In Upstate Cities, Recognizing the Power of Peers

by | Feb 17, 2014 | Healthy Neighborhoods, Renaissance Reflections | 0 comments

Upstate Satellite Image

In 2012, a group of citizens in Oswego, NY, decided to do something about the disinvestment that was steadily eroding stable neighborhoods in that city of 18,000 on Lake Ontario. As they explored their options, they came across some information about Jamestown. They learned about efforts here to stimulate reinvestment on targeted blocks, to empower neighborhood leaders, and to find productive new uses for vacant lots.

Inspired, these Oswegans commissioned a neighborhood plan similar to the one Jamestown adopted in 2010. They formed the Oswego Renaissance Association to steer the plan’s implementation. And today, several projects are underway with support from a local foundation and the energy of excited residents, whose efforts were recently highlighted on a public radio documentary (wrvo.org/neighborhoods).

Upstate New York’s cities can learn a lot from each other, just as Oswego did from Jamestown, and as Jamestown did from Geneva, a city on Seneca Lake that pioneered many of the strategies now being deployed here. Talking with peers and sharing our stories is an efficient way to learn from our successes and failures, and to work together to identify ways forward.      

For Jamestown and other upstate cities, this is an especially crucial time to communicate, now that a new equilibrium seems to have been reached after a long and painful transition to the post-industrial era. After seeing their collective populations decline by 8 percent in the 1990s, upstate’s 35 cities with populations between 10,000 and 70,000 experienced less than 1 percent population loss between 2000 and 2010. Of these cities, 19 actually grew, and many others declined at much slower rates than previous decades.

While population loss has slowed or reversed, these cities are very different places now than they were a generation ago. Their middle classes are smaller, they have gluts of obsolete housing, their tax bases are strained, and their struggle to discover of new sense of purpose — one different from their industrial past — continues.

Whatever differences there are between these cities, they have far more in common. Similar economic histories, population dynamics, and real estate markets present them with shared challenges and opportunities as they enter new and often unsettling territory.

This year, folks from Jamestown, Oswego, and Geneva will compare notes on recent experiences with neighborhood revitalization and discuss ways to improve and accelerate these efforts. As the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation and its partners participate in this conversation, efforts to cultivate wider peer networks will continue. 

For example, the JRC and the Chautauqua County Health Network’s Creating Healthy Places program have been meeting for the past three years with community garden coordinators in Buffalo and Niagara Falls to share best practices and promote a regional dialogue around green urban infrastructure. That will occur again this spring as regional experiments with community gardening move to a new level.

At a larger scale, the Chautauqua County Land Bank Corporation is now part of a statewide network of land banks, all of which are working to effectively address the problem of vacant and abandoned properties. At a meeting in Syracuse in November, representatives from Chautauqua County shared their experiences and learned from similar efforts underway in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Schenectady, and Binghamton.

And within Jamestown itself, the JRC is working with neighborhood organizations from across the city on a Jamestown Neighborhood Alliance, a platform for these groups to meet every few months to learn from each other and share valuable information.

All of these connections are a critical part of the process of working in real time to identify root causes, understand possible solutions, and observe how these solutions are being deployed at different scales and under unique circumstances. In the absence of an instruction manual on making places perfect, a solid group of motivated and innovative peers is the next best thing.

This post appeared in The Post-Journal on February 17, 2014, as JRC’s biweekly Renaissance Reflections feature.

Recent Posts

ArtScape Jamestown Opens Its Call for Artists

ArtScape Jamestown is inviting local artists to submit their work for a new public art program between now and April 7, 2023.  The Jamestown Renaissance Corporation is partnering with Chautauqua Art Gallery and the City of Jamestown Park's Department to create an...

Historic Tax Credit Workshop: February 15th via Zoom

Do you have a property in one of Jamestown's Historic Districts or looking to purchase property in one of them? This tax credit zoom workshop is for you. Earn tax credits for property improvements. Feb. 15th 6:00 p.m. Join Preservation Buffalo Niagara, the...

2023 Grants for Building and Business Owners Now Open!

Are you looking to adapt or improve your business?Is the downtown building you own not living up to all of its potential?The Jamestown Renaissance Corporation’s Building and Business Improvement Program(BBIP) may have the necessary resources. The program is a 50/50...

What kind of “winter place” should Jamestown be?

We recently hosted "Jaime the Storefront Guy" for a workshop for downtown business owners and community stakeholders. Jaime shared some wonderful insights, and the attendees had great takeaways. There was a dynamic conversation around several subjects, but one was...

Holiday Business Window Decorating Contest

The Jamestown Community Chamber of Commerce is excited to announce this years Holiday Window Decorating Contest!  This year’s contest is open to any local business in the 14701 zip code.  The contest itself will run from November 18th – December 4th. ...

2022 Jamestown Holiday Parade Information Announced

Collaborative Children's Solutions will once again be leading the efforts in collaboration with the City of Jamestown in hosting the 2022 Jamestown NY Holiday Parade!! This year's parade will be held on Saturday, December 3rd 2022 in Downtown Jamestown beginning at...

Storefront Mastery Program Comes to Downtown

Church St in Montclair, New Jersey. Photo by Jaime Izurieta The Jamestown Renaissance Corporation and Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce are excited to host Jaime Izurieta of Storefront Mastery next month. Jaime and the JRC will host a workshop designed to inspire...

Post-Journal spotlights JRC Work

A few weeks ago, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Timothy Frudd of the Jamestown Post-Journal to share recent news and our vision of our community. Below are links to the stories produced as a result of this conversation. Jamestown Renaissance Corp. Discusses...

2022 Downtown Building and Business Grant Pre-Application Now Open

Are you looking to adapt or improve your business?Is the downtown building you own not living up to all of its potential?The Jamestown Renaissance Corporation's Building and Business Improvement Program(BBIP) may have the resources you need. The program is a 50/50...

2021 BBIP Grant for Downtown Buildings and Businesses Now Open

The Jamestown Renaissance Corporation is excited to announce the opening of its 2021 Building and Business Improvement Program. Downtown building and business owners have until April 5th, 2021, to apply to receive matching support towards investments related to...