Having lived in West Utica for almost four years, it seems that Columbia Square has the potential to be something other than blighted buildings and vacant houses.Yes, blight, and vacant houses trouble that once-vibrant part of town. . . . and worse.
Last week we read about another bright spot with a positive story existing a few blocks away in that same part of town. Sculpture Space, a Greater Utica cultural treasure, had just purchased and renovated a nearby home to create a convenient living place for visiting artists. Unfortunately, the harsh reality of life in West Utica intruded into that generally positive story as well.
A male artist was riding a bicycle from Sculpture Space to the artists’ apartment, which was off Whitesboro Street in West Utica, when men got out of a vehicle and attacked him, Waller said.To be sure, the causes of West Utica's decline are multi-factorial . . . but several things stand out to people familiar with the area:
“The artist left. He had to leave his residency,” she said.
(1) The State's significant reduction in good-paying jobs at the Psychiatric Center's campus on Court Street cut the incomes of workers who lived in the surrounding neighborhood and reduced the number of customers for nearby businesses.While large scale projects such as the debated Housing Visions, which demolishes or rehabs dilapidated structures, can be helpful in reducing blight and slowing down the blight-begets-more-blight process, they do not address the causes of the problems in our troubled sections of town such as those listed above for West Utica.
(2) The State's dumping of mental patients who were not entirely ready to be on their own into the surrounding neighborhood placed a social strain on the neighborhood.
(3) The blight of boarded up buildings/buildings with broken windows right on the State campus acts as a disincentive for people to maintain their own properties nearby.
(4) The State's demotion of Whitesboro Street from a main city thoroughfare to segments of "back water" has removed traffic, making Columbia Square and Whitesboro Street more susceptible to blight and more inviting to the criminal element.
No one discusses the significant influence played by the State of New York in West Utica's decline. Why is that? No one seems to be looking at how past decisions have shaped the decline in each of Utica's troubled neighborhoods.
Angelica is correct, Columbia Square has the potential to be more than it is today. However, until the causes of decline are confronted and directly addressed, proposals such as Housing Visions are merely putting lipstick on the pig -- making the situation easier to look at -- but not really fixing it.