A Magazine About Food, Art & Exchange In Midtown Kingston, Published By The Hudson Valley Current.

Plants Grow Smart & So Can Towns

Growth is everywhere in June. Gardens and fields are off to a solid start. Barns and woodlands are full of new young lives. Humans are marking graduations, some of us coupling up, perhaps to create future graduates. Outdoor festivals are awash in the creations of countless growers and makers.

Much of what we mean when we say”growth” is the life force in action, from the cellular level to the societal. Increasing, developing and maturing would seem to be the grand design. But there’s growth and then there’s growth.

“Growth is seldom random,” Brittanica.com tells us. “Rather, it occurs according to a plan that eventually determines the size and shape of the individual. In some organisms, however, notably the slime molds, no regular pattern of growth occurs, and a formless cytoplasmic mass is the result.”

Every cell, with the slime mold exception, has a plan encoded in it at the molecular level. Human communities, built on plans devised by human minds with their peculiar mix of motivations, don’t. Fashions in planning change: witness the wider and tidier grids you find in Midwestern towns that developed after the rise of the automobile. Some plans are objectively mistaken and driven by greed; hence the profusion of isolated suburban neighborhoods surrounded by unwalkable commercial/industrial wasteland, the slime mold of land usage.

Planning for growth involves making assumptions, and quite a few of the ones made in the mid-20th century have been proven inaccurate. “Every household needs at least an acre of land and a car, preferably two.” “Knocking down these old buildings for a freeway won’t hurt anything.” “IBM will be here forever.” It’s easy to see in hindsight how conveniently these assumptions could merge with self-centered motivations; perhaps the people making them weren’t quite conscious of this and sincerely thought they were doing good things, but either way, most of us grew up amidst the results.

According to “Revitalization Opportunities Report for Kingston Midtown,” a 2019 study prepared by Ulster County, Midtown—defined as the 270 acres around the intersection of the CSX rail line with Broadway—had 3,413 residents at the time and was growing much faster than the city as a whole. It’s the most racially diverse part of Ulster County, the youngest (about a quarter of the residents at that time were 15 or under) and the brokest, with one in five households surviving on less than $15,000 a year.

In 2019, according to a Pattern for Progress study, the median price of a single-family home in Kingston was $185,395. We all know what happened next—the COVID migration—and just a year later, that had jumped by $80,000.

Sometimes planners have to play catchup. There is a city-wide rezoning in process that will include affordable housing requirements; meanwhile, an emergency executive order from the mayor requires developers planning five to nine units must make one of them affordable; developments of more than ten units must be 10% affordable. The Kingston City Land Bank, begun in 2018, is working to turn tax delinquent properties into renovated affordable homes.

In other ways, the planning process that guides Kingston’s growth—and Midtown’s with it—has been humming along for over a decade. The first citywide Climate Action Plan was developed beginning in 2009; in 2020, the NYS DEC named Kingston the first Silver Certified Climate Smart City in the state.

But what does that look like on the ground in Kingston?

• The Kingston Midtown Linear Park, connecting Midtown to Uptown with a 12-foot-wide ADA-compliant pathway for non-motorized transit. You can now safely walk to the supermarket, and a bunch of other places besides.

• Traffic calming measures incorporated into refreshed Complete Streets streetscapes, including bike lanes, roundabouts and coordinated signals that improve traffic flow. Much of this can be seen on Broadway; new sidewalks, trees, crosswalks, accessible ramps and bicycle-friendly features are coming to Franklin Street next.

• Solar panels on municipal buildings

• 67% of streetlights converted to LEDs, with more on the way

• Bus transit integrated with countywide routes

There’s more; things like greenhouse gas emissions reduction measures, solid waste reduction and stormwater mitigation. The current plan, Climate Action Plan 2030, is available to read at https://engagekingston.com/climate-action-plan; they’re taking public input.We’re lucky to live here. Smart growth—defined as creating “livable places, healthy people, and shared prosperity” according to https://smartgrowthamerica.org, has been on the radar for a while, hopefully bringing those results to the whole community—especially Midtown, in so many ways the city’s beating heart. So pay a visit to Engage Kingston, put your .02 in and perhaps see what volunteers might be needed. After all, slime molds are sorta cute but nobody wants to live in one.