I just returned from my professional association’s annual conference which took place in the shadow of almost overwhelming international financial upheaval. I attended a variety of useful educational sessions and had the opportunity to speak with a number of colleagues about issues we all face. I’ve always found the conference to be a good investment because it helps me to see trends and issues that I might otherwise have missed. In other words, it helps me respond to new challenges.
Challenges come to all of us in one form or another every day. Life gives us a daily quiz which we generally pass by relying on what we’ve learned from past experience. Occasionally, we get tough midterms that require additional study and more of our mental resources. I think we are confronting and will continue to face a particularly tough test in the months ahead.
Much of life is a continuing search for resources to satisfy basic needs and fulfill accumulated wishes. Most of us are not accustomed to real scarcity in meeting the basics, although we all know what it’s like to have unfulfilled wants. I don’t see an immediate threat to either individual or the City’s basic needs, but I am concerned about finding or creating resources to finance important things we would like to have.
Internationally, trillions of dollars in available capital have disappeared in a very short amount of time. Just as less money is available for individuals to buy houses, fewer dollars will flow to businesses and government to invest in desired projects. We are already seeing this effect in bond markets, and how long it will last is anybody’s guess.
The City of Albany is in reasonably good condition to weather the current storm. We have sufficient resources to continue providing high quality services and meet current obligations. We have reserved funds to help meet unanticipated expenses or declines in revenue, and we have avoided taking on new financial obligations. Our past prudence puts us in a position to deal with problems and take advantage of opportunities presented by current economic conditions. Declining land values, for example, may allow us to find the property we need for new fire and police facilities at a more affordable price. Selling bonds to construct the facilities, however, may be more of a challenge.
The media is filled with daily doses of pessimism and crisis; and for reasons I don’t understand, it is seductive to many people to join the chorus. The real challenge is to maintain the balance between the optimism we need to get out of bed every morning and the pessimism we require to protect ourselves from the many dangers of life.
There is no column for Friday, September, 19, 2008.
Community fights, like family fights, can be destructive affairs, creating so much bad will that very little gets done for long periods of time. People start to oppose whatever the other party in a dispute proposes because of the initial disagreement rather than on the merits of the issue. A badly polarized community suffers when there is not enough agreement to address the important issues of the day.
Albany has had its share of fights in the past, and there is still some lingering resentment over things like annexation, water rates, and utility service. Most of these disagreements have been resolved to some extent, and the town is still able to accomplish important goals. I think the reason that’s true has something to do with good examples.
The most recent one that comes to mind is a developing project to turn what has been a proposed subdivision into a natural conservation area and park. I don’t know if the project will ultimately be successful, but I do know that the people who have been working on it are setting a great example in how to deal with community conflict.
It’s easy to complain or fight about an idea you don’t like or that you think will harm your neighborhood. It requires more effort to think of alternatives that address the concerns of both parties to a dispute. Mark Azevedo and a broad group of supporters have been working for several months to develop a plan that would replace a proposed subdivision with a natural reserve while providing the property owner with fair compensation for his land. Regardless of how anyone might feel about the plan, it’s hard to fault the honest effort and sincere desire to do something good for Albany that has gone into this work. No one is paying Mark or other volunteers to spend long hours corresponding by e-mail, attending meetings, and developing grant proposals. The individual benefits of the proposed natural area almost certainly do not correspond to the individual effort that is working to make it happen.
I am very hopeful that the plan for East Thornton Lake will succeed for a variety of reasons. Healthy communities need natural, unspoiled places. The plan offers benefits to both the owner of the property and neighbors who live nearby. I would also like to think that so much good effort will be rewarded. The world around us offers too many examples of disagreements that spiral into hatred and violent conflict. Albany is a much better place when people are willing to invest themselves in finding creative and productive solutions to difficult problems.
Thank you, Mark, and all who have contributed to setting a great example for the rest of us.