Community can flourish with care for young, old

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Community can flourish with care for young, old

Times Union

First published: Sunday, October 14, 2007

The proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” has been attributed to Africa. Hillary Clinton was criticized when she used it in the title of her book in the 1990s. Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole said: “With all due respect, I am here to tell you, it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child.”

Hillary was ahead of her time.

We all desire to be part of a community. Community can range from a religious community to a “virtual” cyber community. Since the 1950s, fragmentation of life caused by suburban sprawl and mobile life styles has eroded the strong ties of communities of place, our neighborhood and city as community.

It is increasingly rare to live on the same street or within a block of members of one’s family or even to know the names of neighbors. In the years I’ve lived on my block in Albany, there have been a couple of neighbors who hung out in front of their homes and reached out to get to know everyone on the street. They were called the mayors of our street and they shared a wealth of information on the people in my neighborhood. There is no one like that now.

Communities of place may be reborn for reasons as separate as meeting the needs of a growing elderly population to having our cities become more economically competitive.

Seniors want to age in place, meaning in their own homes. At the urging of its older residents, the town of Colonie rewrote its local plan and zoning requirements to foster walkable, mixed use and transit friendly communities.

A Neighborhood Naturally Occurring Retirement Community has been created to support a concentration of older adults living in mostly single and two-family homes between New Scotland Avenue and Whitehall Road. With some state support, organizations like Jewish Family Services and St. Peter’s Home Care have organized to make a range of health and supportive services available so residents can age in their neighborhood. A caring community is taking shape in the heart of Albany as we discover it takes a “village” to support our elderly.

At a Center for Economic Growth conference to compare economic development efforts in Madison, Wis., and the Research Triangle in North Carolina with our own region, a “community” vision for making Schenectady prosper was articulated.

At the beginning of the conference, Union College students Josh DeBartolo and Steve Walker presented their vision of how Schenectady could recapture its greatness by making itself attractive to the “next generation.”

They explained their vision this way: “We want a city where people recognize, trust and respect each other. We want a city where everyone — doctors, plumbers, contractors, programmers — actually care about each other. Because once people care about each other, they begin to take care of each other. Once people care about each other, they begin to care about the place they live in.”

They concluded by saying, “If Schenectady became far more of a community than a city — where people cared about each other and the region — it would be a place we wouldn’t want to leave.”

The response from the audience of business leaders and economic development advocates was enthusiastic applause and buzz about how terrific the presentation was.

While this sounded more like a message for care givers and idealists than developers, one should think about it in light of a point made at the conference by Ted Abernathy from the Research Triangle Regional Partnership. He said the trend is “all high tech workers will be living in cities.” These workers may want to live in cities that are caring communities.

Some of our city neighborhoods get it. Washington Park in Troy has a wonderful monthly newsletter about life events and happenings in the neighborhood. Albany’s Delaware Avenue neighborhood has a strong culture of caring about neighbors.

Josh and Steve from Union, representing the “next generation,” are on to something.

Paul M. Bray is president of the Albany Roundtable civic lunch forum. His e-mail is