Success and Failure

Sometimes success in one area can produce failure in another.  I was reminded of this fact over the weekend while reading a commentary that included a list of the cities with the most affordable housing prices in the U.S.  The top city on that list (the most successful at having affordable housing) was Dayton, Ohio, a place I have visited many times over the course of my life.

I know with complete certainty that there is an abundant supply of affordable housing in Dayton because I have seen whole neighborhoods that are essentially vacant as recently as a few months ago.  Another city in the Top Ten of the list is Detroit, Michigan, where the City is actually tearing down houses because no one is interested in owning them.  The solution to creating affordable housing seems to be to make a community so unappealing that few people want to live or own property there.

Truly successful cities are, not surprisingly, more expensive than places with crumbling infrastructure, high crime rates, poor economies, or environmental degradation.  San Francisco, Boston, San Diego, and New York, for example, are communities where people want to live and are both willing and able to pay the higher price associated with a successful city.

The commentary I was reading made the valid point that while affordable housing might be one measure of success, it will not compensate for overall failure to make a city an attractive place to be.  Quality is rarely achieved without sufficient investment of critical resources, such as time, talent, and money.  Distressed cities can certainly use their affordability as part of a strategy to improve; but without a corresponding commitment to the services, amenities, and environment people expect in a healthy community, positive results are unlikely.

Albany’s Strategic Plan lists four themes that we believe are essential to making our town a good place to live:  1) A Safe Community; 2) Great Neighborhoods; 3) A Healthy Economy; and 4) Effective Government.  All of these themes are related to one another, and all depend on continuing investment.  Housing prices, new construction, and population growth are evidence that the Plan is working.  Housing may not be as affordable here as it is in less attractive communities, but Albany’s housing options remain reasonably good with the continuing construction of new single-family homes, apartment buildings, and senior living facilities.

I believe Albany is an ongoing success story over its 150-year history as an incorporated city.  There have been times when the town lost population, such as during the Great Depression and the deep recession of the early 1980s; but the long-term trend has been steady growth that has produced a small city that remains an attractive place to live.