I'm looking at 180 pages that try to spell out my neighborhood's future. As flooding becomes more and more of a threat each year, worldwide, due to changing climate, we all may face this one day.
What is a neighborhood, anyway?
A website defines neighborhood as follows:
The term neighborhood has many meanings and uses. For example, neighborhood can be used to refer to the small group of houses in the immediate vicinity of one's house or to a larger area with similar housing types and market values.
Neighborhood is also used to describe an area surrounding a local institution patronized by residents, such as a church, school, or social agency. It can also be defined by a political ward or precinct. The concept of neighborhood includes both geographic (place-oriented) and social (people-oriented) components.
On September 7 and 8, 2011, my neighborhood of Westover, near Johnson City, flooded due to two tropical storms just a few days apart, dropping a total of 13 inches of rain. The flood capped the rainiest summer on record.
Many houses were ruined and abandoned. In 2014, demolition began, finally, of once cherished houses that were now only rotting eyesores. By law, the land those houses sit on must remain undeveloped, or developed into something like a park or other green space.
In a meeting I attended in 2013, speakers explained that demolition, if not done right, can ruin a neighborhood. What will be left, after demolition, is some streets with only several occupied houses, and large gaps in between. Houses, and neighbors, become isolated. Ways are being discussed to mitigate that, because a neighborhood is more than just a collection of houses.
One thing I learned from the meeting is that there are ways to handle potential flood damage. Zoning laws where we live, for example, require businesses to have a certain number of parking spaces for cars. Those spaces are paved, and rain can not penetrate conventional paving. But there is something called permeable paving, which would allow the movement of storm water into the ground. (There was also discussion of the fact that zoning laws tend to require more parking spaces than are normally needed.)
A neighborhood must be in harmony with the natural world around it.
Along with the residences, there was damage to a building once occupied by some 1200 workers, a building owned by the Air Force and rented to BAE Systems, Inc. That building (actually several buildings joined together) was some 600,000. square feet, one of the largest wood framed building in the United States.
It awaited its fate after it was announced, in November of 2011 that it could not be repaired. Without a definite plan, my neighborhood will never be able to move forward into the future. In 2016, demolition began, and now, it is complete. A few demolition workers remain, hauling in landfill and leveling the site. I expect it will be done by this spring.
Of course, those 1200 workers will never be returning to my neighborhood. Right now, they are in buildings a few miles down the road, but BAE may decide to leave our area all together.
We need businesses to return. We need their tax dollars.
A neighborhood needs jobs.
That is where the 180 pages comes in. There are grand plans for those 30 acres- mixed use residential/commercial use, a movie theatre, ball parks.
The drawing even shows a farmers market.
I have mixed feelings about this plan. Would I, for example, want to live in a place that, just five and a half years ago, was under several feet of water for a couple of days, no matter how many flood control techniques are used in its building?
Not many of us get to plan the future of our neighborhood - a plan that, for us, must take climate change into account.
On the other hand, I fear that what will happen to the former BAE site is what happens to so many projects in New York State - lots of talk, but no action.
A neighborhood needs vision. But it also needs the implementation of the vision.
As I look over the large vacant area, I try to be optimistic about the future.