The Ulster County Main Streets Program
By Jennifer Schwartz
From Issue 18: Spring 2013
As the “ex-urban” area of the New York City Region, Ulster County has faced the challenge of rapid change in its natural and built environment. The post-war patterns of development combined with automobile dependency and existing land use regulations have not encouraged “walkable” communities and compact development.
Anticipating changes in energy and transportation costs, and the impact of Wall Street on our Main Streets, we believe that strengthening the centers of our communities will benefit everyone by utilizing our existing assets and infrastructure and offering more lifestyle and economic choices to residents and businesses in Ulster County.
The UC Main Streets Program was initiated with a 2007 grant from the NY State Department of State’s Quality Communities Program to provide technical assistance to communities for planning on our Main Streets. In the past two years, the program has worked with many stakeholders (including Gardiner) that recognize the importance of their Main Streets and wish to implement improvements. We have successfully helped several of them create community consensus on goals, develop and adopt plans, and seek grants for Main Street revitalization. The cumulative success of Main Street programs has earned a reputation as one of the most powerful economic development tools in the nation.
Thriving Main Streets are often characterized by local owner-ship of businesses, a pedestrian-friendly environment, the preservation of distinctive architecture and a sense of place and community. In line with the Main Streets philosophy, Gardiner has taken concrete actions to ensure the continued vitality of the central hamlet, including the Master Plan, Open Space Plan, purchase of the rail trail, recent rezoning, restoration of Town Hall, new Gardiner Library, improvements to Majestic Park, steps to improve sewer and water supply and the sidewalks grant. These have been accompanied by over $1 million in new private investments that have markedly increased activity and quality of life on Main Street.
A strong hamlet becomes an asset to the entire town—it can help a community build local jobs and become more self-reliant in an increasingly uncertain world. However, it is important to remember that creating a strong hamlet will take time and a sustained community effort. The graph on page 6 shows that those communities participating in a Main Street program often reap the most economic benefits after five or six years of continuous effort. Gardiner has great potential, and needs to continue building on the steps already taken. What is next for Gardiner’s hamlet? Now is the time to reevaluate the goals the community established back in 2004, and determine the best next steps.
Jennifer Schwartz is the
Deputy Director of Ulster County Planning