Development for its own sake is thoughtless

To the Editor:

While growing up, I often heard my father, who worked in the planning department for the city of Baltimore, say that people should live and work in the same municipality, therefore getting their income, shopping, and paying their taxes within the same city or town.

While this seems a bit quaint in this day of car commutes to work and chain stores to shop in, I took some satisfaction, when we were house hunting 17 years ago that we found a wonderful place on the very western edge of Guilderland. This meant that I could live according to my father’s ideal, since my job in Stuyvesant Plaza is also in Guilderland.

I have a choice of routes to work. I can drive down 11 miles of Western Turnpike, Route 20, or I can hop onto Route 88. The highway route is a bit longer, but it takes a shorter time, is beautiful, especially in the fall, and now with toll booths going away will be completely painless.

I, however, have almost always chosen to take the Western Turnpike route. This is because it gives me a sense of place. It shows me something of history and something of community.

I can shop for nearly anything I want to buy on my way to or from work, stop at the bank or the Y or the library, all within the town of Guilderland. There is an amazing variety of restaurants of a delightfully expanding range of ethnicities. For goodness sake, there is an astounding number of different places to get pizza in that one 11-mile stretch!

Over the years, I have seen much change. It’s been sad to see some of the small businesses close, get torn down, and be replaced by chains. The sense of place is being eroded. I could be anywhere, so why be here?

It’s been sad to see one after another of the remaining treed lots being demolished. Why live outside of a city if all you see is buildings and parking lots? It’s been sad to see Crossgates Mall killing off neighborhoods and businesses. It’s been sad to see old farms replaced by apartment complexes.

For sure, not all of the changes have been bad, but the bad choices seem to be gathering speed under the current planning and zoning boards. I’d like to add my voice to those of recent letter writers who have expressed concern about this issue.

There is no need to simply rubber stamp every building project or variance that comes along. Development for its own sake is thoughtless. Figuring out ways to sidestep the intent of current laws or of carefully-thought-out recommendations such as the master plan is not acceptable and should not become routine.

As the number of apartment complexes and chain stores and big-box stores explodes, so does the traffic congestion. Lately, as I drive to work, I’m beginning to think, “Why bother?”

If I’m  not going to experience a sense of place different from any other place, with a unique history of its own, and take my life in my hands, to boot, why wouldn’t I just take the highway, shop wherever, and become  another commuter in an anonymous landscape, nevermind where I get my income or pay my taxes?  My father would not approve.  

Janka Bialek


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