Better times in the Adirondack Park

January 4, 2012

One way to look at the Adirondack Park is what the novelist Russell Banks wrote: “What they call the Adirondack Park, you understand, is no small roadside park, no cutesy little campground with public toilets and showers I mean, we’re talking six million acres of woods, mountains, and lakes, we’re talking a region the size of the state of Vermont, the biggest damn park in the country – and most of the people who live there year round are scattered in little villages in the valleys, living on food stamps and collecting unemployment, huddling close to their fires and waiting out the winter, until they can go back outdoors and repair the damage the winter caused.
It is a hard place, hard to live in, hard to romanticize. But surprisingly, not hard to love – because that’s what I have to call the feeling it evokes, this strange combination of fear and awe I’m talking about….”
Another way to see the Adirondack Park comes from park historian Ethan Carr who has written the park encompasses portions representative of the three American conservation ideals. Almost 50% of the Park is constitutionally protected “forest preserve” including designated wilderness. About 40% of the Park is or should be used as managed forest land, a form of utilitarian conservation where the forest regenerates. In the remaining portion of the park one finds the civic ideal example of conservation with a variety of active recreational activities including skiing, hiking, swimming, snowmobiling, shopping on Main Streets, fishing and hunting. Realizing Carr’s interpretation of the Park, it is hard to image a failure to realize its potential.
Either way, the Adirondack Park’s vastness and complexity makes it very hard for people to understand the Park as being really a park. Most people only understand parks as gated public estates.
Some people deny the Adirondack Park and see only the forest preserve. Wild forest is what they value and communities are anathema to these people.
On the other hand, some of the Park’s residents are resentful of the limitations the Park places on much of its territory that come from it being viewed as possessing special state interest. Some of these folks display bumper stickers declaring “This is no damn park, I live here”.
What has been missing in Park is common ground or what can be identified as agreed policies, qualities and physical characteristics a sizable majority of State residents living inside and outside the Park can accept.
A cross section of Park residents and other interested parties have participated in recent years in a program called “common ground”.
Started by Lani Ulrich, recently appointed Director of the Adirondack Park Agency, a sizable and diverse group met in Long Lake in July to sort through issues and subjects that the cross section represented in the group could agree upon. Those items where agreement was not found were put aside and an agreed upon agenda for the betterment of the Park and its communities was prepared to provide a working document. Consensus is a step to unity.
Another step forward is proposed in Lee Keet’s Viewpoint in the Adirondack Explorer entitled “Let’s unify the Park”. Keet is correct about the value that would come from state agencies treating the Adirondack Park as a single entity. In fact, as a bill drafter I drafted the proposed Adirondack Park Service legislation that would have established a unified Park organization. The idea of an APS has been kicking around.
On the positive side, I would like to point out some steps for unity occurred during the time Pete Grannis was DEC Commissioner and I was a part time policy advisor to the Commissioner.
When a million dollars became available for smart growth grants to municipalities in the Park, provision was made park wide and regional projects as well as projects in individual municipalities. Initially, a couple of town supervisors asked me why they would want to do a project with neighboring towns or villages. A couple of weeks later Fred Monroe told me that some Adirondack Association of Towns and Village (AATV) members were thinking about park wide projects and they had some good ideas. In the end, some excellent park wide and regional projects like a broadband siting and hamlet development projects were proposed and funded.
Along with the smart growth grants, the Commissioner and AATV former President Bill Farber conceived the notion of establishing an Adirondack Steering committee made up of four local officials (Farber being the Chair), two reps from higher education and reps from the Adirondack Community Foundation, the Adirondack Council and regional tourism and a retired county planner from Essex County. DEC’s regional directors in the Park and a rep from APA sat in on Steering Committee meetings and the Commissioner offered to and did help the Committee connect with state officials in Albany. The Committee also established useful working relationships with two important regional economic development entities bordering the Park: the Center for Economic Development (Mike Tucker, President) and the Plattsburgh Chamber of Commerce (Gary Douglas, President) giving the local officials and some institutions within the Park important allies on the State and regional scene.
The Steering Committee collaborated with Common Ground and helped spawn a “partnership” that is connecting the dots for sustainable development and raising the level of dialogue to a higher constructive level. It received funding for planning in the second smart growth funding round and portions of the park with the North Country was one of the 4 recipients of the $40 million regional grants under Governor Cuomo’s regional economic development program.
The Adirondack Park needs structural unity as a unique Park of people, communities and nature. The process to that unity may be progressing through connecting the dots, building common ground on local and regional solutions and building relationships inside and outside the Park.

Governor Cuomo may be able to use the relationships developed as a stepping stone to restructuring state government for the Adirondack Park to be the world class park it is fully capable of being.


More rational approach for hydrofracking; establish a public utility for hydrofracking

July 25, 2011

The highly controversial hydraulic fracturing process to produce the abundant natural gas in the Marcellus and Utica shale areas of New York State presents a conflict between a public good (ability to have natural gas which is better from a climate change and energy security purposes) and a public harm with its many health and safety risks. Some environmental organizations, for example, have been conflicted with some members seeking the public good from hydrofracking while others strongly opposing it because of health and safety risks.

So far most of the attention has been on (1) whether to prohibit use of hydrofracking in sensitive areas like the New York City and Syracuse watershed and public lands like parks and (2) whether state regulation can be adequate to protect again health risks and contamination of water and land resources.

What hasn’t been given much if any attention is whether application of the hydrofracking process should be left to private companies subject to environmental regulation or should the process be treated like a public utility to have a better opportunity to avoid the market driven likely over promised, over built competitive dash to development with danger to public health and distressed ecosystems in their wake.

Simply stated the best intended regulation is not an adequate means to control private entities undertaking an inherently dangerous and threatening activity. First of all, based on historical record it is hard to believe and trust the private energy companies that are lined up to hydrofrack. Remember BP. Its former CEO, Lord Browne sought to re-brand BP as a “green energy company” and talked about moving “beyond petroleum”. At the same time cost cutting led BP to major accidents like the Texas City Refinery explosion. Most recently, BP was a major cause of the oil contamination of the Gulf of Mexico.

“Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America” by Richard White offers a classic example of how leaving things to the private market results in loosing reasonable restraint. White characterizes the building of the railroads as a competitive dash that caused as much waste and hardship as progress. What has been happening in Pennsylvania and some other states where the door has been open for hydrofracking has been a mad rush to develop. White writes that had the building of the railroads been “slower, more rational development would have lessened the damage to the environment, given Native Americans a chance to adapt to conquest and perhaps saved thousands of lives.”

Instead of adding hydrofracking to the list of industries like gold and silver mining, oil drilling and nuclear energy that have left huge costs and distressed ecosystems in their wake, let us allow hydrofracking only to be undertaken by a state public utility at limited and regulated sites that are identified and well planned for health and safety purposes.

The public utility approach has a history of its own problems and we should not loose sight of that fact. But I would prefer a public utility designed with built in restraints to the land rush likely to happen once the door is open for fracking in New York State, and we are not far from that door being open. Before it is too late, we should be taking a close look at the public utility option.

Update on Reinventing colleges and universities posted March 13, 2010

July 16, 2011

The March Eye posting proposed a new approach for higher education, life long contracts with a student’s college or university so that it will be a support system for life. This will facilitate a “student’s” ability to adapt to all changes throughout his or her working life.

A July column by Thomas Friedman highlighted the “realities of a new job market”. Friedman quotes Garrett Hoffman, a “premier starter-upper in Silicon Valley” as declaring, “No career is a sure thing any more. The uncertain, rapidly changing conditions in which entrepreneurs state companies is what it’s now like for fashioning a career. Therefore you should approach career strategy the same way an entrepreneur approaches starting a business.” In other words, ditch a grand life plan and build your muscles of resilience.

In the new world it may mean returning to college 2, 5, 10 or more times in a lifetime of work to fashion a new career to simply to adjust to changes in a current career path. Today, colleges and universities are still oriented to preparing students with a grand life plan. They are not doing their students any favor by doing so.

Update on NY State Parks-May 2011

May 3, 2011

While there is still reason to be concerned about the fate of many state parks, NY’s state park agency has stepped in by letter to the Town Supervisor of Lewiston (4 days after my blog on the subject and weeks after news of potential development circulated) to essentially tell him that development like that for a conference center will not be allowed at Joseph Davis State Park. It will be interesting to see if the Town of Lewiston will want to continue the contract arrangement for operation and management of the State Park under the strict limitation requirements stated in the Park’s Master Plan and state and federal law. Can the Town afford the responsibilities that go with the requirement especially if the state imposes a property tax cap on municipalities? The simple and best solution for the welfare of the state is for state government to fully accept its ongoing responsibilities to protect State Parks and to partner with state heritage areas in perpetuity. Until the Governor make it clear that the state parks agency is going to fully and directly meet its responsibilities, the warning light stays on.

NY State Parks threatened by Cuomo Administration

April 9, 2011

A Gannett reporter wrote former acting state parks commissioner Andy Beers testified at a budget hearing that “no parks closures are planned for this year”. Governor Andrew Cuomo has also said the same thing. If you believe the Governor and former Acting Commissioner, then you are like many unsuspecting tourists who fell for George C. Parker’s con that he could sell you the Brooklyn Bridge.

Unlike former Governor Paterson who was upfront in proposing the closure of 55 State Parks and State Historic Sites and ultimately backed off and kept the parks and historic sites open, the current administration is pulling an apparent flimflam when it claims the State Parks agency is going to make budget cuts without closing any of its parks and historic sites.

In fact, the Herkimer Historic Site home has already been closed by the State Parks agency. Hiding their intention behind the fine sounding notion of “partnership” the State Park agency has leased three state parks to municipalities: Woodlawn Beach State Park in the Town of Hamburg, Joseph Davis State Park in the Town of Lewiston and Knox Farm. It has been reported that “state officials said they are either seeking private operators or working with local governments to run facilities”. A rumor I heard is that all 55 State Parks and Historic Sites identified originally by former Governor Paterson are likely to be transferred by the State.

Let us look closely at Joseph Davis State Park to see what is really happening.

State law recognizes state parks “contain unique and irreplaceable natural, ecological, historic, cultural and recreational resources”. 220 of the 357 acres of Davis State Park have increasingly rare undeveloped early succession vegetation. 230 acres of the Park is designated a Bird Conservation Area. The Park is subject of a Master Plan that states: “Early succession habitat is transitional in nature and decreasing statewide. As a result, population of some bird species preferring this habitat are declining in New York State….As a State Park, habitat at Joseph Davis State Park can be better protected and managed for the benefit of birds and wildlife than property subject to development by the private sector.” It is easy to see why Davis State Park should be a state park managed by a conservation oriented State Parks agency. State park management should begin with stewardship and a parks agency must be skilled and dedicated to stewardship.

Yet, the State Parks agency has leased Joseph Davis State Park to the Town of Lewiston and, I should add, without review and approval of this contract for transfer of valuable state resources by the State Comptroller and State Attorney General or approval by the state legislature as required by the public trust doctrine.

The Davis State Park contract provides that State Parks must approve any development and one may think after reading the contract that the Town of Lewiston is to operate the State Park as if it was under the control of the State Park Agency. Yet, look closely at the contract and you see it doesn’t highlight the Davis State Park Master Plan, a key to the Park’s proper management, and it also fails to mention the requirement that the state legislature must approve any discontinuance of use of the Park under the public trust doctrine.

According to the Niagara-Gazette, the Town of Lewiston has received “preliminary plans to build a rustic 48-room hotel and a 250-person conference center in the heart of the now town-owned park”. (Emphasis added) Further in the article its says, “Town Supervisor Steve Reiter said the town is forming a corporation, which will include one member nominated by each town board member, to make decisions pertaining to the future of Joseph Davis State Park, including a contract that would allow for a hotel and conference center to be built”. This doesn’t sound promising for an ecologically sensitive state park or any state park.

(On April, 13, 2011, 4 days after this blog was first posted and many weeks after State Parks leared of the development interest of the Town of Lewiston, the State Parks Deputy Commissioner for Operations wrote to the Town of Lewiston Supervisor the following:

“We at State Parks certainly understand the Town’s enthusiasm in its new role as operator of the Park under our Cooperative Operation & Maintenance Agreement. However, as you have acknowledged, it is vitally important that consideration of any potential new development of the Park be undertaken in close consultation with State Parks. In the future, we expect the Town will communicate with State Parks prior to introducing to the public any new development concepts and proposals.

In the interest of maintaining a cooperative and collaborative relationship in the future, we request that the Town carefully review the terms and conditions of the Cooperative Agreement, which requires that the Town’s operations and use of the Park must be consistent with State Parks’ statutes, regulations, policies, and practices.” (these include the final master plan)

 Let me identify what is wrong with what the State Parks Agency is doing and why it is a flimflam that will destroy a significant portion New York’s great and first in the nation state park system.

1. Most of our state parks were created because of their scenic, ecological, historic and heritage importance. Their resources require skilled and committed conservation stewardship if these resources are to survive for future generations. Most municipalities and nonprofit organizations (with the exception of well endowed organizations like the Central Park Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy and the Olana Partnership) do not have the skill set or capacity for this standard of stewardship.
2. Public assets like our State Parks should be protected by the State Comptroller, the State Attorney General, master planning and doctrines like the Public Trust Doctrine all of which our State Parks Agency has so far ignored when it came to leasing the aforementioned state parks like Joseph Davis and closing the Herkimer historic house.
3. If up to 50 or more state parks and historic sites are in the cross hair for the State Parks Agency to hand off to municipalities or nonprofit organizations with minimal capacity for stewardship and/or, like the Lewiston Town Board, with designs on inconsistent development. Doesn’t transparency call for a public conversation on what the State administration really wants to do and how it can find resources to protect our state park assets?

When New York created its state park system there was a public debate. One side of the debate believed a state park should be created every 20 miles along Route 20, the east-west route across the State. The other side, led by the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, argued that you should only establish a state park you when you find it. This meant that state parks should be unique scenic, natural or historic places like Niagara Falls, Letchworth (the Grand Canyon of the East), Schuyler Mansion, Johnson Hall and the Heldeberg escarpment). For the most part, advocates for state parks to be unique, special places prevailed across the State and most of our state parks like Joseph Davis are places that are special and must be protected. Former Governor Mario Cuomo said at a parks conference in 1991 that while the state’s financial resources have diminished “our responsibility to pass our historic and natural treasures to our children has not”.

The tension between the two sides of the State Park mission, recreation and protection, operates to endanger the protection of State Park resources for future generations. In fact, what is happening now at our State Parks Agency aided and abetted by a newly established advocacy Alliance for New York State Parks is posing a threat to sacrifice many of our state park and historic sites (like Joseph Davis), historic sites like the Herkimer House and New York’s outstanding heritage area system (real partnership parks) for the sake of rehabilitating gray and recreationally related infrastructure only at some state parks.

The State Park and Historic Site near you in New York and the State’s great park and conservation legacy from leaders like Frederick Law Olmsted, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklyn Delano Roosevelt are endangered. The threat that arose under former Governor Paterson was beaten back, but don’t think it was fully defeated. The New York’s State Park Agency continues to ignore its responsibilities to state heritage areas (the latest generation of New York’s great park tradition) and is actively seeking to hand off many state parks with significant scenic, ecological and heritage resources to so-called partners without stewardship capacity.

Beware, it is not what the Governor and State Parks Commissioner say, it is what they are doing that is the threat. State Parks appears to has spoken up to protect Joseph Davis (perhaps in response to this column), but the Historic Herkimer House remains closed and State Parks has not clearly explained how municipalities have the expertise to operate and steward the resources of State Parks.

Time to cure taxaphobia by Paul M. Bray

March 3, 2011

I am at a loss for understanding how the USA became a nation with taxaphobia (my label for the phobic opposition to taxation).

Coming of age in the 1950s, I didn’t give a great deal of thought to taxation other than to think that the USA benefited from a progressive tax system where those who made the most money paid the highest taxes to provide for public goods . It made sense to me. These public goods included the infrastructure and public safety that created the conditions allowing the wealthy to be wealthy and to safely enjoy their wealth. If we want (and who doesn’t want) good means of transportation, quality education, public health and safety, a healthy environment and parks to highlight primary public goods, paying taxes seems like a reasonable necessity.

Somehow the supply side notion that cutting taxes stimulated the economy started the erosion of progressivity in our tax system. It was a slippery slope to the point where progressivity or taxation at a higher rate for those with the most money began to disappear. The absurdity of this was highlighted perhaps a decade or so ago when a Wall Street Journal editorial recommended increasing the tax rate for lower income tax payers so they would better understand the horrors of taxation and come to oppose a tax burden on the wealthy.

The accepted wisdom beginning with Reagan and moving on to George Bush and to the Republicans in the current Congress as well as the current thinking in many State Capitals is that taxes should not be raised for anyone including the rich and need to be capped if not decreased. (Former President Clinton called this a “theology” when he spoke at the University at Albany.)

Now when politicians and pundits say we all must pay our share, they mean public employees who are being asked to pay more for their health insurance and their defined pensions as well as accept cuts in their salary, assuming they are not fired and loss their salary. Of course, an increase in taxes, even of the wealthy, should not even be thought about. How did we come to being this way?
Whatever the reason, it isn’t lack of wealth. Three years ago I edited an article on TOW or the transfer of wealth that will take place as the baby boomers age. This transfer between generations has already begun and it is estimated to total $41 trillion (that is trillion with a “t”).

Deficits at the Federal and state level have many causes including the “great recession” and excessive spending. But, as the New York Times points out in an editorial: “…a substantial part was caused by deliberate decisions by state and federal lawmakers to drain government of resources by handing out huge tax cuts, mostly to the rich. As governments begin to stagger from the self-induced hemorrhaging, Republican politicians like Mr. Boehner and Mr. Walker cry poverty and use it as an excuse to break unions and kill programs they never liked in flush years.”
There are many fellow citizens suffering difficult financial conditions, out of work, carrying large student loan debts and/or losing their home and so forth. But there are also people with a lot of money, some with an obscene amount of wealth. How did these people become immune from increases in taxation? This taxaphobia does not bode well for our nation unless we want to be a nation solely for the rich.

I am pleased that the State Assembly is now committed to supporting extending the “millionaires” tax for another year. I believe in frugality and practice it in my own life. But I also believe in fairness and having a caring society. When the budget is decided, we will know whether New York State continues to be a progressive State or whether it is going the way of States like Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio that want to beat down the middle class and, of course, wonderful Texas which has no income tax but has more debt and poorer education than we and most other states have.

The more things change the more they stay the same; the story of heritage areas and the state park agency in New York State

January 26, 2011

Heritage areas came on to the scene in New York State in 1977 under the name urban cultural parks. Urban cultural park was a tough name for the public to grasp especially for a notion of park that could encompass whole cities or regions. Even the more than century old Adirondack Park without an entrance gate and with a bit more than half its territory being in private ownership was called a “park in the painful process of becoming a park” on its centenary in 1992. So, to call the neighboring communities of Troy, Cohoes, village and town of Waterford, Watervliet and Green Island an urban cultural park was a stretch.
Yet, in 1976 the young, newly elected Mayor of Cohoes (now Majority Leader Ron Canestrari of the NYS Assembly) bought into the notion of urban cultural parks as a way to capitalize on the heritage resources of multiple neighboring historic communities. By 1976, the tear it down notion of urban renewal was a clear failure. Then Cohoes Mayor Ron Canestrari organized his neighboring mayors and supervisors to designate their collective communities the Hudson Mohawk Urban Cultural Park (HMUCP) and establish an inter-municipal commission to realize a vision of communities capitalizing on their 19th century industrial heritage.
Knickerbocker News editorial editor Duane LeFleche got the idea including an appreciation for the name. It was simple wrote Duane in an editorial. Take the name urban cultural park apart and you have urban meaning a settled area, culture meaning man’s attainments (more than the arts) and park meaning there is coherence and identity to the settled area including a shared story of the attainments of its residents over time. The coherence of the HMUCP was the shared story of the industrialization of America including iron and cotton in the 19th century.
Some state legislators also got it and in the 1977 legislative session state legislators like Assemblyman EC Sullivan from Manhattan and Senator Joseph Bruno from Troy introduced two pieces of legislation. One simply designated the HMUCP as a state urban cultural park and directed the state to plan a heritage trail to connect its industrial landmarks and assets. The other took the notion of a city or region as a park and directed the State Parks agency to prepare a plan for a statewide system of urban cultural parks. It was intended to promote preservation, education, recreation and economic development simultaneously through state-local and public-private partnerships. At the time, a planning effort was going on in Lowell, Massachusetts to develop a plan for Lowell to become a national urban cultural park. (It ended up as the Lowell National Historical Park within the National Park System.) Assemblyman Sullivan liked the idea but wondered how you could have a “park” when; for example, the urban cultural park community of Waterford had a McDonalds in it. On the other hand, urban cultural parks could also encompass whole state parks and historic sites.
The executives in the state park agency were not happy about the urban cultural park legislation. A Deputy Commissioner told me this was only a back door way for distressed communities to get the state to pick up basic municipal costs. For state park officials, state parks were public estates, some with scenic beauty and others with golf courses, swimming pools and campgrounds. Unlike The New Yorker magazine that did a “Talk of the Town” on the NY Harbor urban cultural park, they could not see how the conditions traditionally associated with parks could be found in urban settings. They probably much preferred going out and about the state visiting state parks and taking their golf clubs.
Those in the State Parks Agency were perplexed. They didn’t know which of the two urban cultural parks was worst for them. If the HMUCP bill passed, they feared it would become the care taker for distressed cities. Yet, the thought of a statewide system of urban cultural parks might be even a greater threat to their peace of mind and golf outings.
At one point during the legislative session a group of State Park Executives including Fred Rath, Deputy Commissioner for Historic Preservation, asked to meet with the legislators sponsoring the urban cultural park bills. Meet they did.
Mr. Rath started the conversation by almost poetically saying the urban cultural park notion would be the highest realization of the historic preservation ideal. It would go beyond individual features and even historic districts and encompass the entire narrative of communities and regions. The legislators were impressed. They had hit upon something more significant than they ever imagined.
But then Mr. Rath lowered the boom by declaring there was “absolutely no way the state parks agency would be able to administer a program of the magnitude of urban cultural parks”. Yes, Deputy Commissioner Al Cacese affirmed that is so.
It was too late for the state parks leadership. The cat was out of the bag and there was no way the legislators would be deterred from passing the urban cultural park legislation after hearing Rath extol the urban cultural park idea. Both urban cultural park bills were passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Hugh Carey.
The state parks agency never had enthusiasm for urban cultural parks, but doing nothing was not an option. To keep some distance from the emerging urban cultural parks, it hired Lane and Frenchman consultants who worked on the City of Lowell urban cultural park and were able to generate interest in many communities in New York.
Outreach to communities across the state from New York City to villages like Sackets Harbor along Lake Ontario and a pilot grant program led to 13 communities doing feasibility studies on their qualifications to become part of a statewide urban cultural park system. A comprehensive plan for the UCP System was published. Implementing legislation led in large part of enthusiasm of state legislators like Assemblymen Sullivan, Maurice Hinchey and Oliver Koppell was enacted in 1982 and 13 communities including the HMUCP went through the arduous process of preparing their management plans that the state park agency adopted. A driver for the UCPs came in 1986 when Assembly Hinchey got $20 million dollars in the a state environmental quality bond act to be used to pay 100% of the cost of visitor centers in each of the then 14 UCPs.
On the national scene regional national heritage areas took off in the 1980s. They were established on the basis of individual Congressional legislation and were under the wing of the National Park Service. But like the NYS urban cultural parks, they were treated as orphans and not accepted into the National Park System. The National Park System and the NYS parks agency had something in common in their arms length approach to heritage areas. Yet, one can say that National Heritage Areas thrived, there being 49 National Heritage Areas that includes 4 in New York State.
The leadership of the state parks agency was never happy with urban cultural parks a.k.a. heritage areas. Despite the fact that now the state has a comprehensive heritage area law on the books, 21 state designated heritage areas and 4 National Heritage Areas in existence, the state parks’ executives including the retired Spitzer appointed Commissioner Carol Ash and her current successor Acting Commissioner Andy Beers washed their hands of heritage areas without consulting with the other state and local heritage area partners. Their excuse was that they couldn’t afford to participate, even though participation was essentially only the part time services of two state employees. (Heritage areas as partnership parks receive most of their support from state agencies other that state parks, local governments and the private sector.) State-local partnership was never high on the list for the State Parks agency.
A feature in the state heritage area law establishing an advisory council was recently amended to include representatives from the four national heritage areas in the State as members of the Advisory Council. Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Chair of the Assembly Parks and Tourism Committee, replace Carol Ash as Chair of the Advisory Council and there are signs that bringing together the state and national heritage areas on the Advisory Council (which also includes numerous state agencies like the Department of State, Transportation, Environmental Conservation, OPRHP, Economic State Development and Agriculture and Markets as well as the Canal Authority) will help fill the state partnership role. The Department of State, for example, has been very forthcoming in funding management plans required for state designated heritage areas like the Concord Grape Heritage Area to become part of the state system.
At the time this column is being written the future of the state park agency is in question. Prospects of increased closure of state parks and elimination of the state parks agency itself (with its functions transferred to another state agency) are being talked about. In some ways, the leadership of the state parks agency may have brought this on itself. Perhaps their indifferent approach to heritage areas as partnership parks, in part, made the traditional state park system vulnerable to be picked apart by the Executive Branch and the Division of the Budget.
Additional articles on the history of heritage areas: (The heritage area phenomena) (Evolving policies and laws for governance of urban protected areas: New York State’s Landmark Heritage Area System, Ane Books, New Dehli, India, 2003. Paul M. Bray) (The possibility of parks unbounded)

Get Real: Drop the Clean up Albany

August 29, 2010

September 2010
Get Real: Drop the “Clean up Albany”
When I hear or read about Andy Cuomo and Ed Koch amongst others wanting to clean up Albany, I think of two inner city young people (a brother and sister) my wife and I mentored a couple of years ago. One time we took them to the ballet at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and for a walk on the main street of Saratoga. On Saratoga’s Broadway, the young lady asked why Saratoga’s Broadway is so clean when the streets in Albany were dirty and messy.
But that is not what Cuomo, Koch and others are talking about, albeit that it would be nice if they were giving more attention to cleaning up our cities. They are talking about corruption personified by some downstate legislators, lobbyists and redistricting. They aren’t talking about solving the blight associated with the vacant and abandoned buildings in cities across the State including about 900 in the City of Albany. Nor are they talking about restoring the upstate economy let alone improving the whole economy of the State and what needs to be done in substantive areas like education and the environment and so on and so forth.
There was a time when cleaning up Albany made sense. That was in the 1940s and 1950s when Governor’s Dewey and Rockefeller went after the Albany “machine”. We learn in William Kennedy’s book, OALBANY, that “Between August 1943 and February 1046 he (Governor Dewey) spend half a million dollars on formal appropriations trying to break Dan’s (legendary boss Dan O’Connell) power, though the total cost of his investigation including his use of state services, and police, was said to be $1.5 million”. That was when a million dollars was real money. Yet, Dewey didn’t get O’Connell who died in power in the 70s.
Andy’s father, former Governor Cuomo, is said to have told the story about Dan being marooned on an island with another man and only one coconut between them. They decided to take a vote on who should eat it, and when the vote was counted Dan won, 110 to 1.
Today, Dan is long gone and so is the Albany democratic machine except for left over Mayor who clings to power and can tack democratic or republican as he did with former Governor Pataki. The voters in Albany seem not to realize the machine is dead, but it really, really is dead.
Yet, cleaning up Albany continues to be a straw man that helped bring former Governor Spitzer down and at best is not likely to serve Andy Cuomo and certainly the needs of the people well.
Independent redistricting sounds good, but it is only a step towards what can be called rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Does anyone really think we are going to get rid of lobbyists and pay-to-play. Corporate and special interest money is in grained in local, state and national politics and only getting worst as time goes by.
If there is an answer and I would like to think there is, it rests with real leadership that engages the State’s citizenry in substantive tasks like reducing poverty, reinvesting and reviving our cities, supporting a sustainable economy including tapping the innovation and creativity that that sometimes manifests itself in our abundant public and private institutions of higher education and realizing the potential of our State’s heritage and natural environment that is unmatched anywhere else in the nation. Creative engagement of the State’s aging baby boomers is an untapped resource.
So, stop picking on Albany even if it is an easy way to pander to public sentiment. Let us, instead, get our candidates to tell us what specifically they are going to do realize the high potential for quality of life the State of New York.

Down Side of Term Limits

August 1, 2010

July 31, 2010

I cringe when I hear proposals for legislative term limits or that the voters are angry and are going to throw the incumbents out in the next election. Let me explain why.
For thirty years I was a bill drafter in the New York State Legislature. I worked in a bi-partisan commission and drafted legislation for Assemblymen and Senators, republicans and democrats. I was assigned to 18 legislators and whenever they wanted to have a legislative drafted that could be introduced for consideration in their respective houses, they would come to me. I was a behind the scenes craftsman for legislation requested by such diverse legislators as Republican Senator Dale Volker from Erie County and Democratic Assemblyman Oliver Koppell from the Bronx.
It is true that the state legislature and state government leaves a lot to be desired, but I saw there are long time serving legislators with very high principles who work very hard to advance those principles through legislation. I had the privilege to work with some of these legislators , conservatives and liberals alike, and I learned their skills and ability to succeed need years to ripen.
It takes time for change through legislation to happen. There are many hurdles after legislation is introduced and before it is enacted.
Former Assemblyman and now State Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis sponsored legislation requiring cigarettes sold in New York must be self-extinguishing. He had evidence that this was technically feasible and that lives and property would be saved by this requirement. It took 18 years before this legislation was enacted. Today at least 37 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws requiring cigarettes sold must be self-extinguishing. The Grannis 30 year record in the state legislature included laws decreasing pharmaceutical drug costs through use of generic drugs, the Clean Indoor Air act that was one of the first restrictions on smoking in public areas and provision for felony punishment for animal cruelty.
These and many other breakthrough laws sponsored by Pete Grannis faced intense opposition by powerful lobbyists like those from the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries. Persistence and time for an experienced legislator made change possible.
Another legislator I drafted for before leaving the Bill Drafting Commission in 2000, in fact the longest serving Assemblyman in State history, is Assemblyman Richard Gottfried from New York City. Gottfried who has chaired the Assembly Health Committee for many years passed 20 bills this year which he proudly declares as evidence he is not slowing down.
Laws he has initiated and sponsored are extensive and include provision for Prenatal Care Assistance Program for low income women; the Child Health Plus Program, which allows low- and moderate-income parents to get free or low-cost health insurance for their children; a Physician Profiling Law, which gives patients access to information about a doctor’s record; establishment of Family Health Plus, which provides free health coverage for low-income adults; the Health Care Proxy Law, which allows people to designate an agent to make health care decisions for them if they lose decision-making capacity and the Juvenile Justice reform act of 1976. On Gottfried’s still to accomplish list are legislation for legalizing medical marijuana and establishing single payer health insurance.
Another example of the value of long serving legislators I drafted for is the father-son legislators from Buffalo, William and Sam Hoyt.
I was assigned to draft bills for Assemblyman “Bill” Hoyt in 1975 when he was first elected. He impressed me not only for his commitment to addressing issues like child care protection and environmental quality but his love and advocacy for his home city of Buffalo. After his untimely death, he was succeeded by his son Sam who did not miss a beat in both actively sponsoring progressive legislation and advocacy for Buffalo.
One of the last significant pieces of legislation I worked on before I left the legislature was smart growth legislation for Sam. In the 1990s he was the first state legislator to introduce smart growth legislation and he was able to team with his Republican colleague State Senator Mary Lou Rath to have at least a version of smart growth adopted and advanced as the “Quality Communities” program of former Governor George Pataki. It was not as far sighted as Sam’s vision and legislation and he tenaciously continued to advocate for smart growth that would help revive traditional cities and, in fact, save first generation suburbs.
Sam was one of the first legislators to concentrate on connection between state infrastructure development and costly patterns of growth that have lead to the decline of upstate cities and suburbs that fail to meet the needs of an aging population. This year Sam’s smart growth infrastructure planning legislation passed both houses and is expected to be approved by the Governor.
The record and accomplishments of Grannis, Gottfried, the Hoyts and other long serving state legislators will never be duplicated by legislators subject to two or three terms by formal term limits or those too quickly cast off by frustrated voters who don’t see the value of their experienced representatives.
Some people sneer at the tendency of voters to reelect their own representatives while they rail against the governmental institutions in which they serve. In fact we are fortunate that the voters reelected Grannis, Gottfried and the Hoyts as well as many others who have records they are proud of and we should all appreciate. And, of course, I was fortunate to have professional and intelligent state legislators with high values to work for.
On the other hand, term limited legislators would be looking for their next job almost as soon as they were sworn in and they would be dependent on lobbyists or their leadership for the knowledge they did not have time to acquire.

Baby Boomers

June 18, 2010

June 2010

Eye from Albany

Baby boomers and our cities: Part II

By Paul M. Bray

A couple of years ago I challenged baby boomers to get in the vanguard of reviving cities. Simply stated, it has been on their watch that most of our cities and their once vibrant downtowns have declined if not totally disappeared. It is their responsibility, at least in my mind, that they turn things around.

With the baby boomers came suburban sprawl, shopping malls and auto dependence as well as urban deterioration, urban food deserts and shrinking urban population. The “asphalt nation” as architectural critic Jane Holtz Kay calls us represents a terrible legacy for the baby boomers to pass on. In the words of Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert, “Americans can drive from one ocean to the other, stopping every day for the same hamburger and every evening at the same hotel. Traveling in a straight line is not longer much different than traveling in a circle”. It wasn’t that way before the baby boomers.

Thinking back to the  ways of some baby boomers in the1960s, I imagined the baby boomers would rectify the situation by creating a rabble rousing organization like SDS (remember Students for a Democratic Society). Perhaps it would be SUS (seniors for an urban society) and it would be in the vanguard of not only restoring our depleted cities like Detroit and Buffalo, but of enthusiastically making all cities connected by high speed rail shine for their livability, creativity, caring amongst neighbors and diversity amongst other positive qualities.

I am sure you noticed we don’t have an SUS even though we have a President who was an urban community organizer. That is a remarkable development even though the blow back from the right wing President Obama is getting puts his promise in jeopardy.

Yet, even with itsy bitsy steps, there is evidence of baby boomers repairing their urban legacy. A retired couple from Washington, DC, for example, moved to the center of Troy, NY, a once (like 19th century) thriving industrial city, and restored a town house for their home.

The former President/CEO of the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce, Wally Altes (Colonie having the first major mall in its region) moved into an apartment in a converted old department store also in Troy.  Wally loves to sing praises to his new urban home: “Troy has a very walkable downtown…. There are many amenities within easy walking distance-doctor, drugstore, restaurants, the river (like in Hudson river), quaint shops, parks, and what seem like endless regular events in the immediate downtown area….” 

On the other hand, Wally thinks of “hurricanes, horrendously high insurance, poor public services” when it comes to Florida. “The political climate of a state (South Carolina) that sends Jim DeMint to the U.S. Senate leaves me cold” says Wally, “in spite of the heat, and yes, the humidity”.

Senior organizations like AARP are hardly my imagined radical SUS organization, but they must be driving the highway designers and engineers crazy with their active campaign in Congress and state legislatures for “complete streets”.

Auto domination is being challenged by a “complete streets” movement. AARP, cycling organizations and others are advocating and taking to the streets in favor of complete streets. Complete street legislation in the state legislature provides “for safe travel by all users of the road network, including motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, and public users, regardless of age or ability, through the use of complete street design features for safe travel”. Across the state, AARP members are demonstrating at unsafe intersections. If complete streets is enacted, TU writer Tim O’Brien would no longer be reporting that “a study of dangerous intersections in upstate New York highlights eight Albany crosswalks as among the most dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists”. Of course, traffic flow would be slowed.

Increasingly seniors like Wally Altes are rejecting Florida retirement as well as the ersatz country estates that house senior living accommodations in northern suburbs. The buzz word amongst seniors and their advocacy organizations is now “aging in place”, in one’s home and neighborhood. If the home of baby boomers is in a city, it is good for the city being intergenerational. If their home is in the suburb, it creates pressure for traditional cul du sac suburbs to become more urban, to have sidewalks, to allow for infill housing and mixed uses or, in other words, to become more urban.

Aging in place doesn’t mean leaving seniors to fend for themselves. NORCs or naturally occurring retirement communities like one in a single family residential area of Albany are springing up to make urban residential areas senior friendly. NORCs get state assistance for senior support services from professionals and the senior residents themselves develop their own support system, so much better than isolated senior living in suburban greenfields.

This summer the NYS Office for the Aging is sponsoring two empowering communities for successful aging conferences (

Unlike their ways in the 1960s or like the French who take to the streets when they want to bring about change, some seniors are moving back to the future when it comes to replacing their suburban legacy with a restored urban legacy. Someday future generations may look back on the baby boomer era as a period baby boomers were part of the clean up the wasteful suburban mess they made and began the re-creation of successful cities throughout the land.

Seniors or baby boomers aren’t going to successfully revive cities on their own. They are going to need national public policy like the Secretary of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced “Our new policy for selecting major transit projects will work to promote livability rather than hinder it. We want to base our decisions on how much transit helps the environment, how much it improves development opportunities and how it makes our communities better places to live.”

They are also going to require millennials who want to live in cities with many starting up businesses there and couples I know who moved their children from the suburbs to Albany so these students could experience the diversity in the public high school, children who went on to ivy league schools.

If citizens of all generations can find their way back to cities, we may find the way to have caring, livable intergenerational neighborhoods part of entrepreneurial cities for the 21st century. I can dream.