There Go The Neighborhoods

I attended the grand opening of the new Delaware branch of the Albany Public Library on Saturday, January 9, just as I attended the event for the Pine Hills branch (a/k/a, MY branch) five weeks earlier. Also, on Tuesday, January 5, I went to the sometimes contentious meeting about the closing of the Washington Avenue YMCA (a/k/a, MY branch) at, not coincidentally, the main branch of the APL. And it brought home the fact that the issues of the branch libraries, the urban Y and also the post offices that have been threatened to be closed, including the South Allen location (a/k/a, MY post office) are all part of the same issue: the livability of the city of Albany. However, there have been quite varied outcomes.

First, let’s look at the good news. You MUST go to the two reopened branches of the library, although you may not fully appreciate their beauty and usability unless you had been to the previous incarnations. The old, one-story location at 517 Western Avenue was cramped and a bit dark; the new two-story facility is bright and roomy, and moreover finally has an adequate number of computers, even on a Saturday afternoon.

But even the old branch of the Pine Hills library was a palace compared with the old Delaware branch which was in a strip mall, next to a laundromat. I’ve had closets that were wider. At least thrice – and I admit I avoided going there very often – water, lint and noise from its neighbor was evident in the library. Now at 331 Delaware Avenue, a former funeral home that I’d only been to once or twice, it is totally reimagined to be bright and accessible.

As Dennis Gaffney, president of the APL board of trustees, has noted, Albany had rejected $150,000 for a Carnegie library back in 1902, by a 3-2 vote, because of the $9,000 annual maintenance. But a little over a century later, the people of Albany, by a 2-1 vote, embraced building five new or refurbished branch libraries.

At the YMCA meeting, CEO Dave Brown noted how much of the programming of the Albany Y is not dependent on that building at 274 Washington Avenue. He was followed by speaker after speaker from various organization noting how vital the Y building is to the populations they serve, from the medical student who destresses there to young man who promised more violence in the city without the facility.

I heard a lot of vague promises to work towards saving the facility, from organizations using the building to the Albany mayor, who, the day after his dire State of the City, promised his support. Yet Dave Brown’s promise of the “immediate shutdown” if certain benchmarks aren’t met remained.

Right now, because of some pricing incentives, it is a good time to join the YMCA on Washington Avenue. I’m cautiously optimistic that the first goal of 2550 households (up from 1800) can be met by April – is that the beginning or end of April, Dave? – but another thousand or more beyond that before the end of the year seems ambitious. The task force working on saving the Y I’m hoping can bring alternative funding ideas to the table.

The post offices unfortunately is largely out of local control, though the targeting of the urban settings, at least in this area, is disturbing. All I can say is that having a local facility was a major selling point in choosing a home. If making some noise will make a difference, let there be cacophony.

Three institutions. One good outcomes, two up in the air. All vital for a livable city. ROG