What started as an awareness raising and ethnographic styled walk through Sierra Leone, this site now details the encounters of a not so academic academic who spends more time occupying Wall Street and squats than a university...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Local Development

So on Wednesday night I met for nearly two hours with Ed Lynch the city of Newburgh's Director of Planning and Development.  It was quite a good conversation.  He is a former Peace Corps volunteer that has done a decent amount of work in South America (which immediately put us on the right page).  He most recently spent 17 years in a similar position in New Rochelle and seems to have turned that city in a positive direction in terms of crime, quality of life, and economics - this includes a 40 story Trump tower there.  When I was growing up, New Rochelle did not have a good reputation, yet it seems to now.  So if blanketed results are the measure of "success", he seems to have been successful in "New Ro".  I am not sure of the specifics of how it was done, and who flourished and/or was marginalized in the process, but he has a record of change. 

While Ed did have some very interesting thoughts and ideas regarding my work in Africa, we spent most of the time on Newburgh.  Just to put a few things out there, the city had a 25% tax increase in 2010, and will have anywhere from a 61-74% tax increase this year.  The city had to borrow millions of dollars from New York State just to pay the salaries for its workers for the end of 2010.  Also (and I heard this elsewhere), there is also discussion of dissolving the City of Newburgh entirely.  Yes, just shutting the whole thing down.  It would then have to be absorbed into the Town of Newburgh - which doesn't seem to be very interested in taking over this disaster.  There has been previous mismanagement of state and federal money's due to lack of manpower and maybe even incompetence to the point that some of this money may have to be given back.  Ten's of thousands of dollars of money being wasted on national searches for individual positions, and then local behind the scenes hirings from the old-boy network.  Corruption or the implication of it, seems to be either a common perception or an assumed undercurrent in everything.  There is no supermarket, there is no pharmacy, public transport is minuscule, the streets are dilapidated, the underground economy is rampant, yesterday saw 31 gang members indicted - including three on separate murder charges, and there is no money to do anything about any of it, never mind hope.  Suffice it to say, "Newburgh" gets worse every day...  I can't even fathom how a city like this can provide virtually no services to its citizens.  It is amazing.  

Maybe we should set up a plywood factory? :(

So what next?  The city has brought in new blood to try to right the ship.  Ed is among many new faces.  He claims that 60-70% of the department heads are new and they are trying to change both the culture of the administration and a gross history of financial mismanagement.  They mostly seem to be coming from successful areas in the lower Hudson Valley.  Ed, seems to me to be a person that has a good head on his shoulders and some quality experience to lean on.  Word on the streets about him though is quite skeptical (but then again, pretty much all the words on the street in Newburgh are skeptical).  He has been in office for seven months and it is claimed by some that the stances he seems to be taking don't necessarily back up some of my initial perceptions of him.  But everyone has a point and an agenda, and Ed's position is one of trying to balance all of these.  There are inherently going to be people that don't agree with what is done.  He is part of an institution, a bureaucratic and deeply ingrained developmental institution that resonates throughout the entire US and world socio-economic system.  I for one, as most readers here know, am interested in alternative ideas and new ways of thinking.  

As with anything, I am not going to jump in and use other's interpretations to run with. Time on the ground and local interaction is the only true to way to come to independent conclusion.  There is always a million ways to do things, and within them there is never a "right" answer.  So Newburgh, I will continue to learn all I can about you, your people, and your culture...  It is going to be a fun ride. 

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