Building a stronger Troy through local colleges

Tyler McNeil, Creative Editor

The future of Troy could be deliberated on campus from Mar. 25 to Mar. 27, at a city-wide summit proposed by Urban Strategies, Inc. Dr. Peter Sawyer, Department Chair of the History, Philosophy & Social Sciences Department is working with the consultant firm that is helping inform a comprehensive plan for the city.  Any work that Dr. Sawyer will undertake with Urban Strategies will need to be approved by the mayor’s office. It is also not clear where the “City Summit” will take place but Hudson Valley Community College may be considered. The final decision of where it will be held will also be made by the mayor’s office.

The involvement of Dr. Sawyer is based on a project he led last year called “Building Civic Capacity for a Stronger Troy.” This project was a series of public deliberations set forth by the department chair, aimed at cultivating civic engagement. It provided opportunities for faculty and students from several educational institutions to facilitate discussions within the neighborhoods of Troy.

“If you act on local issues, what happens is you have a tendency to gain perspective on that issue. You start to see problems are not just local, they’re more regional, statewide and this will lead into a broader framework [for students to understand] national issues,” said Sawyer.

“Many of our faculty, staff and students come from Troy. We work a lot with the various businesses and service agencies and try to integrate that into our curriculum,” said Andrew Matonak, president of Hudson Valley and member of Troy 2020, an organization started in 1989 looking to pursue a utopian Troy.

The framework for these community discussions started on June 24 with input from  the Troy Rehabilitation and Improvement Program, Rensselaer County Regional Chamber of Commerce, Troy Area United Industries, a representative from the mayor’s office and the city council. Representatives from RPI, Russell Sage, Emma Willard School and Hudson Valley, were also key to the organization of this effort. The outcome of these earlier meetings led to a $14,000 grant from the Louis & Hortense Rubin Community Fellows Program to support the organization and facilitation of these deliberations.

Deliberations were held at the Lansingburgh Public Library, the Polish American Club, the Italian Community Center and the Oakwood Community Center. The group discussions tackled issues in the city such as bringing back Flag Day, police being disengaged from their communities, foreclosures, lack of green space and absentee landlords.

Sawyer started the Center for Service Learning and Civic Engagement in 2004 with a grant from the American Association of Community Colleges and the Corporation for National and Community Service. The past focus has been on the service learning program but, while it continues to support service learning on campus, it is also focusing on public deliberation. The Center also has an annual budget of $5,000 through the Student Senate. Dr. Sawyer studies political socialization and citizenship.  ”I try to create opportunities for students to become strong citizens. I’m always looking for opportunities for students to be involved in their communities,” he said about starting the project around public deliberation, a mechanism for resolving community issues by engaging citizens in an organized discussion.

According to Sawyer, some Hudson Valley Community College students left the public deliberation as the project gained momentum. He tried to recruit more students from the college and will do so again if the project is approved by the mayor’s office.  In the past, students were also able to make money due to the grant. Sawyer hopes that this might be the case again should he be able to help organize the City Summit with Urban Strategies, Inc.

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