NYS Downtown Revitalization Program Wins Big in State Budget

Downtown Oswego is one of soon-to-be 20 Empire State cities and towns that will benefit from New York's plans to create walkable, sustainable, and revitalized communities.
Credit: Vincent Carnevale via Flickr


New York State will help promote walkable, sustainable communities through an additional $100 million in the FY18 budget to support Governor Cuomo’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative.  This important effort will result in more vibrant downtowns that attract new residents and present a desirable home for businesses looking to set up shop. That’s something urban planners have known for years—thank you, Jane Jacobs—and it’s knowledge that the State of New York is leveraging as it seeks to revitalize communities throughout the Empire State. The Initiative isn’t just good news for cities and towns in New York that are hoping to build prosperity  and improve quality-of-life. It’s also an example of how, especially in the face of federal action that threatens decades of environmental progress, states and cities can lead the charge on climate and clean energy, particularly as they focus on important economic development goals, like creating new jobs and affordable housing for their residents, and restoring historic infrastructure and investments in community institutions.

Seneca St. Geneva NY
Credit: Downtown Geneva, New York has opportunities to revitalize under the State's Downtown Revitalization Initiative.

New York’s smart redevelopment program models a holistic approach by offering support to communities that intend to cultivate the following qualities in their downtowns:

  • The nearness and accessibility of daily destinations, especially jobs and housing. In other words, smart revitalization plans make sure that the stuff people do on a regular basis happens near where they live, and vice versa.
  • Density in the downtown, prioritizing building and zoning that creates compact communities. This approach not only promotes the kinds of personal interactions that make downtowns great places to live, work, and recreate. It also means people are less reliant on cars that pollute our atmosphere.
  • Mixed-use zoning, enabling residents to live near the businesses and community institutions they frequent.
  • Transit-oriented development, resulting in housing that’s located within a half-mile of reliable public transit, which can make life more affordable and can free people from dependence on cars.
  • Walkability and bikeability, which are as good for residents’ and workers’ health as they are for our climate.
  • Sustainable, energy-efficient development, aligning with the state’s climate and clean energy objectives. Energy efficiency results in lower energy costs, saving residents and businesses money while also creating jobs, protecting our climate, and improving public health.
  • Smart Cities innovations,  lowering local government costs while improving municipal service delivery.
  • Presence of and collaboration with anchor institutions, like medical centers, libraries, and universities in or near the downtown.
  • Existence of healthy and affordable food markets, providing access to this important resource to all residents.
  • Accessible parks, public gathering spaces, and entertainment amenities, which are a key element of healthy, engaged communities.
  • Inclusiveness of new Americans.

Through the Initiative this year, in 10 cities and towns, in 10 regions throughout New York, our state will invest $10 million to help create smart revitalization plans and make them a reality. The program will yield tangible benefits for the chosen communities, their residents, and the environment, through a host of positive impacts associated with the qualities, above. The downtowns, to be announced in June, will be the second set to receive the critical benefits of this program. The first round of ten downtowns was chosen last year—in Glens Falls, Oswego, Geneva, Westbury, Middletown, Oneonta, Jamaica, Plattsburgh, Elmira, and Jamestown—and their plans for revitalization are now underway.

The basic facts are these: The qualities that make cities and towns the places where people want to be—access to transit, walkable and bikeable streets, dense development, mixed-use zoning—not only encourage the kinds of human interactions that most people crave but are also great for our environment. By promoting revitalization programs that encourage neighborhoods that embody these characteristics, New York State is showing the nation how to protect our environment as it’s making our communities better places to work and live.