Editorial: Smart growth should guide REDC plans
Gov. Andrew Cuomo came to the city of Schenectady last week to announce an economic development council for the Capital Region, one of 10 such bodies he has created around the state to spur the economy and create jobs. We hope that doesn’t just mean the governor sees cities as convenient places to hold a press conference, but that he views urban revitalization as a key part of his Regional Economic Development Council concept.
The REDCs are supposed to get rid of the uncoordinated, pork-barrel, Albany-driven approach to economic development, and let the locals decide what is best for them. They will develop a strategic plan for the region by mid-November and then, using a standardized application, compete for $1 billion in state money ($130 million in new money, the rest from the budgets of the Department of Transportation, Department of Environmental Conservation and all the other state agencies). Funding decisions are supposed to be based on how projects fit into the plan, how they leverage private and public money, how many jobs they create and how much of an economic boost they give the region — measures that are supposed to take politics out of the equation.
It sounds good on paper. Our concern is where cities like Schenectady, Albany and Buffalo fit in. Most of the recent growth in the region has been in the suburbs, much of it subsidized by the state, even though it has stimulated sprawl and hurt cities. While local government officials are ex-officio members of the REDC, the majority of the active members are from the business, technology, economic development, academic and nonprofit worlds. (Noticeable by their absence are people like Ray Gillen, chairman of Metroplex, the agency that has done so much to revitalize the city of Schenectady, and Price Chopper CEO Neil Golub, who runs a major regional business and was a driving force behind Metroplex). And today’s corporate and technology types generally prefer building glitzy glass office buildings and industrial parks on a greenfield like Luther Forest, rather than on an urban brownfield, where Golub recently built his new headquarters in Schenectady.
Earlier this year the state Legislature adopted a smart growth law. While the state is encouraging regions to come up with their own plans, it needs to make clear that projects will get priority that are compatible with smart growth — that save farmland and open space, minimize traffic congestion, are accessible by mass transit, help cities and provide jobs for the people in them.
The public should be able to provide this message to the commission from the beginning, but, unfortunately, its organizational meeting Tuesday will not be open to the public -- and doesn’t have to be, says the Cuomo administration, because these commissions are advisory bodies and therefore not subject to the state Open Meetings Law. That may make the decision to close their inaugural meetings legally justifiable, but it sends the wrong signal. Apparently the plan is to have some of the meetings public and some not. All of them need to be.