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Thread: Albany NY

  1. #1
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    Albany NY

    I was looking at street view for Albany last night and noticed their urban form is very unique. It from very dense for a few blocks downtown to traditional rowhouses for a few blocks to single family and than an 1960s suburban without sidewalks, etc. Also, the whole city is almost linear as opposed to spread out in a radius. What's the story?
    I burned down the church to atone for my transgressions.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    You're right; if you look at a map, you can see that the city form is very linear and was developed in an east-to-west pattern from the Hudson River. Originally named Beverwyck by the Dutch, Albany developed as a important trading center beginning in the 17th century. Many of the main roads in the city today were originally trading routes linking the settlement to points west. There were also a number of creeks and streams that flowed eastward into the Hudson. The city's early neighborhoods were located along these east-west routes and waterways. Later, the introduction of trolleys facilitated the creation of "streetcar suburbs" like Pine Hills.

    There are probably several reasons why the city of Albany did not extend very far to the north or south. For one thing, these areas were predominantly agricultural and were eventually incorporated into individual towns. (Albany did annex a few areas of a neighboring town during its history, but annexation is exceedingly uncommon in upstate NY today.) There are also certain geographical features that form natural boundaries to lands to the north (e.g., the Mohawk River) and the south.

    But I suspect that the main reason is that the lands surrounding the City of Albany were part of the vast holdings of Kiliean Van Rensselaer, a wealthy Dutch merchant. Although he never stepped foot on the property, Van Rensselaer and his descendants owned what was known as Rensselaerswyck well into the 1800s, bringing farmers and artisans over from Europe to serve as tenants. It's a fascinating history.

    You can learn more about Albany's history here and here. There's also a terrific book by John McEneny, a historian and assemblyman.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Mud Princess,

    Did the Dutch do ribbon farms? I know this was the primary way many cities in Michigan were developed by the French. This might explain it as well.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    Mud Princess,

    Did the Dutch do ribbon farms? I know this was the primary way many cities in Michigan were developed by the French. This might explain it as well.
    "Ribbon farms"? I've never heard that term.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    Mud Princess,

    Did the Dutch do ribbon farms? I know this was the primary way many cities in Michigan were developed by the French. This might explain it as well.
    If I remember my NYS history, the Dutch divided their colony north of New Amsterdam into large, essentially feudal estates called patroonships with all the land owned by the patroon and rented out to farmers. The British didn't change that landholding pattern, and numerous British families, like the Livingstons, married into the Dutch families, forming an aristocratic society from New York all the way to Albany and the surrounding areas. This pattern continued into the Early National Period, and was a major cause of the unrest and rebellion on the Livingston holdings during the Jacksonian era.

    I don't think that Dutch landholding patterns had much influence on Albany. I think that proximity to NYC, Boston, Philly, etc did because this was a common land-holding pattern seen in those cities. It's NOT a very common pattern that continues to exist today further west. In Buffalo, this is because most of the downtown area was transformed several times. It may also be the case in Syracuse and Rochester.

    Albany was never a large boom town like the more westerly cities like Buffalo that grew from 2500 people to 30,000 in the space of about 7 years between 1825 and 1832, or later when it grew to nearly 600,000 people during WW II. Albany's raison d'etre was and is state government. It remained a compact, middle class, white collar town that grew at a steady, moderate pace.

    The surrounding cities had the industry, and at various times, boomed: Watervliet had the arsenal, Cohoes the textile mills, Troy and Rensselaer across the Hudson had heavy industry and shipping. Schnectady had General Electric. Route 5 (Central Avenue) was/is the main connector between Albany and Schnectady. Route 20 (Western Avenue) also runs westward from downtown through Guilderland to Altamont. Those were the two main routes, and that's where development started and continued, overwhelming the little hamlets/villages along the way (West Albany, Colonie, Guilderland, etc).

    Part of Albany's linear form came from geography. It couldn't really expand southward because of the deep gorge formed by the Normanskill Creek, and Watervliet blocked northward expansion while the Hudson formed a natural boundary on the east. Also, as MP said, annexation in Upstate NY is very rare. After NYC annexed Brooklyn in the 1880s/1890s, the NYS legislature changed the state constitution preventing annexation, and it's after that period that there was large scale growth in the communities like Watervliet, Green Island, Troy, and Rennselaer because of industrialization.

    If you look at a map of the entire Albany region, you can see that Albany is surrounded by other small cities and that the group of Albany and its suburbs are radial in form. These smaller cities generally have all the characteristics of cities, too, because they developed in the late 19th century/early 20th century rather than after WW II as more traditonal suburbs did.
    If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. -- John F. Kennedy, January 20, 1961

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Mud Princess View post
    "Ribbon farms"? I've never heard that term.
    Based on the other explaination, I doubt it. A ribbon farm is long and narrow and at one end has access to water for irrigation/trading. Most plots were then made perpendicular to the waterway (usually a large river or a Great Lake).

    As cities grew the land became more attractive for subdivision. Often times the streets that run from the water are named after the families that controlled the farm (Chene, Joseph Campeau, Dubois, Brush, Cass, Rivard are local examples).
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Plus dandy_warhol's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Off Topic
    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    Based on the other explaination, I doubt it. A ribbon farm is long and narrow and at one end has access to water for irrigation/trading. Most plots were then made perpendicular to the waterway (usually a large river or a Great Lake).
    That sounds similar to the siting of many of the Louisiana plantations located along the Mississippi.

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