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NY lawmakers aim to boost NY's midsized cities through statewide listening tour

Sep 19, 2021

While New York City gets a lot of attention as a desirable place to live and work, New York state’s other, smaller cities don’t have the same reputation — but lawmakers want to see that change.

The State Senate is launching a bipartisan listening tour next week to hear what local officials, residents, and other stakeholders think could be done to boost New York’s midsize cities.

Sen. Jeremy Cooney, a Democrat from Rochester who chairs what’s called the Cities 2 Committee, will launch the tour Monday in Albany, and visit seven other cities over the next two weeks as well.

And unlike other initiatives in the Legislature, Cooney says he’s invited Republicans, who sit in the minority in the Senate, to join him on the tour. 

It’s part of an effort by Cooney, and his colleagues, to identify ways the state could help those cities thrive and become more attractive to new residents after years of decline — and then turn those ideas into bills that could be considered by the full Legislature.

“I think what we have noticed, and what we have observed, is a consistent disinvestment from the cities by the state of New York over decades,” Cooney said in an interview on New York NOW.

Over the past decade, New York City’s population has increased about 7.7%, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The population of the entire state, meanwhile, increased by about 4.2%, meaning the statewide hike leaned heavily on the city’s growth.

And because of the state’s lackluster ability to maintain and attract residents, New York lost a seat in Congress this year to another state with stronger population growth.  

Lawmakers don’t want that to happen again. But, more importantly, they want the rest of New York’s cities to be as attractive as the five boroughs — for both tourists and people looking for a place to move.

“We know New York City doesn’t have any issues attracting and retaining population,” Cooney said. “For me, it’s, could we economically incentivize recent college graduates or graduate students, tech entrepreneurs who maybe don’t want to live in Northern California, where the cost of living is so high?”

One area Cooney plans to focus on is how to lift more children out of poverty in New York’s smaller cities. As of 2019, about 18% of children in New York lived in poverty, and several of the state’s counties with midsized cities exceeded that rate, according to the Census Bureau.

“We know a lot of these cities, from that systemic disinvestment by the state, have high concentrations of child poverty and family poverty,” Cooney said. “There’s an opportunity to learn and to make those investments and correct those wrongs so that all New Yorkers can benefit.”

The stop in Rochester is scheduled for September 29 at City Council chambers starting at 9:00 a.m.

Dan Clark is host and producer at New York NOW.