A few weeks ago signs started popping up all over Lark Street and many adjacent streets in the Center Square neighborhood of Albany. These signs were to inform us that the Lark Street Business Improvement District would be holding a week-long 'improvement study' showing us what a new and improved Center Square could be like.  The proposed change would add things called 'bump outs', 'green infrastructure' and something the city refers to as  'pedestrian amenities' all of which sound like something out of of Ray Bradbury novel - and don't really generate much excitement.   Additionally The Lark Street BID in their proposal, claim the changes would make the Lark Street area more beautiful, calm traffic, improve parking, and create a better sense of 'place' - whatever that means.

So back to the Lark streetscape demonstrations.  They were held for residents and visitors to see what the newly proposed changes would in theory look like, feel like, and be like but it appeared to miss the mark entirely.  Many of the local residents I spoke to have no idea how any of these changes make for a better Lark Street experience.  The details were sketchy, poorly defined, and incomplete to say the least.   For example, the city's streetscape project claims to improve parking, but in the the actual proposal it takes away 12 parking spaces in an area where local residents and visitors have limited parking to begin with. It's mentioned

To make matters worse, the BID literally outlined the area of change with hideous orange barrels and used masking tape to outline the 'new' surface area.  They brought in awkward make-shift greenery that looked like something from a bad furniture store, green astroturf, shoddy balloons, a street-painter (who shouted promos for the local bar at pedestrians while they walked by), set up corn-hole practically IN THE STREET and added tables and chairs outside of a condo and skate shop where no food was actually being served and zero people would want to sit.  I can't make this stuff up. Take a look at the few photos I snapped from Friday night.  Complete and utter shit-show.

 

Cornhole a foot from the street, a table where no one would sit and orange barrels comprise the the set-up of the Lark Street streetscape demonstration.
Just a glimpse of what the new and improved Lark street could look like!

While it may sound like I'm doing my very best to be "Get off my cobblestone guy" I'm really not this person.  I don't mind so much that the streets are noisy, at times a little messy, and parking is tough at times. I like many of the local business owners and root for their success and frequent them when possible. Though I'm pretty much all set w CBD oils and coffee shops. But I love the city of Albany with all my heart and always will.  It's just that when it comes to the real wants and needs, Albany always kind of misses the mark.  I've lived in Center Square for over a decade and I feel like I've formed a relatively good feel and sense for this area.  I try to keep an open-mind when it comes to improving the business down here, but I'm a resident first.  In my opinion, the city keeps ignoring things that residents and patrons alike really need, like:

  • Closing down the corner convenient stores at midnight during the week, 1 am on weekends.  The only people frequenting these places after 1 am (specifically the store on Lark Street closest to Washington Ave) is drug-addicts and prostitutes.  Don't believe me? Drive to work at 4:30 every morning like I do.
  • Allowing for one or two of our fine Albany police officers (whom I have absolute admiration for and that will never change) to loop all of Center Square - perhaps on horseback. Down Lark Street, up Madison Ave, through the Park, back down State, repeat. Two officers starting in opposite directions could easily cover the landscape, not to mention, the horses would become legends of their own.  The sense of clam and peace knowing that an officer is routinely making his or her way around our neighborhood would help keep the beggars, drug-addicts, and criminals on edge, and people wouldn't be afraid to park their cars two blocks away from where they live knowing that an officer is always close by.
  • As far as parking goes, it's always a battle and it always will be.  Same goes for city in which there are a lot of urban residents and limited space.  It drives me nuts seeing all the restrictions and towing threats if heaven's forbid (pun intended) someone dare park in one of the many church parking lots down here in the Center Square. Why can't the city work out some kind of deal where residents (perhaps even paying a small premium) could access these church lots that go mostly unoccupied?  Can't park there on Sunday, I get it...but Monday through Saturday let us please use God's Lot to park our car!  These churches are old and sacred and beautiful, but Center Square 100 years ago was a lot different. It certainly wasn't equal parts residential, party central, and a shopping district.
  • Attempt to provide the people of Lark Street with a real supermarket.  There are Trader Joe's all over the city of Boston and New York etc and they fit nicely into any-sized urban area.  They don't take up a tremendous amount of space as they offer only one brand of something.  Put it in an area down here where people can walk, and it would be a game-changer.

Albany has made some vast improvements over the years and I believe more will be in store down the road, as the city has big intentions and quality people within City Hall who seem to really care. The Lark Street initiative with this proposed streetscape is not one of those ideas and sure to be shot down during the final planning stages come December.

Sorry to burst your balloon.