By Clay Laugier
Resident and Board member for Colleen and Mike Brady Center for Innovation: A COMMUNITY INCUBATOR AND CO-OP CAFE
It was a pleasure hearing about the great project on Cedar Street in the City of Kingston. I am seeing from data and trends that yes Kingston is on the upswing and yes in 5 to 10 years it will look like a different place. The trends and data show this for the city. The ambitions of this and other projects becoming a truly net zero buildings and shared space is wonderful to hear my adopted city and my wife’s hometown pushing such a innovative project. My wife was born and raised in Kingston, and over 8 generations still live here. We have a vested interest in the city. A large portion of people we know get assistants from RUPCO and other services.
It became clear though that we might be making the same, if not greater mistakes if we don’t create an ecosystem for our revitalization projects and as a city. If we don’t protect those who already live here with community and governmental safe guards. If we don’t connect projects, real local data and what I call “community reality” we might end up in a mess as many cities before us did. A strategy for community stabilization that changes the balance of power to current tenants, homeowners and businesses. This is a huge process.
Data doesn’t always give a clear picture for a community for many reasons and this is where community reality comes into play. Even though it is expensive we need to be going out and seeing hands on through coalitions and workshops of the many nonprofits who service in the community, government agencies and of course citizens. We have to continually do almost monthly of our city. Our current system does not do this well if at all. We seem to want the investment more than “the end goal”.
Questions my city should pose to itself and for every project after the usual set of planning questions is as follows.
- How long will a project stay “Affordable” if RUPCO sells the property will it stay as affordable housing? How long is the contract for it to be public housing? Will RUPCO always control? What City dept. oversight for long term of affordable housing? Does project depend on future monies? If so what?
- RUPCO has said no one project will do what needs to be done so how are we connecting each project? How are you building an Ecosystem for the city and your projects? How is this project other than by leadership connected to the others for sustainability of the community and city?
- What does innovation and community planning look like now, five years from now and so on?
- How do we make opportunities for those disenfranchised in our community to grow? How do we open opportunities for working-class who are already struggling to find affordable housing today. Families of 4 or 5 have a hard time finding 3 bedrooms under $1400 (one just needs to go on to Craigslist or Zillow to see that).
- What can we do to support growth of our current ecosystems? Our current small business, indie products and local companies. (Note in Kingston our own economic development director says he doesn’t have any way to support them unless it comes from state or private).
- How can we talk innovative ideas and growth of our cities without creating burdens on current renters and homeowners?
- How do we stop gentrification? It’s already happening here. This is another reason we need to see planning as an ecosystem.
- What does our department and city of the future look like if national or state funding dries up. In business we must have plan B ready aka exit strategy.
- How can we tie and grow education, job training, local entrepreneurship, community services and infrastructure. Long and short term.
- How do we bring everyone to table? What is the strategy for 2015 and on?
- How are we engineering policies and projects to create a community ecosystem?
- How do we grow small business, indie products and local economy in a way that promotes smart growth rather than growth to grow?
- With advances in tech and industry happening so fast. What are the business and companies we are looking for to create jobs and opportunities for current workforce? If training is key how do we pay for it? What companies are currently in our community?
- Where do community leaders, education leaders and nonprofits stand? How are helping them support their goals and services.
There are many other questions to ask when a uniquely diverse community as ours takes on projects like these. We must remember people current and future that make this city, make this community. I love this project but it needs to connect to current ones and our city philosophy will need to change. We will need to build that ecosystem quickly or have the same fate as other cities like San Francisco.