I've complained in the past about misguided (or worse) policies of Oneida County and certain Towns that have created in the Greater Utica area one of the worst cases of urban sprawl in the state. While the citizens within the City of Utica are paying a disproportionate share of the cost of all of this, the City of Utica itself is not blameless.
Utica was the "hub" of the area and, according to O-D surveys months ago, a majority of residents still want Utica to be the "hub." Indeed, the desire and need for a central "hub" will increase with every dollar per gallon that the price of gas increases. But has Utica done all that it could do to maintain its position as a hub?
At one time, Utica was "filled up" or "land locked" with little room for development, owing to its small 16 square mile size. However, take a walk in virtually any section of town, and you see huge gaping "holes" -- vacant lots -- or dilapidated buildings that should become lots. What is to become of these spaces?
With the infusion of federal funds, some homes were rehabilitated, and some new ones were built. The old Washington School site on Oswego Street in west Utica sports some lovely new homes -- BUT THEY LOOK OUT OF PLACE. It's not that the styles of the houses are that unusual. It's not their colors. It's not even the fact that they are new. It took a while for me to figure out why these nice homes stuck out like a sore thumb: It is their setbacks and spacing. What seems to have happened is that the setbacks and spacings required for new developments appear to have been applied to this older neighborhood -- making the half-block site look entirely different from the area around it. In the end, the effect detracts from the niceness of the new homes, and somehow makes the older homes nearby look less attractive. There was no vision for how the new development would fit its surroundings.
An older example of discordant development is the now-vacant mirrored cube sitting on Rutger Park. I guess the idea was that if the older homes were reflected in the glass, somehow the newer building would blend in . . . but it didn't.
Downtown now has many opportunities for redevelopment . . . especially the old Washington Courts site. I believe about a year ago an industrial facility was considering locating in the area, but the owner changed his mind. Maybe that was a blessing in disguise. Somehow a factory facility just does not seem to go with an area that is within walking distance from the Aud and Genesee Street. (That probably would have been a nice location for "The Hartford" -- especially with other insurance companies near by -- but we all know where that went.)
No one wants to invest in a particular spot without having some idea of what the neighbors in the future may be like. Planning, zoning, and some minimum design requirements that are harmonious with existing structures can help. Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo has gone through a resurgence with design standards.
Aside from the architecture of some of its older buildings, Utica's layout of streets is a strong design element that needs to be drawn upon. How many other cities have a downtown boulevard as grand as Genesee, cutting boldly diagonally across the street grid? Let's hope that the County does not turn Park Avenue -- which is another street with potential -- into a parking lot .
Utica has a lot of potential, but it needs to come up with a vision for how it wants redevelopment to occur. The citizens need to be a part of developing the vision.
Let the process begin.