News & Updates

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Nearly 800 Volunteers Turn Out for Hands On Jamestown

Jamestown was swarming with yellow volunteer shirts this past Saturday as Hands On Jamestown crews collected garbage, swept sidewalks, and weeded gardens at the annual community clean up event. Nearly 800 volunteers from all over southern Chautauqua County came together to help spruce up downtown, outlying neighborhoods, and gateways into the city.

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Olean Making Noteworthy Strides

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Rendering of North Union Street in Olean looking north from Laurens Street. For more information, visit www.walkableolean.com.

Jamestown and Olean have a lot in common as small urban centers in the Southern Tier. That was on display this past weekend when Jamestown Community College, a shared institution, celebrated Commencement at its campuses in both cities.

But it’s also visible in efforts to create vibrant downtowns as a way to attract new businesses and make it easier for existing businesses to attract skilled workers. On that front, both cities are making progress and both have a ways to go. But Olean is taking risks and making strides that are well worth noting at this end of I-86.

Consider Olean’s North Union Street project, an $8.8 million reconstruction and reconfiguration of that city’s primary downtown thoroughfare. In place of a dreary four-lane traffic artery, the city and NYSDOT are installing a brand new streetscape that will feature roundabouts, bike lanes, landscaped medians, and a reduction in traffic lanes from four to two. On a street that carries twice as much traffic as Fourth Street in downtown Jamestown (which carries three lanes of one-way traffic), Olean is going with something slimmer, greener, and more functional. Continue reading

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Jamestown’s 2015 Renaissance Block Finalists Announced

Landscaping, porch repairs, painting, sidewalk replacement, and many other projects will soon be underway in the city as part of the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation’s annual Renaissance Block Challenge. The program gives property owners access to matching grants and other assistance to complete a wide range of exterior improvements. Five neighborhood clusters located on Beechview, Dearborn, Ellis, Euclid, and Hotchkiss were chosen for this year’s finalists. The five groups include eighty six property owners and are a mix of owner-occupants and landlords.

The Renaissance Block Challenge is a component of the neighborhood revitalization plan adopted by Jamestown’s City Council in December 2010. It is managed by the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation (JRC).

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A Rising Tide of Local Leadership

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Garden bed at corner of Lakeview and Newton, a beautification project initiated by Lakeview neighbors (in collaboration with the City and JRC) in 2013.

If you call someone in Jamestown a politician, you’re likely to see them recoil in disgust or ball up their fists as if an epithet has been hurled in their direction.

But we’re all politicians. We all try to influence those around us in ways that will achieve civic or personal goals. We all find ourselves in positions where we seek to persuade others to follow a particular vision of the present or future.

In fact, politics is intrinsic to human nature and fundamental to how cities work. That’s why “politics” and “policy” are derived from polis, the Greek word for “city.” As innovators of the urban form, the ancient Greeks understood that decision-making by engaged citizens through logic and persuasion was one of the keys to having people live in close proximity without killing each other – and the critical enabler of a free and prosperous society. Continue reading

Civic Perceptions Driven by Engagement

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What is Jamestown in 2015? Are we the comedy capital or the meth capital? Are we a city of reenergized neighborhoods or a city on the edge? Are we a haven of opportunity or a place with limited prospects?

How we perceive Jamestown – and how others perceive us – is never a simple matter because cities are as complicated as the humans who inhabit them. Visit an oil boomtown in North Dakota, a corner of the Bronx, or a suburb on the Carolina Coast and you’ll find places riven by hope, pessimism, and internal drama.

But Jamestowners today are encountering disorienting levels of dissonance on a number of fronts. Continue reading

Housing Market Traps Fuel Dysfunction

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What happens when a weak real estate market and under-regulated rental housing collide on the streets of Jamestown? People get trapped.

Consider the recent case of a 71-year-old woman on Bush Street profiled by The Post-Journal. Her apartment was without hot water or heat for almost a week when a broken pipe flooded her basement. Her Florida-based landlords and their locally-based maintenance crew were unresponsive. She was trapped in a cold apartment during the coldest month by a landlord who shouldn’t have been operating in Jamestown.

Or consider the cases of hundreds of Jamestown homeowners who live near poorly maintained and poorly managed rental properties. Their quality of life is less than it should be and so is the market value of their homes. When it comes time to sell, they know it’ll take a while to find a buyer and they’re bound to take a financial hit. They feel trapped in declining neighborhoods. Continue reading

State Could Play Bigger Revitalization Role in 2015

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New York State Capitol, Albany (Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division)

The budget season is well underway in Albany as the Legislature deliberates over Governor Cuomo’s spending plan and the state’s projected $5 billion surplus. There’s much to be hopeful about as this process nears completion and as Western New York gains influence in Albany through recent appointments to top economic development posts.

But what are particular actions the state should take this year – through the budget, through new projects, through policy adjustments – that would give downtown and neighborhood revitalization in Jamestown the biggest boost? The following is a quick summary of state actions that local representatives and others around the state should strongly consider.

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When Jamestown demolishes a blighted, abandoned home, it typically costs almost three times more than a similar project just a few miles away in Warren. A primary reason is that asbestos testing, remediation, and third-party monitoring are required for houses with 3 or fewer units in New York but not in Pennsylvania. With resources for demolition now flowing from the state Attorney General’s office to local land banks – including $2 million in demolition aid to the Chautauqua County Land Bank – it makes more sense than ever to relax New York’s rules and allow these resources to go three times as far. Continue reading

Shaping Jamestown’s Future through Zoning Reform

 

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Form diagram of a residential district (N-3R) from Buffalo’s draft Unified Development Ordinance, an example of a form-based zoning code.

Huge shadows cast by a growing forest of skyscrapers. Overcrowded tenements next to smoke-belching factories. Garment sweatshops encroaching on the mansions of millionaires.

These and other pressures led to the adoption of America’s first citywide zoning ordinance 99 years ago in New York City. It was a revolutionary and controversial effort to control the nature of change in a city evolving at blistering speeds.

This experiment in controlling land use and development was mostly successful, creating a more predictable and orderly city. Interest groups as diverse as housing reformers, public health advocates, bankers, insurance companies, and real estate developers broadly agreed on the benefits of New York’s zoning code within a few years of its passage, including the separation of incompatible uses and the tapering of tall buildings – producing the distinctive silhouette of Art Deco skyscrapers. Continue reading

New Incentive Would Give Development a Boost

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Renovating an old building isn’t easy. Outdated electrical systems, inefficient windows, an attic full of pigeon droppings – these and many other problems are expensive barriers to the revitalization of buildings in our cities and villages.

This is why starting from scratch is often so appealing. Just build something new on an empty piece of land and you avoid the headaches that come with redevelopment. But over time, as many people make this seemingly rational choice, a series of unintended consequences – including abandonment and sprawl – combine to produce higher public costs and a weaker tax base. Continue reading

Action Needed to Improve Rental Housing

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Jamestown’s responsible landlords are suffering at the hands of irresponsible landlords. And so is every neighbor. And every taxpayer.

From chronic blight to daily nuisances, the ill effects of under-regulated rental housing have been apparent for a while, but they’re becoming harder and harder to ignore. Continue reading