Newswise — ITHACA, N.Y. – Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Utica exemplify the economic challenges cities throughout New York continue to face.
But there’s a silver lining even here – as Cornell University researchers working with leaders in each of these cities have uncovered lessons that can help other municipalities, large and small, around the state.
“Fiscal stress is not unique to New York or the United States,” said Mildred Warner, professor in Cornell University’s Department of City and Regional Planning. The trend in Europe and the U.S. has been “to pass the fiscal crisis down to the local level – pretty much leaving cities to fend for themselves.”
But, as Warner and other experts noted during the March 25 conference, “State of New York Cities: Creative Responses to Fiscal Stress,” at Cornell’s Ithaca campus, even under heavy financial constraints, New York’s “Thruway corridor” cities are succeeding in improving quality of life, cutting costs, spurring growth and addressing the growing fiscal and social challenges they face.
Since the 1950s, many Upstate New York cities have seen economic and population declines. In recent years, local governments have faced added stress, with state budget mandates, lower property tax revenue and the higher costs of providing basic infrastructure, services, wages and benefits.
During the conference, Cornell experts delivered individual city case studies for Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Utica. The case studies revealed the problems faced by each city – and some unique solutions to those challenges.
In Buffalo, properties are being renovated to expand the tax base, and a partnership with a parks conservancy helped the city save $2 million in its first year.
“We’re experiencing what is often called the great inversion – the return to cities,” said Lou Jean Fleron of Buffalo’s Partnership for Public Good.
Rochester’s shift from an industrial to a knowledge-based economy followed the loss or downsizing of major employers Kodak, Xerox and Bausch & Lomb, and residents moving to the suburbs. To cut costs, Rochester imposed a debt limit. Fire departments and schools share fueling services. Commercial investments and philanthropy for education have been crucial, and a sustainable-business incubator at the Rochester Institute of Technology could create 11,000 green jobs over the next five years.
Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner said a mayor’s job is to be flexible, creative and responsible.
“You have to be problem solvers. You see a lot of economic dynamism in the middle-weight cities. We recognize that immigration is vital to the life of the city, and with an anchor institution like Syracuse University, their success is dependent on the city’s success.”
To correct a $3 million deficit two years ago, Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri cut 120 jobs, almost 20 percent of his city’s workforce.
“You can’t be self-sustaining without cuts, but the only thing any municipality has to offer is service. You can’t completely cut services,” but the costs of delivering them can be reduced, he said.
Utica also is pursuing sustainable urban renewal in collaboration with Cornell through Rust2Green, and developing a nanotechnology sector with the State University of New York Institute of Technology.
NOTE: The full case studies on the cities of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Utica, plus a study of the New York State pension system, can be downloaded at: https://cornell.box.com/UpstateCities
Cornell University has television, ISDN and dedicated Skype/Google+ Hangout studios available for media interviews.