Greening the Rust Belt

Assets: Legacy, Dormant, Invisible, New

The flows of resources, economies and cultures that built New York State’s seven major Rust Belt Cities- Albany, Schenectady, Utica, Syracuse, Binghamton, Rochester and Buffalo-left a rich legacy on which their future will rely, according to the Brookings Institute (2007). Their extant infrastructure, transportation and education networks along with their architecture and institutions will be crucial to their current and future development. And, their underrepresented and in some cases invisible assets–new populations of immigrants and refugees, available services, agricultural land and economies, vacant affordable land and buildings, parks and open spaces, clean air and water will be key players, and likely leaders, in their 21st century adaption and reimagining.

The Rust Belt resource pool holds some potentially powerful, although often dormant or underutilized resources.  There is an extant and to a large degree underutilized rail network (an existing right of way is in itself a treasure) and water infrastructure, that includes the Erie/Barge Canal, constructed specifically for regional transport of goods.  Spaces along these corridors, now largely abandoned, could become valuable again with reactivation of low-fuel transport infrastructures.  Throughout cities and especially their urban cores, vacant land and abandoned buildings are everywhere, and their spatial configuration suggests a range of possible strategies for reuse.  Historic architecture, often designed by well-known American architects, has in many cases been restored and protected with scenic and historic district designation. Large floor areas of historic structures await adaptive reuse and repurposing to activate and regenerate them along with their surroundings. Large and connected park systems reflect the vision of former political leaders for high quality cities. They can be more adequately linked to neighborhoods and reprogrammed and redesigned to meet changing recreation, management and urban forestry and biodiversity needs. Rust Belt cities often still sit within a mosaic of small, family farms still being farmed, even as the rest of the nation has seen a shift toward large-scale, industrialized farming.   Water resources and climate offer continued favorable conditions for shifting food production to regional farmlands to support nearby urban centers with minimal transport required.

Despite the well-documented loss of residents to other regions or the suburbs, immigrants have stabilized population numbers in many Upstate NY cities and bring diversity in language, culture and skills along with new dreams, hopes and desires.   Active arts communities are often a strong presence in Upstate cities and both private and public academic institutions of higher learning abound. Networks of agencies and institutions provide social services, resources and support to help populations of immigrants, veterans, elderly, disabled and those who are economically disadvantaged while local and regional networks and traditions of philanthropy and giving strengthen and support community regeneration and vitality.

What Assets Exist in Your City?

Historic Buildings, many now empty are relics of a more prosperous time, and a testament to Utica's legacy as a thriving center of industry. Utica has an architectural infrastructure in place to support diverse urban revitaiization. Large floor areas await adaptive reuse and re-pruposing to activate and regenerate them along with their surroundings.

Utica's location on the erie Canal stimulated the city's industrial development. Today, areas along the Erie Canal corridor, now largely abandoned, could become valuable again with the reactivation of a low-fuel transport infrastructure.

Healthy ecosystems, clean water, and accessible public are critical assets to the foundation of a city that provides it's residence with a desirable and healthy quality of life.

In the past thirty years, Utica has been host to more than 13,000 refugees, establishing Onieda County as having the fourth highest concentration of refugees in the ntaion. Despite the well documented loss of residents within their regions, immigrants have stabilized population numbers in Utica and Surrounding areas, strengthening the local economy thorough the starting of small business, and home ownership.