Middle Main

A neighborhood just a little off center

Last Friday, I got the chance to attend The Community Preservation Corporation’s (CPC) Hudson Valley Main Street Summit in Poughkeepsie. The conference, also sponsored in part by Hudson River Housing, included speakers from around the area and centered on all sorts of topics related to community development. It was really interesting and had quite a large turn out. The delicious refreshments provided by El Dorado were certainly another highlight!

Sadie McKeown, from the CPC kicked off the summit and introduced Mayor John Tkazyik. He spoke about the many recent improvements that the city has made to different parts of Poughkeepsie and stressed the importance of community-building and neighborhood beautification.

Next, Gail Webster, executive director of Hudson River Housing introduced the first panel, focused specifically on community development in Poughkeepsie. Middle Main’s own Elizabeth Celaya gave an excellent first presentation. She explained Middle Main’s asset-based approach to community development and the emphasis on members of the local community as agents for change. Additionally, she described how the Middle Main initiative got started and the various ways it has progressed over the past year, including partnerships that have formed, exciting events that have taken place, and the development of the soon-to-be-released map of the area. It was really clear from her talk just how far we’ve come!

Next Jeff Kosmacher and Peter Leonard from Vassar College spoke about the college’s interaction with the Poughkeepsie community. Jeff spoke about new initiatives at Vassar aimed to get students out and about in the area, including the introduction of the Poughkeepsie shuttle. Peter talked about the value of service learning through the local community, which provides a way for students to learn things they would not be able to in the classroom. He gave numerous examples of organizations that Vassar students regularly participate in. Both Peter and Jeff highlighted Vassar’s past and current work in increasing student involvement in Poughkeepsie as well as the challenges in doing so. They concluded by pointing out Vassar’s role as a community institution, and welcomed community members to take advantage of all of the things it provides to the public.

The next panel focused on the role that colleges and universities play in redeveloping neighborhoods. Paul Grygiel from Phillips Preis Grygiel LLC, a planning and real estate consulting firm, spoke about his company’s work in redeveloping the downtown section near Kean University in Morris, New Jersey. It sounded like the area had a lot of the same features as Middle Main, such as proximity to college campuses and a strong multicultural community.

Next, Roberto Frugone from La Casa de Don Pedro, a community-based development corporation, talked about his organization’s work in Newark, NJ. Again, his community had certain challenges similar to those faced by Middle Main, including the need for beautification (a challenge which local residents and businesses took on themselves) and the existence of vacant lots (they decided to fill one by building a playground). Both of these talks provided some really great ideas for Middle Main!

The last panel took a very different, but equally intriguing, focus on building for energy efficiency. Timothy Gilroy from New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and Barry Henck from Central Hudson Gas and Electric provided some very surprising information on various incentives offered in the Hudson Valley area to install energy efficient products. Andrew Padian of CPC finished the summit with an entertaining presentation highlighting the simple ways in which energy resources are wasted and can be conserved.

All in all, it was a fun, information-packed day that provided excellent opportunities to learn from other community development projects and to meet members of the local community! For more information about CPC and to find the presentations from this event visit http://www.communityp.com/.

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Comment by Doug Nobiletti on June 15, 2010 at 11:42am
Elizabeth, Andy et al,
I thank you all for picking up the baton and being so well prepared to go the distance. Poughkeepsie's Main Street has vast unlimited potential. You have proven yourselves well-organized, focused and visionary. The seminar was perfectly balanced. It was great to hear others share similar insights for solutions to the issues that linger, which when implemented will make the downtown of this city shine once again.

I look forward to the greater outcomes still ahead-

Doug
Comment by Andrew Sawtelle on June 15, 2010 at 10:14am
Franc,

Thanks for getting out on Main Street and doing this basic groundwork. We'll want to keep a careful record of infrastructure conditions.
Comment by FRANC PALAIA on June 15, 2010 at 9:39am
Dear Elizabeth & attendees,
Thanks for setting up this seminar. It was helpful seeing what other cities are doing. Your presentation was perfect.
Now if we can start visualizing our ideas.
I recently took many photos of Main St., walls, bus shelters, sidewalks, windows etc so I can do the before and after presentation in Sept.
Franc
Comment by Andrew Sawtelle on June 14, 2010 at 4:16pm
Thanks for such a complete and careful write-up of the summit, Nicole. Having been in the middle of Middle Main, so to speak, for so many months, it was refreshing and informative to hear it presented to a large audience of community development professionals.

Peter Leonard's comment about the name Middle Main - "it has the force of a poem" - really struck me. The name does have a simple power to it, much more than "the 400 block" or "the 500 block".

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