Sunday, August 31, 2008

10 Great Things About Albany

People supposedly like top 10 lists, so here goes, in no particular order ...

10. Albany is a fairly short drive to several cool places. New York City is a bit more than 2 hours. Boston is 3 hours. Four hours to Montreal, and a bit more than that to Niagara Falls. These days you can skip right by Buffalo. Closer to home, we have the Adirondacks, the Catskills, the Berkshires, and the Green Mountains of Vermont, all of which have some pretty good skiing. Lake George and Saratoga are just north of here, with a bunch of fun stuff mainly in the warmer months.

9. The cost of houses in Albany is reasonable. You can buy a house for $100K or less if you're not too picky. Bigger suburban houses are in the $200-400K range and McMansions are not much more than $500K. With recent economic problems, you might be able to get one for less than that. There are places in the country that are cheaper, but compared to nearby Boston and New York City, it's dirt cheap here. We bought our house for under $200K back in 1999. It's a 2200 sq.ft. 4 bedroom Colonial on a half-acre cul-de-sac lot backed up to 12 acres of woods.

8. The Albany area has good restaurants. I write an amateur Albany restaurant review blog because I eat out so much. Due to its ethnic heritage, the Italian restaurants are particularly strong. Strangely this does not translate into Irish and Polish restaurants. Years ago we didn't have much in the way of Asian cuisine other than Chinese or Indian, but that has changed dramatically. Japanese and Thai restaurants are popping up all over. We even have a couple places serving Korean food, though they don't brag about it. And just within the last five years or so we started seeing some high-end restaurants with fancier menus, wine lists, and of course, prices.

7. We get four seasons of weather. For some this is not a plus, and I'm not as thrilled about winter as I used to be. Summers here do have some hot days, but it's usually not too hot and cools off some at night. We do get some very cold winter days but they're rare. Then there are the occasional 2-foot snowfalls. As a kid growing up here that meant a break from school, and I still love them. The snowblower helps. Spring is always welcome, and in the fall we get to see the leaves change colors. Then we get to rake them - or pay someone else to do it.

6. Albany has clean air. I've traveled to quite a few places and the only place I remember having fresher air is Alaska. New York City's air can get oppressive on a hot summer day. I remember London being dirty - but that was 20 years ago so maybe it's better. And don't get me started on LA. The winter air here in Albany is especially refreshing.

5. Great schools are all around us. While some criticize the city schools in Albany, Schenectady and Troy, they're not terrible. Plenty of kids come out of them and do well. The suburban school districts are very well regarded, especially Guilderland (my hometown - I have to brag), Bethlehem, North Colonie, and Niskayuna. We also have some strong private schools including Albany Academy and Emma Willard. Then you have the colleges and universities. U Albany is big and has a lot going for it. RPI is a strong engineering school. Union College is a well respected liberal arts school. And of course, both RPI and Union have other strengths. We also have Siena, St. Rose, Skidmore, and I'm probably forgetting a couple. The colleges bring a youthful atmosphere which has positives and perhaps some negatives as well. And there are also the professional schools - Albany Law School (my alma mater) which seems to account for half or more of the local lawyers, Albany Medical College, and the Albany College of Pharmacy - all at one intersection. RPI, U Albany and Union have MBA and other professional programs too.

4. Albany is the center of New York State government. Yes, this does make the local news more entertaining, but that's not the biggest benefit. It means a steady supply of relatively secure jobs. As a libertarian I should be upset about this, but it does seem to make for a pleasant community. The jobs also keep many of the young college grads here, supporting that youthfulness I mentioned above.

3. Everything is 20 minutes away. It seems like no matter where you live in the Albany area, you can get to almost anything else in twenty minutes or less. It's something about the road system. For some trips you go on local roads and it goes slower but you don't have to drive as far. For longer distances you get on a freeway and cover most of the distance at 55 mph (for those of you who don't speed). Traffic does slow up in some spots during the rush hours, but it doesn't compare to places like New York, Boston or LA.

2. Albany has a substantial history. For a lot of places in the US, and the rest of the world, the documented history doesn't go back all that far. California history is mostly within the past 100 years. Albany's European-derived story goes back, way back, to the very early 1600s. And the history and culture of those who were here before us is maintained. I remember being taught about the Mohawk Indians back in elementary school. The Hudson River made Albany a key location for military and commercial reasons. That geographic issue is less relevant today, but the Port of Albany is still used.

1. The Albany area has beautiful scenery. I'm not much on urban views, but I personally like the Empire State Plaza, especially as it comes into view from I-90 as you travel here from the east. There's also a lot of impressive "classic" architecture in the city, including the State Capitol and more. But the really great stuff is the natural scenery. My personal favorite is John Boyd Thacher State Park and walks on the Indian Ladder Trail there, with two substantial waterfalls. There are so many other beautiful spots, like Grafton Lakes State Park, Lake George, the Sacandaga Reservoir, great trails along the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers. A friend just took me and my daughters out on a boat ride on the Erie Canal this summer. It was gorgeous.

Okay, I've got one more ...

0. It's not crowded. Look, I grew up in the suburbs. When we moved to Guilderland the population was less than half of the present number. And still, in most places you go there aren't too many people. You have to look for places that are crowded. You can generally find parking in downtown Albany. You rarely have to wait for a table, except maybe on Friday nights. Local amusement parks like Hoffmans Playland and the Great Escape do not overwhelm you with the human hordes. That isn't so great for the businesses, I suppose, but for me it just makes things a little more pleasant in Albany.

There's more good things to say about Albany, but I think I've covered a lot.
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