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6/03/2020


 

At this time we at AVillage Inc., want to establish solidarity with all of those who are committed to anti-racism, equity, and prioritizing marginalized voices and the needs of vulnerable people. 

AVillage…, Inc. welcomes all neighbors and community members, groups, organizations, officials to join us in crafting and delivering a collective statement to combat racism, and systemic oppression with outlined demands, action steps and milestones to track progress. This statement will serve as the barometer for behavior and accountability in our community as well as communicate our priorities and how we wish to engage. 
2020 has demanded a lot of us as individuals, as a community, and as advocacy organizations. Despite being faced with fiscal/legislative challenges as a nation, then falling victim to a delayed response to a Pandemic disease that choked our medical institutions and resources, and consequently a resulting economic downturn due to businesses closing and surging unemployment. 
All of this is in the context of rampant and systemic inequality. One such example — being directed to flatten the curve by "social distancing" requires that those without privilege are further cut off from resources and services, and those in "essential" positions are overly exposed to risk with no hazard pay and often no personal protective equipment. 
In this climate, the youth have been deprived of their birthright experiences and rights of passage in our culture that we all enjoyed due to a raging pandemic that not only disrupted their school year, likely impacted their families economically, and is changing the landscape of their futures. They should be our ultimate priority at this time. Without resources, programming and responsible leadership they are taking to the streets. They are at risk. Any plan must prioritize their needs, both financial and emotional. 
In the midst of that "newer" crisis the perennial scourge of racism, institutional and interpersonal, still ravaged our communities and spread throughout social media. In a short period of time, we had national outrage over the racist false report from Amy Cooper in Central Park, the murders of Nina Pop, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Tony McDade. 
This serves to continuously re-open old wounds as we are reminded of other murders of Black individuals that have gripped the headlines, e.g. Sandra Bland, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and Atatiana Jefferson to name a few. On a local level, the incidents involving Ellazar Williams, Nah-Cream Moore, and Donald Shaw “Dontay” Ivy left the community feeling it has never felt been equitably addressed or adequately resolved. We put this in the context of the larger historical trauma and legacy of Rosewood, Black Wall Street, Emmet Till and countless other lynchings on American soil. 
This is traumatic. We are experiencing the full gambit of emotions from sadness, grief, fear, anger and eventual disgust... we know that many can personally never erase the imagery of a 200 pound Man on another Man’s neck who was handcuffed; it is emblazoned in our minds and we are deeply disturbed. This is the collective experience for us all we are certain and a sickening metaphor for the role of racism in our society — kneeling on our collective necks. “WE CANNOT BREATHE.” 
Not only were we all collectively traumatized by the videotaped murder of George Floyd, but we also watched in our city and across the world peaceful protestors being met with military tactics in some communities. 
Yes, there have been mass protests across the globe, perhaps they are disruptive to your attempts to carry on business. Some have devolved into riots, or as we acknowledge, open rebellion. Asking do we condone violence and looting, is like asking do we want there to be the resulting violence and oppressive response — of course not. Yet one can only expect people to scream into the void where justice is supposed to reside. Centuries-long repression will always bubble over as the natural state of man, as philosophers say, is to be free. 
In order to be strategic about how best to take action to create change we want to conduct listening sessions where the directly impacted, innocent bystanders, peaceful protestors, and deeply disturbed citizens will be allowed to air their grievances with the authorities and understand how their actions escalated and endangered communities they are responsible for protecting. 
We want to also dialogue on what sort of agreements can be reached and protocols changed to prevent this in the future. 
This is merely the beginning but we close out this letter extending our hand for you to join us, 
Signed, 

AVillage Board President, Tabetha Wilson 
To collaborate email us at: avillageworks@gmail.com or call 518-451-9849.




11/05/2019

There Had Better Be A Plan B


The strategy for dealing with the air pollution and its health effects at Ezra Prentice Homes is now clear. In addition to a slew of mitigation measures to reduce diesel truck emissions, seal up and air condition the homes of the residents who live close to South Pearl Street and offer more health counseling and services, Plan A is to divert all truck traffic to a newly reconstructed road network inside the Port of Albany. 


The Times Union reports that U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer was at the Port on Monday with a “something for everybody” list of federal funding that would help usher in the region’s jump to the clean economy. The Port of Albany is competing for a slice of the multi billion-dollar off-shore wind farm initiatives being pushed by New York and other eastern shore states. As manly as 1,600 jobs regionally would result, he said. 


Schumer’s press release mentions in his $25 million package an unspecified amount for the new interior road network. However, the senator’s letter to the Department of Transportation in support of the Port’s grant application does not mention funding for the interior road. 


Are we to conclude that this funding is separate. If so, it is most probably slated to be part of the Capital Region’s Transportation Improvement Plan. If so, there is still more uncertainty since the regional TIP five-year plan won’t be decided on until later next year, and no new roads would be built until 2023 at the earliest. Keep in mind all this money is in the request stage. The Port will be in stiff competition, and as yet we have no idea of the costs for the interior roadway. 


Plans and funding for this interior road are certainly questions to be asked at the DEC hearing Wednesday evening. 

10/23/2019

Ezra Prentice and the Port of Albany Linked in Environmental Justice

The Department of Environmental Conservation has released its long-delayed
report on air quality in the South End and specifically at Ezra Prentice Homes. The
report is definitive in establishing blame for air pollution at Ezra Prentice on the
diesel trucks that drive through on South Pearl — and actually pinpoints the worst
of that pollution.

The DEC and the State Health Department are still tentative about health impacts of
the diesel fumes, but more willing to conclude that yes, probably this does explain
the quite elevated levels of asthma and other respiratory diseases, as well as
hypertension, diabetes and pulmonary diseases.

Although a number of helpful but very partial solutions were announced, there
appears to be a consensus that the only acceptable long-term solutions are to either
reroute the trucks off of South Pearl, or to relocate the residents (at least those most
directly affected). Those options necessarily involve the Port of Albany and its
ambitious plans to expand — and neither are remotely close to reality.
At the Monday press conference that included most of the relevant officials and
elected leaders in the area, there seemed to be universal agreement that something
needs to be done. And steps were offered:

 Mayor Kathy Sheehan said a combination of friendly persuasion and
executive action has already resulted in a 30 percent reduction of traffic on
South Pearl through Ezra Prentice.

 Albany Housing Authority is investigating new whole-building air
conditioning systems for the buildings that line South Pearl on the east side,
where the highest levels of air pollution was detected.

 The Albany County Health Department will provide direct health services to
residents at Ezra Prentice with asthma and other diseases.

 The DEC has now identified trucks and their owners that are especially bad
polluters, and will reach out to them and offer help and financing to upgrade
their fleet.

The delay in announcing the results of the air pollution study apparently can be
attributed to the desire of local officials to have time to come up with as many
solutions as possible. Nevertheless, the acknowledgment that this is a real and
serious situation is a clear victory for the residents of Ezra Prentice and the
community advocates (including AVillage, the Radix Center and many others) who
have spent the last four years collecting data, advocating and protesting.

As for the more permanent solution of rerouting the trucks, Mayor Sheehan
announced that the city is in the process of getting the interior roads in the Port of Albany designated as federal roads, so that they would be eligible for federal
funds. A redesign of those roads, with their multiple railroad crossings, would be a
major undertaking, involving regional and state funding approvals, a major design
process and then construction.

One official who familiar with the funding process estimated that the earliest a new Port
road system could be up and running would be 2013 — and that would depend on a
number of favorable decisions in a very competitive funding process.

The Port is absolved in the DEC study of creating any significant part of the truck
traffic that is affecting Ezra residents, but its ambitions to expand and position itself
as a major player in the state’s plans to create offshore wind turbines is now linked
to Ezra Prentice. In September, NYS Attorney General Letitia James and her
Environmental Protection Bureau inserted themselves in the Town of Bethlehem’s
approval process for the Port’s planned expansion, demanding that the planners
reconsider the expansion’s impact on Ezra Prentice as an “environmental justice”
community. The Port contends they can satisfy the attorney general’s concerns, but
officials worry that a delay could set back their wind turbine project or cause them
to loose contracts.

None of this is new. Longtime South End City Council Member Dominick Calsolaro
summarized the decades-long struggle in a recent letter:

“ If Gov. Cuomo, his DEC and his Health Department really care about following the
State's Environmental Justice regulations, really care about the health and safety of
NYS citizens, really care about equity, and really care about righting a wrong that
the STATE purposely imposed on a community of color to "red-line" them from
finding housing in white neighborhoods as the State forced their displacement from
Albany's South End, then the only answer to correct this WRONG, is to build a new
Ezra at the State's expense.”

8/09/2019

Pan's Life Story

My Life Story As A Refugee here in America
By Pan Young



I am a 15-year-old girl and a sophomore at Bishop Maginn High School. I  live with my mother on Morton Avenue. I came here to America as a refugee back in 2014. Yes, that means that this year on July 12th me and my family will be here in America for five years. Now, the reason why I am writing this story is because I want to share what happened in my life here in America, and basically how I become who I am today.
      
 First, I want to share how is life here in America as a refugee. It is not easy at all. When I first came here, I felt like I was in a different world. Everything seemed so different — I mean basically everything: the culture, the language, obviously, the weather, the food and much more. Even myself — I felt like a different person living here. 
  
I still remember how I was struggling to speak or answer back to my teacher about how I felt at school, or how I am doing with school and life. And sometimes you do feel like you regret coming here since you feel like you don’t belong here That’s how me and my mother felt at first, especially when I go to school for the first time. Let me tell you, English is “ridiculous.” One word can have a thousand meaning and it can be translates to many things. English is my third language, and It took me lots of concentration and focus, trying my best to get used to the language and how to pronounce words and learn their definitions as well.

At Giffen Memorial Elementary School I was put in 6th grade, based my age. I bet I was 11 years old. I still remember the first day of school here. I was sweating the whole time and looked like I was about to cry and faint. My communication with others was not doing well; I was very shy and intimidated. I was assigned to English as a Second Language, or ESL, as well as regular classes. That’s where I met  the ESL teacher, Ms. Domenico. I believed she’s still there in charge of a little higher class of students who attend ESL like fourth graders, fifth graders and sixth graders like me.

And the day I met Ms. Domenico, I started to see the positive side of my life. I feel happier and more grateful to be here in America. She is one of the greatest people that I’ve met in my life. She taught me not just English language but many other things that had not made sense to me before then. 

She helped me to overcome my struggles and my fear of this new place and new culture and people. She also helped me with my behavior and encouraged my personality to come out of my shy un-outgoing personality to who I really am. She also helped my mother, giving her ideas on places to go to get answers to our questions. I could go to her and tell my problems and she will just help me through it without hesitation. 

I believe that’s why you don’t judge things too quickly. I realize she showed up to me for a reason and she assure me that I am not the only who feel and act like this. I was just shook — my brain couldn’t process what was going on with my life, I feel like that’s when I felt brave enough and my life started to change  I felt relieved and as time went on, before I even knew it myself, I start to make new friends at school and not being alone.
At Giffen I began to feel like a new me. I entered a new good chapter of my life  Bit by bit my new personality emerged, but my old self is still somewhere deep down in me. And you should never forget who you are and who you were; that way you will realize how far you’ve come, how much many things have happened and changed you, and how many things you’ve achieved. 

Before I end my story I just want to tell you a short message to all the others refugee out there those who are still struggling to get through their life. It doesn’t matter where you came from or who you are, don’t be afraid, and don’t be afraid to talk about yourself. I believe that you were born for a reason and live your life according to that reason. why you were born in the first place. And one more important thing is to love yourself. That way you can love and take care of others.



7/24/2019

South End Priorities

South End Priorities
(Developed at June 28 SECC Meeting in response to the AC Land Bank’s cluster development proposal)

1.      Mixed income housing
    1. Homeownership
    2. Rental
2.      Local employment opportunities
3.      Mixed-use development (with local retail opportunities)
4.      Opportunities for local residents to buy shares in the developments
5.      Community benefit agreement.
6.      No currently vacant buildings should be- left vacant at the end of the process. (Either rehabbed or deemed too far gone and demolished).
7.      Save historic buildings where possible, use to enhance new developments.
8.      Commercial corridor that has clear and welcoming entrances
9.      Crime deterrents through improved infrastructure
    1. Address overgrown trees that block streetlights.
    2. Improved and upgraded street lights
    3. Deteriorated sidewalks
10.  Increase public trash receptacles
11.  Green/energy efficient developments- SUSTAINABILITY
12.  INTERCONNECTED - Smart City

NOTES: Our chance of success with this list depends in part on finding a developer who is willing to work with the community. The more specific we can be about how to achieve the goals on this list the better our chances of success. Specifically:
1.      Housing: What is the mix we desire of rental and owner occupied, and what is the mix of income levels? Numbers will be welcomed by developers even if they come back with their own.
2.      Employment: Write a plan to employ local people using the pipeline being established by current actors, including City of Albany youth programs, City School District and Mission Accomplished, BOCES and others. Can our work group take this on? Again, numbers help.
3.      Retail: If this is a demand, what is the appropriate retail for the Second Avenue area, and what has a reasonable chance of success? What is the developer’s role beyond building an appropriate space? Can we find an owner/operator for the business?
4.      Shares/Ownership: This is David Craft’s proposal and he is working on specifics.
5.      Community Benefits agreement can encompass any of the other items listed here.
6.      Vacant Buildings: The idea is that within the designated development area, the developer takes responsibility for all vacant buildings, including buildings not yet owned by the land bank (where feasible). The city now has the capacity to assess all vacant buildings as to future viability, and decisions on each building should be made in partnership with the Building Department, residents of the area and the developer.
7.      Rehab of difficult buildings should be more feasible because the project is in an historic area and the scale of the project is large enough to allow the developer to access state and federal tax credits.
8.      Crime Deterrent through physical improvements. It will be in the developer’s best interests to have these things done by the city. This is not untypical in new developments, and we can tell the developer we will work with him to insure the city commits its resources.
9.      Trash Receptacles (and improved street cleanliness): Ditto.
10.  Sustainability: There are lots of opportunities to plug into existing energy efficiency programs. (NYSERDA, Green and Healthy NY, Solarize Albany, etc.) Can somebody research what is available, put together a package?
11.  Interconnection: This section of the South End is a candidate for implementation of the city’s initiative to install Wifi on lighting polls, connect residents with the city. With the neighborhood’s support, a developer can ask the city to make this one of its contributions to the project.
Not Discussed:
School 17: This building on Second Avenue is currently in private hands, but could be crucial to the overall success of the project, providing space for both residential and commercial and even community space. Do we want to include a proposal for reuse of School 17?


It’s Now or Never For the South End-Groesbeckville Historic District


The “core” of the South End, between Morton and the Second Avenue area, was designated a federal historic district in 1984, with the best of intentions. The neighborhood has a rich history and its residents have had key roles in Albany for more than four centuries.. The idea behind the federal designation was first to build a sense of pride in a declining neighborhood, and second to open the possibility of  state and federal preservation funding.
But 35 years later, the South End’s historic status has done virtually nothing to help the neighborhood. Instead, twe are in a sea of Red X buildings and vacant lots. “Emergency” demolitions have demoralized residents further. Investment of any sort is a rarity, and the neighborhood’s historic status just makes it more difficult and expensive to get work done.
Time has done the work that good intentions could not. The economics of restoring buildings that have been left vacant and exposed to the elements for decades or more gets more and more difficult as time moves on.
Residents are fed up with the vacant buildings, and beginning to feel the power of their own advocacy. At the June 19 meeting of the city’s Historic Resource Commission a dozen residents showed up in support of the Albany County Land Bank’s petition to demolish 62 Alexander Street. Residents had collected petition signatures of practically everyone within a block of the eyesore building. Many residents knew the history of the building — the families who had lived there — and the extent of the deterioration. One resident said he knows for a fact that the building has been empty for 17 years.
I was told later that  members of the HRC was unaccustomed to this sort of turnout. Still, they managed to take a good half hour discussing the pros and cons of this demolition. They should be ready for many more, and hopefully won’t agonize so long over each one.
62 Alexander is being slowly taken apart, as the land bank seems to have learned how to do responsible demolitions that eliminate the clouds of toxic dust that have plagued residents in the past. We can hope that the city will follow their lead.
I do not believe that most neighborhood residents would advocate tearing down every old building in the South End. There are indeed many buildings that could be saved, restored and made into good dwelling places that give their street the character and beauty that we all appreciate.
But people are no longer willing to wait for something good to happen. The city has initiated yet another study of its historic preservation profile, but the emphasis is clearly on the Center Square, Ten Brock type districts. If historic preservation advocates want to save South End-Groesbeckville as an historic district, they need to do better than stalling tactics to preserve some buildings for some hypothetical future. They need to find a credible, realistic way to match plans with actual money, and development that is feasible in the immediate future.
The good news is that some new tools make decision-making much less painful. The new city ordinance that gives the building department the power to enter buildings on the Vacant Building Registry is a potential game-changer. Building inspectors can now make informed decisions on which buildings are beyond saving and which could be stabilized and then restored to use. It is even possible for the city, with neighborhood input, to set a goal of eliminating all vacant buildings within a three-year period. This would not only improve the health and well-being of residents, but also open the way for responsible development that includes both new construction on vacant land and restoration of the remaining viable historic buildings.

-- Tom McPheeters


7/17/2018

Don’t Waste Food Waste! Join the Radix Center’s Community Compost Initiative!

Poor soil is the biggest obstacle to urban food production Much of the once fertile Hudson River Valley is now polluted and paved over. How can people who live in the most contaminated parts of Albany access healthy soil? The answer is simple: use local organic (once living) waste to produce fresh compost. Food waste, dead leaves, wood chips, and grass clippings can all be diverted from the landfill and reintegrated back into the environment as compost, a nutritional soil supplement used in gardening. Finished compost is amazing for a number of reasons: it restores nutrients and microbial processes to sterilized soils, improves moisture retention and pH, creates soil where none exists, and reduces the risk of exposure to soil-bound lead.

Albany’s Rapp Road Landfill is slated for closure. Composting is a good alternative to the dump.  In fact, it may be the sustainable solution that helps bring vegetables to food deserts and mitigates climate change.

The Radix Ecological Sustainability Center in Albany is kickstarting the way for the Capital Region to compost more efficiently. Radix is a non-profit educational learning center and urban farm based in Albany’s South End. Ten years ago the site was a derelict parking. It now has a solar-heated bioshelter greenhouse that is managed as an indoor ecosystem with fish and flora integrated in an aquaponic system. Microlivestock like chickens and ducks live on the farm and eat food waste. The gardens use a rainwater collection system and electricity is provided by photovoltaic panels. As a demonstration site, Radix runs sustainability education programs and a farmshare. Radix works with the community advocacy organization A Village… Inc., to increase access to healthy, farm fresh food in the South End (classified as a food desert) by distributing at the Health Market, the only farmer’s market in the South End. Radix also encourages food waste diversion through the Community Composting Initiative (CCI).

The CCI is a weekly compost collection service in which subscribers get their food waste picked up at their curbside. The CCI also provides a hands-on example of sustainable waste management for our education programs. Volunteers, youth participants, and interns can touch, examine, and engage with all aspects of the compost process, from adding food scraps to the pile, to sifting fresh compost soil to garden beds.

Radix utilizes several techniques for composting. First, microlivestock such as chickens and geese eat food scraps, and thus lay eggs and defecate manure. Though they eat a significant amount of food scraps, not all is edible; what does not get eaten by the animals is mixed into compost piles with wood chips. When nitrogen-rich food waste is mixed with carbon-based woodchips, aerobic microbial composting begins and the compost pile heats up. As a result of the microbial metabolism, the internal temperature can reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter, we harness some of the biothermal heat by running water pipes through the compost pile, and into the greenhouse. Over time, the pile cools and shrinks by almost 50% of volume, and earthworms take over the next part of the process. The finished product is a beautiful broken-down organic matter that is dark in color, with a sweet, rich earthy scent. This resulting soil can then be added as a fertilizer to our raised-bed gardens, replacing the nutrients that are lost with the previous year’s crop.

We believe that it is just as important to keep composting local as food production. When food waste is transported over long distances, the greenhouse gas emissions negate the atmospheric benefits of composting. Furthermore, in local “microbrew” composting, there is greater care put in to what materials get added in to the compost pile, screening out plastic trash, which in industrial scale compost end up getting processed anyway.

We offer a number of practical solutions: some organizations and businesses voluntarily donate their food waste to us; for those who don’t have time, we offer the compost collection subscription; and for those who want to compost local, but aren’t local to Albany, we offer to help match farms to food waste producers.

Composting food waste is an essential component of creating healthy, equitable, and sustainable urban ecosystems. Keeping food out of landfills and making soil helps fight climate change, addresses food scarcity, maintains employment, educates youth, and regenerates soil ecosystem health.

To support Radix, or learn more about our programs, check out www.radixcenter.org.

This article was produced in part with funding provided by the NYS Pollution Prevention Institute through a grant from the Environmental Protection Fund as administered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
 Any opinions, findings, and/or interpretations of data contained herein are the responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the opinions, interpretations or policy of Rochester Institute of Technology and its NYS Pollution Prevention Institute or the State.