Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Paving Paradise . . .

This is a great place to live. We always knew it . . . and now it has been validated in Utica-Rome's ranking among the best "green" places to live. Accessibility to fresh produce and short commutes to work are among the criteria we score well in. But . . .

It's not going to last. If you think back to 30 years ago, you will remember more active farmland and development concentrated in the cities and villages -- things that contributed to the region's quality of life and to being "green." These things are fast disappearing -- not because we are growing -- but because we are spreading out: Urban Sprawl. This conclusion is not based on just anecdotal evidence (though it is all around us). It was established by a 2003 Brookings Institute Study by Rolf Pendall: Sprawl Without Growth - the Upstate Paradox. Our area is one of the worst places for sprawl. Pendall documents that urbanized acreage in the Central New York (Utica-Rome-Syracuse) region increased an astounding 45% between 1982 and 1997 while the population decreased. He writes:
  • "Continued decentralization of people and jobs away from Upstate New York's cities and villages is undermining the economic health and quality of life of the region."
Oneida County has lost more than 40,000 people in the last 30 years. So why do we insist on further expanding our infrastructure?

Misguided policies. New Hartford will be preparing a Generic Environmental Impact Statement because "more residential growth is anticipated." How can this be if the regional population is declining? It is because we are merely rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship. New developments are drawing the population out of older ones. New Hartford has already taken residential development out of Utica . . . and now it apparently is feeding on itself because its own population has declined . . . but it is planning on sucking more office and retail demand out of other areas. All the while, more streets, waterlines, sewers, sidewalks, expanded schools, etc are required. Our politicians, presumably at the bidding of developers, encourage and facilitate more of this "faux growth" by sending water and sewer lines further afield. It produces more tax dollars in certain jurisdictions for them to hire their cronies. But, while some people get "new," and some developers and landowners get rich, the public in general gets a reduced quality of life. "Pave over paradise and put up a parking lot." Some developer gets money from Lowes, but the public loses an orchard.

The public also gets the bill. Sixty-six million dollars, to be exact -- the cost of just the sewer work needed due to the over development in New Hartford. But who will pay this bill? WE ALL WILL, regardless of whether we live in New Hartford or not. How could this happen?

Multiple Jurisdictions. Land use planning in New Hartford is an exercise in myopia. NH's plans immediately affect all adjoining jurisdictions, because while the lines are clear on a map, there is no real spatial separation between them. There are also overlay jurisdictions: the MVWA service area and the part county sewer district, among others. Every municipal entity and jurisdiction is doing what it feels is best for its own particular constituency without regard for the effect on the whole. The financial problems of the sewer district are only a taste of what will come, until this region gets its act together. And TOGETHER is the operative word.

More in future posts . . .

No comments: