Resort's new amphitheater. On a nice day, in the right place, there's an energy and excitement in Schenectady that's refreshing. 

So McCarthy isn't wrong when he talks about the good things that are happening in the city, because good things are happening. 

And these good things do extend beyond downtown. 

There's a new Boys & Girls Club and a new library being built in Mont Pleasant, and new affordable housing developments in Hamilton Hill. The city's new Tribute Park is a nice addition to Eastern Avenue. The effort to develop a plan for making the Stockade more resilient to flooding will protect a unique and historically significant neighborhood.

Whether you believe Schenectady has undergone a renaissance during McCarthy's first two terms likely depends on where you live and whether it looks any better than it did four years ago. 

For some people, the answer is yes. 

But for a lot of people, it's no. 

Now, it does take time to address decades of disinvestment and decline. 

The city has demolished 200 blighted properties, ridding neighborhoods of unsightly and unsafe buildings. 

Which is great. 

The problem -- and it's a big problem -- is that so many remain. The ugliness is often compounded by an accumulation of garbage and litter that diminishes the quality of life for those who live nearby. 

I understand why the city can't just demolish all of these properties at once. 

What I don't understand is why it can't do a better job of picking up litter and garbage, or making sure vacant properties are secure. 

Driving around the neighborhoods, it isn't hard to spot these properties -- they often look like haunted houses -- and I sympathize with those who live next door or across the street. At the very least, better enforcement and property management is needed. 

And because many of these properties are now owned by the city, it falls upon the city to provide that better management. 

When I go downtown and grab a cup of coffee or catch a movie at Proctors, it's easy to see the renaissance McCarthy is talking about. 

But when I drive around the neighborhoods, it's much harder to spot. 

In all likelihood, the mayor will cruise to re-election.

One of his third-term projects might be a real plan for addressing the quality-of-life issues residents have been living with for far too long. 

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. 

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