Panelists discuss economic revitalization in Poughkeepsie

On Nov. 17, members of the Vassar community attended a “Chronogram Conversation” entitled “Rolling on the River: Poughkeepsie is a City on the Move,” on the city’s economic development./ Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On Friday, Nov. 17, students, faculty and locals gathered at the Vassar Barn to attend an event entitled “Chronogram Conversations.”

Hosted by the Environmental Cooperative, the event created a space for community members to discuss the topic “Rolling on the River: Poughkeepsie is a City on the Move.” The panelists and audience had an opportunity to share their ideas about current and possible economic development in Poughkeepsie.

The event was held at 5 p.m. in the Environmental Cooperative Barn Multi-Purpose Room. The first hour was a social period during which people enjoyed food and beverages provided by BC Kitchen; Earth, Wind and Fuego; Hudson Valley Brewery and Angry Orchard Cider.

Then, at 6 p.m., the host and panelists took their seats and the discussion began. Editorial Director of Chronogram Brian K. Mahoney first spoke as a host. He started by introducing Chronogram itself.

Produced by Luminary Media, Chronogram is a monthly magazine covering various news in Hudson Valley area. According to Luminary Media, “Known for its iconic covers, thoughtful editorial vision, in-depth horoscopes, extensive Hudson Valley events calendar, and now for [its] own in-house event productions, Chronogram is the premier arts and culture magazine in our region” (Luminary Media, “Chronogram”).

Mahoney then introduced the topic for discussion: economic development in Poughkeepsie. He pointed out that economic development is not just about economic growth. “It is also about the political and social well-being of community,” he said. “We are talking about building sustainable, just and prosperous communities.” He said the growth should be based on “equitable development” that focuses on supporting marginalized groups and investing in natural resources and green spaces. “The kind of development people are looking for is thoughtful, cohesive development that builds on a natural, historical makeup of the city that brings it forward to the 21st century.”

After his brief speech about the topic, Mahoney passed a microphone to the panelists who are currently involved in economic development projects in Poughkeepsie. Each panelist had three to five minutes to talk about Poughkeepsie’s economic improvement and how their organizations contribute to it.

Former director of Nubian Directions II Marriott Johnson started first. Nubian Directions II is a non-profit organization that focuses on providing young school drop-outs an opportunity to learn vocational skills that help them to get jobs and alleviate severe poverty. For example, through the program, young people have participated in restoring public green spaces and abandoned houses. Johnson pointed out that the program not only allows youths to learn skills but also to understand the city better. “I was really looking at how to get our youths involved to be able to take pride back in their cities as well as giving the skillsets they need,” Johnson said. He emphasized, “We really need to start making the educational ties, the training ties and the business ties to make something happen.”

The next speaker was Chair of Poughkeepsie Alliance Paul Calogerakis. He first introduced the goal of the Alliance, explaining, “Our mission essentially is to enhance the quality of life in the city of Poughkeepsie by providing a capacity to government.” According to Calogerakis, what the Alliance does first is find a problem that the city government cannot currently handle. Then, the Alliance reaches out to stakeholders who can provide financial resources or materials to solve the problem. After receiving a donation, the Alliance passes it to the city government and supports making change. Calogerakis spoke of several projects the Alliance has worked on in the past: improving a shabby playground, establishing the “Welcome to Poughkeepsie” sign on the entering road and constructing a parking garage near Main Street.

Next up was a representative of Dutchess Outreach, Sarah Salem. She explained, “What [Dutchess Outreach does] for the community is to offer food access and emergency relief services. So we serve basic needs to community members who have no other places to go.” For example, Dutchess Outreach provides food through a hot meal program called The Lunch Box and supports medical care and house heating system in low-income communities. It has also formed a communal garden in the city that allows Poughkeepsie residents to farm their own food. Moreover, the organization has created a mobile farmers market in order to help people who often cannot access to food because of lack of transportation. Salem concluded her speech by pointing out that Poughkeepsie has infinite potentials of enhancement.

Executive director of Mill Street Loft and Spark Media Project Nicole Fenichel-Hewitt was the next speaker. These non-profit programs focus on teaching arts to youths in Poughkeepsie. According to Fenichel-Hewitt, the programs’ goal is to connect young people to local jobs and colleges through learning artistic skills. She also described various projects that Mill Street Loft and Spark Media have been doing: reaching out to colleges for scholarships, providing summer youth employments and after school programs and supporting youths on creating art in public spaces so that they can contribute to making Poughkeepsie more beautiful. Fenichel-Hewitt added, “The reason we do that is because these are low-income young people who often are helping support their families. So we don’t want to lose talented young people who have a real great potential at an amazing career because they have to work at McDonald’s to support their families.”

The final panelist was Senior Vice President of Scenic Hudson Steve Rosenburg. The major role of Scenic Hudson, Rosenburg explained, is increasing public participation in environmental decisions in Hudson Valley. For example, the organizations greatly contributed to saving Storm King Mountain from a construction of destructive factories by encouraging people’s rights to decide about their environment. Rosenburg also pointed out that it is essential to go beyond the past and current investments on the waterfront. He argued, rather than focusing on walkway paths or a park on the waterfront, the city government and other organizations should connect the downtown to the waterfront so that Poughkeepsie residents can easily access to the river.

Echoing the sentiments of many of the other panelists, Rosenburg concluded, “We firmly believe that you cannot have healthy, equitable, sustainable economy unless you have healthy environment and quality of life of the people who live in the community.”

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