I have started a morning inspection routine where I drive around and look at various construction projects in the community. This morning, I drove by the new police station site on Pacific, the WinCo project by I-5, and Fire Station 11. Yesterday, I checked out the new houses being built in Edgewater Village on Water Avenue and the carousel building. New construction is a positive sign for a city manager because it means people believe enough in the community to invest in its future.
Albany will almost certainly continue to grow in the near future, but I think we are fortunate that our growth rate is not explosive. Some communities have seen so much growth so quickly that they are unable to manage its effects. Traffic jams, higher crime, and inadequate infrastructure can be some of the problems with rapid population increases unaccompanied by the resources necessary to keep the city a nice place to live. Generally, we have avoided most of these problems.
The projects I have been looking at over the past few weeks are, with one exception, replacing buildings that already existed. The new police station is being built on what has been a vacant lot located between office buildings and a commercial business. All the others are either replacing outdated facilities or being built on old industrial sites. Taking advantage of existing infrastructure by reusing existing lots is a good strategy for strengthening the town. Albany has been promoting this concept for years by encouraging development in places like the downtown area where infrastructure exists to accommodate it. We have also provided incentives to manufacturing businesses to help create and retain jobs.
The notion of using public resources to help private businesses has sometimes bothered me over the course of my career. If the so-called free market is really so effective, then why should government need to be involved in making it work? The answer that best satisfies my concerns is that we sometimes need to use our collective resources to solve business problems just as we do with social, military, and other challenges. The National Energy Technology Laboratory at the intersection of Queen Avenue and Liberty Street is a good example of a 60±year-old local initiative coupled with federal government investment to create national, state, and community benefits.
Albany has its share of opportunities and challenges ahead. The projects I visited today are the result of difficult decisions and investments that were made despite significant opposition. Future improvements will be no different, and I’m confident that people here care enough about the community to keep making it better over time.