Editorial: Eyes on Madison Avenue

Jane Jacobs, the famed champion of cities and chronicler of street life, wrote often about the importance of having “eyes on the street.”

The idea, wonderful in its common-sense simplicity, posits that streets with thriving businesses and crowded sidewalks are safer because they benefit from having people to watch and guard against bad behavior. It’s a reminder that economic development and public safety work in tandem.

We mention Ms. Jacobs because of complaints lodged by two Mansion neighborhood business owners who spoke to the Times Union’s Steve Hughes. Joe Abbruzzese and Jim Rua, who own the Hill Street Café and Café Capriccio, respectively, say their customers increasingly feel unsafe in the neighborhood. The business owners are begging the city for better lighting, more police and other changes in the neighborhood east of Empire State Plaza and the Executive Mansion.

They’re also hoping the city will use some of the $80.7 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds to improve Madison Avenue and the surrounding neighborhood.

Mr. Abbruzzese and Mr. Rua are certainly right that the neighborhood needs more attention from Mayor Kathy Sheehan’s administration. Too many of its blocks suffer from pockets of darkness, endemic drug dealing, garbage-strewn sidewalks and other issues affecting the residents’ quality of life.

Yet there’s something else the neighborhood badly needs: more businesses.

Consider that along Madison between Philip and South Pearl, a three-block stretch, there are roughly 15 vacant storefronts, not including an empty former McDonald’s and Grand Street Imports, a recently shuttered deli and grocery just off the main drag.

It would be difficult for any street with that much vacancy to feel safe, welcoming and vibrant. It is also a sad condition for a corridor that acts as one of the gateways to Albany, and which should serve as a shopping district for one of its more eclectic neighborhoods.

Of course, businesses will be reluctant to open in a neighborhood that feels unsafe. Yet the neighborhood is unlikely to feel safe so long as there are so many dark storefronts.


That conundrum highlights the need for a multipronged approach from City Hall, one that tackles crime while addressing the need for business development along Madison Avenue and in many other Albany neighborhoods. Given how vital the Mansion neighborhood and the adjacent South End are to the success of the city, spending to encourage new economic development there certainly seems a valid use of American Rescue Plan money.

We are pleased that the Sheehan administration is taking steps to address the concerns raised by Mr. Abbruzzese and Mr. Rua, including a beefed-up police presence. But anyone who walks Madison can see that more needs to be done.

The street needs more eyes closely watching, including some from within City Hall.

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