“When things get really bad, just raise your glass and STAMP your feet and do a little jig. That’s about all you can do.” Leonard Cohen.
Up here on the north coast, in western NY, we are trying to figure out how to do the same thing that cities and regions around the world are simultaneously trying to figure out: how to create a more robust and sustainable economy, attract investment, sponsor innovation, and work to solve all of the problems that beset us. We’re all (and here I mean ALL) in a mad dash to find a better future.
Here in New York, the State has been subdivided into eight Regional Economic Development Councils (REDC), and these Councils compete for State dollars to fund projects that theoretically will build foundations for a useable future, help our cities, take best advantage of our assets, and help to map our best futures. The REDCs are made up of elected officials, institutional and educational leaders, and business executives – we hope our best and most far-thinking.
Recently our state elected officials, teaming with our local REDCs, announced a $33 million plan to begin to develop a 1,250 acre Science, Technology and Advanced Manufacturing Park (STAMP), to be constructed in Alabama New York.
Alabama, NY via Google Earth.
Alabama is almost exactly half-way between Rochester and Buffalo – almost an hours drive from either city – and is currently a little town of 1,800 that is an agricultural community and also home to the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. (Note to readers: the full-build cost of this Park is estimated to approach $400,000,000 or more). I guess our leaders just decided to split the baby on this one, instead of using the very substantial resources already at hand as a home to continuing investment and innovation.
Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, Alabama, NY. Photo by Zanjui.
Great. Just great. Put the STAMP in one of the struggling upstate cities here, where there are resources, skilled workers, infrastructure, and plenty of available dirt? Nope – let’s start all over in a farm field, where there is no infrastructure, where you MUST drive to arrive, where the development will fail any test examining smart growth or smart investment. Nuts.
A squishy perspective of the proposed STAMP development, top, and an image of the proposed park from TWC News, bottom.
And so I got a bit cranky about this, and penned a letter to our local newspaper. They did not print it. They did print a piece by one of their staff writers, Sean Lahman, and he, thankfully, whacked the idea.
But I am still cranky about this – this is a legacy mistake in the making, and is a crystal clear example of a failure of imagination, real leadership, or even logical thinking. So herewith, my letter:
To the editors:
This is a difficult time for our city and our region. We face budget gaps and dwindling public resources, high taxes, struggling schools, endemic poverty, and many other challenges that need insightful vision and creativity from our political and institutional leaders. We need to refashion our city into an engine of innovation, entrepreneurship, and cooperation, constructing a strong foundation for rapid urban transformation and future urban resilience. But with a recent announcement, it is clear our leaders have lost their way.
Our elected officials and economic luminaries tell us that a plan to construct a 1,200 acre Science, Technology and Advanced Manufacturing Park (STAMP) in Alabama, Genesee County, at a cost of $33 million is a big win for our region. In fact, this plan is destructive, ill-conceived, and mistaken.
This park is not itself a bad idea. But it does not belong nearly an hour’s drive from Rochester, in a rural and agricultural setting, and adjacent to a National Wildlife Refuge. This park belongs in our city.
Harvard economist Edward Glaeser tells us that “all successful cities have something in common. To thrive, cities must attract smart people and enable them to work collaboratively. There is no such thing as a successful city without human capital.” Rochester has that human capital: Rochester is home to nearly two dozen colleges and universities, with nearly 90,000 students. Rochester has long had a robust workforce of skilled innovators. And the human capital of our city can only increase, and assure the vitality of our city, if a STAMP is placed in our urban midst: accessible, bustling, sustainable without environmental compromise, with ideas and achievements feeding and inspiring one another.
Rochester has the human and cultural infrastructure to populate and sustain a STAMP. And Rochester has the physical infrastructure as well. We do not need to build a brand new physical setting for innovation, with all its attendant costs and demands. The physical infrastructure for a STAMP is already here in our city. Eastman Business Park, now wanting for occupants, is just one example of an existing place ready to become a STAMP.
Leaders, hear this: the time to build more sprawling green-field development, many miles from our existing human and physical capital, is over. We can no longer afford any economic, cultural or physical plan that is not firmly lodged in what is already our greatest asset: our people, our city.
Bah. Humbug. Yet another step backwards.