As the City of Kingston struggles under the yoke of a fiscal crisis spurred on by The Recession That Wouldn’t Leave, it seems like a good time to suggest some ways to make this a better place to live, work and do business. Some of these suggestions include some hard medicine to swallow, but in my humble opinion it is needed. So, in no particular order:
1. Greater Unification. From the socio-economic to business to the political, Kingston – to thrive – needs to be unified. City leaders (business, civic, elected and appointed) need to set aside egos, agendas and self interests and place the greater good ahead of all. A recent example would be how Alderman Ron Polacco says people should come before politics. Brilliant. Of course there will be conflicts, but having a facilitator in a consensus-building session would help iron things out. It’s a process.
2. One City. Kingston also needs to abandon its three sections (uptown, downtown and midtown), which is simply outdated and non-inclusive. What should be embraced is the idea that this city is composed of dozens of unique neighborhoods that as a whole make one great place to live, work and do business.
3. Avoid Duplication. Along the same lines of unification is the idea that less is more when it comes to the operation of city governmen to initiatives in the private and nonprofit sectors. Simply put, duplication wastes money, time and people power. For example, having a single business association is better than having three – or four, if you count the Kingston Business Alliance. A single business association instead of three or four has greater clout and focus when it comes to protecting the interests of Kingston businesses.
4. Improved Marketing. Having a Main Street Manager is a great first step in helping to market Kingston, but the effort should be well funded and positioned for the long term with specific marketing campaigns in place to promote Kingston tourism, business and real estate. The marketing also needs to be nimble. Take the recent Today Show spot that named Kingston as one of the country’s top 10 places to buy a home. Placing advertisements in the real estate sections of New York City, New Jersey and Long Island newspapers along with banner ads on websites touting this recognition would turn a spotlight on Kingston and garner greater attention.
5. Hire a Spokesperson. The City of Kingston needs a human face. Someone to be a level-headed, thoughtful, apolitical spokesperson who can attend trade, real estate and green building shows to promote Kingston. This person would leverage social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia to create and sustain an online buzz about Kingston. This person would direct inbound inquiries to the right office, and facilitate meetings between businesses and officials. Of course, this person would also be well versed in the positive attributes – from a lifestyle angle – of Kingston as a great place to live. After all, no one relocates their business to places they wouldn’t want to live in.
6. Redefine Economic Development. Instead of reapplying to the same dwindling pool of grants – mostly federal tax dollars, which is our money – the city should partner with existing businesses to “sharp shoot” economic development opportunities with contract-based businesses involving technopreneurs and solopreneurs as well as in the green building and green technology sectors. Last year’s Kingston Digital Corridor effort was an amazing first step in this direction, resulting in media coverage in national magazines that included BusinessWeek Small Business as well as website visits to KingstonDigitalCorridor.org that were global. Other recent initiatives included the opening of a co-working space – The Beahive – on Wall Street. The city needs to support more projects like these, especially since IBM is not coming back anytime soon.
7. Celebrate History. From gorgeous Victorians to its rare bluestone sidewalks, Kingston has historical assets that touch people daily. Celebrate this. Inventory other historical assets such as the city’s stone houses, its museums, churches and municipal buildings and create promotional material such a photos and YouTube videos that position Kingston as a gem.
8. Celebrate Cultural Assets. The same can be done with Kingston’s rich inventory of cultural assets such as its theaters, galleries and art studios. Get Kingston High School kids to shoot video profiles of these assets for YouTube. Have the kids create Facebook pages touting Kingston’s cultural assets. All of this can be connected and intermixed with existing work such as KingstonCitizens.org and Kingston Happenings.
9. Create a Vacancy Tax. Kingston is full of empty storefronts and lots because there is no incentive for landlords and property owners to fill them. For empty storefronts, a vacancy tax forces them to lower their rents. Perhaps SCORE or other business development organizations could work with landlords to fill those storefronts with small business entrepreneurs. Give them six months free rent. Let their dreams become real, and the city can be transformed. With vacant lots, owners can avoid the vacancy tax by installing community gardens or small, “micro parks.”
10. Innovate City Government. Create a paperless, green City Hall where residents print forms and documents on demand. Offer incentives such as time off to city employees who walk, bike or take public transportation to work. Create an advisory board for the common council and the mayor’s office. This board would be the conduit between those offices as well as with the public. Leverage existing public platforms such as KingstonCitizens.org to generate discussions and build consensus. Update the city’s master plan, and have visioning sessions with stakeholders every two years to make sure we’re on track.
– Arthur Zaczkiewicz