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Binghamton mayor talks development on Talk of the Nation

Binghamton's mayor, Matt Ryan, made a surprise appearance on NPR's Talk of the Nation earlier this week, during a segment about vacant housing and how cities are adapting to a bad economy.

Ryan started off by detailing his city's efforts so far to deal with excess housing stock in the face of declining population:

Mayor MATT RYAN (Binghamton, New York): ... we had a program in New York State called Restore New York, and we're very proud of what we did. And we found a whole bunch of dilapidated properties that have been taken on tax sales. We got the organization to give them back to us. And we pretty much cleaned them all up, demolitioning [sic] the ones that had to be demoed, but also rehabbing a lot of them. Certainly, we don't have the problems with Cleveland and Detroit, because we're not as a sprawling a city, but we have lost - we were once a city of 88,000 at a time. We're now down to 47,000. So it's similar circumstances. But gratefully, I don't think we'll have to tear down whole tracts of housing and stuff. That was kind of done in - some of that was done in urban renewal times, about 40 years ago. So we're a smaller city, but we're doing a lot of the things that they're talking about in Detroit and Cleveland with trying to start SmartGrow, trying to get the whole county around us to embrace that, to try to convince people that urban living is really good for the environment, good for a lot of things, social - bringing the society back together again, so people feel they're part of a cohesive community. So I think there's a lot of exciting things going on all over the country because of necessity.

Host Neal Conan followed up with a question about density, and how important it is to have lots of people in a city's urban core:

Mayor RYAN: ... every year, our, you know, the cost of -mandated costs go up and up. So if we don't increase our people living in our city, we're just going to keep batting our heads against the wall because cost of government goes up while we don't have any - a lot of new revenues unless we get more people living in our city. But we're really seeing a lot of investment in our downtown, a lot people coming back, especially young professionals, renovating old buildings and really getting a core back together again, which have been largely abandoned for the last 20 years.

Binghamton has seen growth in its downtown core, with significant help from state and federal funds for economic redevelopment. However, Ryan is also part of a state-wide task force of the New York Conference of Mayors addressing unfunded mandates on local governments. These are of particular concern in cities which are not seeing growth of population and subsequently, revenue. Conan notes that part of building these resources is retaining young people who might have their hearts set on the bright lights of larger cities:

Mayor RYAN: Well, that's our sort of struggle. We're doing a lot with Binghamton University. And they have a great group of students there called CIC2020. Their goal is to keep 20 percent of the university community here by the year 2020 - a very ambitious goal, but we think having that kind of synergy with the university is a real good thing. And we are seeing a lot of young people trying to find ways to stay here, because it's a - it has a lot of things to offer because of the big university, it has a lot of great arts and things. We have 38 art galleries in our city. First Friday, they're all open. People are really starting to come back to the city, where we have two rivers, the Chenango and the Susquehanna, developing river walks along there for quality of life and outdoor activities. And so anybody out there who wants to come to a progressive city, please move our way.

The City of Binghamton does not have its own plan to retain students. The Innovation Trail's Emma Jacobs has reported about CIC2020's uphilll battle to recruit interest in Binghamton from young people.  

You can listen to the segment, or read a full transcript of the broadcast, here.

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