Sunday, May 31, 2009

Talk about Albany is still on the table, 30 years later

By PAUL GRONDAHL, Times Union Staff writer
First published in print: Thursday, May 28, 2009

ALBANY-- The Albany Roundtable will celebrate its 30th anniversary in much the same way it began in 1979, with a provocative talk on urban planning, followed by a lively discussion about how to make the capital city more livable.

"The Albany Roundtable was talking about New Urbanism before there was a New Urbanism," said the group's president, Colleen Ryan, who is communications director of the Preservation League of New York State.

She took over the reins of the civic group last year from founder Paul Bray, a writer on urban planning issues who is an associate counsel at the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

"When we started, the concept was called managed growth and there have been other flavors of the months over the past 30 years," Bray said. "Often, it's a matter of two steps forward and one step back. There's still a lot of work to be done in Albany."

The 30th anniversary event will be held tonight at the University Club in Albany. The speaker is Jaime Correa, an architect and professor at the University of Miami. About 120 people have signed up. The group has a paid membership of 60 and its monthly luncheons are open to the public.

Bray was the catalyst for an organization that started in the same decade as Historic Albany Foundation, Urban Cultural Parks and other preservation-minded groups. Banker Mark Patten and attorney James Dennehey were also founders and are still actively involved. The group has hosted more than 200 speakers, including politicians, academics and business leaders.

"We call it networking now, but when we started it was just a forum for leaders and people who were active in the community to come together to discuss issues," Bray said.

Ryan has attracted younger attendees through a Web site, blog and Facebook page.

"We're using social media to strengthen the mix," Ryan said. "We feel that positive things happen when people from different walks of life and backgrounds sit down together to talk about what's going on in their city and their neighborhood."

The group's durability stems from keeping events open to all.

"We're not a club and you don't have to belong in order to come share your opinions and hear what other people have to say," Ryan said.

Paul Grondahl can be reached at 454-5623 or by e-mail at pgrondahl@timesunion.com.

To learn more, visit their Web site at http://www.albanyroundtable.com/

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