By Edwin D. Reilly, Jr.
For The Sunday Gazette
I wish to explore a topic close to the hearts and keyboards of the Gazette editorial staff—sprawl. They're
agin'it. Perhaps I should be too, but the scientist in me says that
should define it so as to know it when we see it. Oh, the conventional
clear enough. I can't count the times my wife told our teenage sons,
tripled in age, not to sprawl on the sofa. But more pertinent is the
definition given by the American Heritage
dictionary: "Haphazard growth or extension outward, especially that
resulting from real estate development on the outskirts of a city."
growth" is to
be deplored, of course, but that "or" bothers me. Is any
outward extension bad, even when an
old city such as
to tidy up some old papers, a lost cause if ever there was one, I came
yellowed editorial that described one of the never ending series of
foster greater consolidation of municipal services. This one was a
convened by the Schenectady League of Women Voters. By the movie ad on
back, one touting the academy awards received by Nicholas
and Alexandria (who were not present to accept them, of
course), I deduce that the date was some time in 1972.
reported discussion of
certain small scale consolidations, the editorial continued "But
Supervisor Edwin D. Reilly, Jr. had another idea. He suggested 'the
consolidation'—merger of the county's one city, two villages, and five
into a single entity. Union-Star reporter Rutledge Carter described the
reaction of Mr. Reilly's listeners as one of 'shocked silence'.
Schenectady City Councilman Erwin Shapiro spoke out: 'I would like to
in my lifetime,' Mr. Shapiro said, 'because I am looking forward to
long, long time.'"
course, passed away without seeing my recommendation come to pass, but
is revived from time to time, most recently by Schenectady Mayor Al
And the Gazette seems to approve. The
usual reason given is that the county is the second smallest in the
small to support so many units of local government. But now, thirty
removed from my proposal, I have second thoughts. I do note that I
one "entity," not necessarily "city," but I can't imagine
giving up the historic concept of a city as the embodiment of culture
civilization in favor of the more sterile title of "county." And what
is considered too small for a county is, now that I check, far too big
the very concept of a city, every citizen thereof has a right to expect
to municipal water and sewerage. At our current state of development,
those services throughout 206 square miles would be financially
an alternative, New York State Town Law provides an excellent model for
providing such services incrementally. The tool is called a "Special
Improvement District," one that can be imposed on new housing
or provided to older neighborhoods upon request of their residents.
who benefit from such districts pay an added tax long enough to
bonds needed, and there is no proliferation of government because Town
members serve as commissioners of such districts at no additional
salary. It is
in this way that
Even in the
rare instances where a suitable site can be found, there is a certain
inconsistency in advocation of concentration of new development within
boundaries while also recommending the "ultimate consolidation."
Suppose that a certain project is about to be built in one of our
to the current city but not in it, just as hypothetical legislation is
that enlarges the city. Then suddenly, the same project that is
because it isn't in the inner city becomes so. Is it then to be blessed?
One of the
of "sprawl" that I found on the Web included the characteristic
"great fiscal disparities among localities." That is certainly the
Edwin D. Reilly, Jr. lives in Niskayuna and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Gazette opinion page.