Walkable Olean Replies

CH from Portville
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CH from Portville wrote:


This proposed project is truly impressive. However, one would question if this "improvement" will truly provide a comprehensive enhancement to the city of Olean. While these plans showcase Union Street, they simply mask the real issues facing the city of Olean: a declining tax base, high taxes, lack of industrial growth, and the continued erosion of local and franchise business interests in the city. I'm barely scratching the surface regarding the city's multitude of challenges that it continues to superficially address or simply ignore. The present municipal infrastructure is abysmal. Many of the city's streets are an embarrassment to the community. For example, I travel East Riverside Drive and York Street daily and these streets are in major need of repair. Empty storefronts are the norm rather than the exception. With that being said, I'm appalled that our government officials would propose and embrace such a grandiose plan, while forsaking "basic" plans for a comprehensive improvement to its infrastructure, its declining population, lack of employment opportunities, etc. A redesigned North Union Street will not bring back Daltile or encourage any future businesses to be attracted to our area. The "window dressing" that our local government officials are proposing is a woefully inadequate solution to all that ails Olean, New York. The attention that is focused on this current initiative could be better channeled toward the development of realistic solutions to the issues that Olean currently faces. I challenge our officials to devise a comprehensive plan of economic improvement that will truly benefit all current and future residents of the city.


Dear CH,


Boy do we share your frustration! Thank you for challenging us to address a broadside of questions that are undoubtedly shared by many residents of Olean and Upstate New York.


First of all, you are right that “beautification projects” have given downtown renewal efforts a bad name.


Remember the 70’s and the pedestrian-only malls? In most places, they failed because people need the convenience that a car provides. Retailers need customers, including those who drive cars!


Then came the 80’s with traffic light timing and turn lanes. Cars dominated and downtowns died. The 90’s was the decade of light pole banners and shrubbery – pale efforts to beautify derelict place that most people raced through to avoid.


In the meantime, something interesting was happening in Portland Oregon. In 1972 they established an urban growth boundary to prevent suburban sprawl into scarce farmland. Back in those days cities were fed by their adjoining agricultural hinterland.


Portlanders hated it. Their friends in other cities were moving to new suburban homes but they were stuck in an old city. Almost as a consolation prize, the City of Portland began to invest in ambiance.


What??? Ambiance???


It’s true. In order to appease their population Portland began greening their streets. They covered freeways with parks and put pedestrians first with wide, safe sidewalks. Bike lanes and public transited were expanded.


All across America old cities and towns lost population as suburbs swelled. Not Portland. Portland’s population was growing. It was attracting young, well-educated people, many of whom started businesses.


Today Portland has the highest rate of City GDP growth in the country and over 1,200 tech companies but they’ve never done “traditional economic development”. They spend taxpayer money on public places, and people move in. Then they start companies or employers follow because they need the people who like to live in Portland (Intel & HP are the classic examples, here.)


Today, “the Portland model” is gaining traction. In Hamburg their investment in walkability has transformed their village from derelict to vibrant. It has stabilized their tax base and residents love the result. They see their taxes at work in a village they feel very proud to call home.


Best regards,





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