Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Columbia Square, Blight, and Lipstick on a Pig . . .

There was a nice article in the OD tonight about Shaheen Shoes, still thriving on Columbia Square in West Utica.  Uticans are fortunate that old-time businesses such as Shaheen's and Welch's Bicycle Shop near by still are doing what they've been doing for a long time in that part of town.  But it surely cannot be easy.  Angelica Morrison notes:
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.

“The artist left. He had to leave his residency,” she 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:
(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.
(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.
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. 

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.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the most serious problem of Utica's neighborhoods, particularly the west side,the drug trade, does not receive enough discussion and exposure on all fronts.

Anonymous said...

Wait, you referenced state job cuts. In you're other blog, you're all for Cuomo laying off workers. You can't have it both ways. When Cuomo lays off thousands, neighborhoods will continue to decline like West Utica has. Please explain you're opposing views.

Strikeslip said...

I CAN have it both ways!

The lost State jobs could have been replaced with *private sector jobs* with a little bit of thoughtful consideration by the State.

Instead of devising a plan to make its newly over-sized property holdings on York Street amenable for reuse by the private sector, the State not only held onto *everything* it owned, but it spread what remained of its operation onto what would have been the choicest land parcels for private development: the previously unoccupied portions of its property. This was all done about the time that the Utica Business Park was developed a mile away. The UBP's construction demonstrated that the potential for creating private jobs existed -- but instead of bringing them into a city neighborhood that needed job-replacements, they would up at the city's edge, depriving the city of the full benefit of their presence.

Rena said...

"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."

Thank you for bringing this up. Many residents of Utica should not be outpatient. They should be inpatient. The reason why they are pushed out the doors is because its cheaper to have the live in an apartment than in the facility. Its also cheaper to set them up with a caseworker (who is too overloaded to monitor them) and put them on SSI. They roam the streets causing problems. They steal, harass, and cause quality of life issues with other residents.

While we have come a long way from treating the mentally ill like dungeon prisoners, now we have given them a better life but the quality of life in Utica has decreased. Its a teeter totter which needs to be balanced.