Introducing Observations on Oneonta

One of my best friends in graduate school lovingly coined the topic of local government the “most important thing nobody cares about.” This was, of course, after hearing me prattle on about tax rates, land-use regulations, and urban planning in general for hours on end over the course of our two-year program in bucolic upstate New York.

The decisions made by our local government affect us a lot more than we might think. Most apparent, is the lay out of our road network and built environment. Those decisions were likely guided by a zoning code overseen by a local Planning Commission. Decisions on how parks are designed, when basketball courts are opened or closed, and whether a new dog park should be built in town are controlled by local governments. Decisions on when to plow our roads, inspect the safety of our buildings, and how best to respond to emergencies are largely undertaken by… you guessed it… local governments.

Too often, I hear that town/village/city meetings are “boring” or that “nothing” gets done. People question whether they should take time away from their families, jobs, or other commitments to attend meetings. The New York State Constitution vests us, the residents of Oneonta, New York, with the power to elect the very local officials who make the decisions that affect our day-to-day lives. Having this power should encourage us to choose the best people for the job. The people who combine a sense of dedication to our community with a strong grasp of common City issues. In order to do this, us citizens must be as informed as possible about issues facing the City.

Main Street Oneonta

I created this blog to break down key issues facing the City ranging from Downtown Revitalization to housing, taxes, sustainability, and beyond. I did this because I want us all to effectively evaluate each candidate based on the merits of their vision. Ultimately, who each reader chooses to support is up to them, however — it is my hope that this blog will play a small role in helping people understand the key issues facing our community.

So why create a blog now? In 2016, the City of Oneonta received a $10 million dollar grant through the New York State Downtown Revitalization Initiative. This grant is intended to transform our downtown through the implementation of several small-to-to medium-sized projects. In the five years that have transpired, façade improvements are starting to pop up Downtown, a new marketing campaign was launched, and dozens of units of new housing are likely to come online in our community. Despite these positive developments, our long-serving Mayor, Gary Herzig, is not seeking reelection in 2021. As of the writing of this post, there are three candidates vying to replace him.

As the planner/engineer and creator of Strong Towns, Chuck Mahron, says, change is at its strongest when it comes incrementally from the bottom up. As citizens, we get to act as glorified job interviewers as we select who will be our next Mayor. The first step to the interview process is for us to figure out what are some of the key issues facing our City. It’s time to step beyond the dinner table where many of us has an idea of what Oneonta needs, enter the public square, and debate these issues in the open.

Here’s how this blog will function. Each week, we will break down an issue facing Oneonta. We will discuss what is going right and what could be improved. We will share examples of communities across the United States who have addressed the issue in question. Most importantly, we will be neutral. We will not advocate for one candidate or the other. Rather, we want to provide our readers with the ammunition they will need to figure out who will best represent them.

Next week, we will be discussing Business Improvement Districts and how they could benefit Oneonta. In the meantime, if you are interested in contacting me, requesting a topic of discussion, or commenting on a previous post my email is dannyrlapin@gmail.com.

This blog represents the private opinion of Danny Lapin and does not reflect the views of the City of Oneonta Planning Commission or the Otsego County Conservation Association.

Danny is a nationally-certified planner, City Planning Commissioner, and a County Legislator residing in the City Oneonta in Upstate New York.

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