Historic Albany Foundation was privileged to collaborate on the Breathing Lights project, the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ public art project illuminating vacant buildings and vacancy. The installations in Troy, Schenectady and Albany brought together the creative economy, municipal governments and community members at the same table — a rare opportunity to change the course of our neighborhoods after decades-long disinvestment.
Bringing light to vacant buildings could not be timelier for our beautiful and fragile historic city. Emergency demolitions in Albany are proliferating at an alarming and unsustainable rate, leaving piles of tarped, potentially asbestos-laden rubble littering our neighborhoods.
Demolitions affect not only the building at issue, but the structural integrity of adjoining buildings and the stability of the neighborhood as a whole. Since January 2016, there were 81 so-called emergency demolitions, in excess of one and a half buildings per week. Of those, 22, or 27 percent, were within the city’s historic districts and demolished without the required adjudication before the Albany Historic Resources Commission.
This issue of vacancy and disinvestment has never been more evident to the casual observer than with the placement of red “Xs” on countless buildings by the Fire Department to signify potential danger to emergency responders. They are a symbol of economic stressors on neighborhoods, particularly evident in Albany’s most historic neighborhoods, and suggest that the City of Albany may not be as healthy or prosperous as one might assume. While not intended to sound the death knell for a vacant building, the “Xs” do suggest an unfortunate course of action.
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