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Foss: Let's light up Schenectady, the Electric City

Foss: Let's light up Schenectady, the Electric City

Foss: Let's light up Schenectady, the Electric City
William Rivas delivers comments at the public meeting at SUNY Schenectady to discuss Schenectady DRI concepts.
Photographer: PETE DEMOLA

The public has good ideas.  

And if the panel charged with figuring out how best to spend the $10 million in state funds Schenectady was awarded last year takes these ideas into consideration, the city's downtown might just become the vibrant, welcoming and unique place residents want it to be.

Now, I wasn't especially enthused with the vision for downtown laid out in the city's Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) application. 

I felt it placed too much emphasis on big-ticket projects aimed at drawing visitors to the city, at the expense of smaller-scale initiatives aimed at meeting the needs and wants of residents.

Those needs and wants were front and center at a public brainstorming session held last week, and it was a welcome and encouraging development.

Also see: Residents dazzled by lighting concepts at Schenectady revitalization meeting

Attendees sat in small groups at different tables, discussed their ideas for downtown and made a list of priority projects to submit to the DRI's local planning committee.

And while it felt a bit like a classroom exercise at times, this process did manage to generate some genuinely interesting ideas.

One emerging theme that the local planning committee should take note of and look for ways to build upon: lighting.

Meeting participants made it clear that they want to see a much brighter downtown, with more façade lighting, digital billboards and well-lit pedestrian paths.

For example: The DRI application proposes reopening the ALCO Tunnel Trail, which links Jay Street and Erie Boulevard and was once used by employees of the American Locomotive Company to get to work.

One of the ideas that emerged from the brainstorming session was installing decorative lighting in the tunnel to make it "look like a portal so people want to go through it."

As one attendee put it: "Let's light up the Electric City."

Yes, let's.

Schenectady should absolutely look for ways to highlight the rich industrial legacy that made it "the city that lights and hauls the world." It should also look for ways to bring this concept into the future - to ask what it means to be the Electric City in 2020. 

One table proposed building an ALCO museum with a statue of George Westinghouse, who grew up in Schenectady, invented the air brake and introduced alternating current for the transmission of electric power. 

Other tables called for more art and murals downtown, while one participant said that Schenectady's youth know very little about the city's past, and that bringing them downtown and educating them might instill them with a sense of pride.

Other worthwhile ideas include building a cultural/community center downtown, creating an urban business incubator that helps city residents start their own businesses, establishing a food court and installing more  benches and public bathrooms.

The workshops were held at the SUNY Schenectady campus, and when I stepped outside I couldn't help but notice the bright lights of the electric General Electric sign.

It seemed like a fitting way to end an evening that posed an interesting question: What would it mean to light up the Electric City?

It's something I'm still thinking about, but I'd like to hear from readers.

What would you like to see Schenectady do with lighting? How can the city celebrate its status as "the city that lights and hauls the world" while also bringing this concept into the future?

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