So here is my unsolicited opinion on the debate on whether Washington County should be recategorized as North Country rather than Capital Region.
I understand the basis of that argument. We are rural. Why should our county be tied to the fate of cities an hour or more south of us?
Originally the economic regions were established based on density and resources as a means of targeting distribution of federal grant funds throughout the state. Basically it means your town is no longer fighting all of upstate in a battle of “who is more low income” for every bridge, trail, or infrastructure project. It’s sometimes a flawed system but it ultimately made distribution of upstate grant funding more equitable.
Using that metric for reopening the state in phases makes sense. It’s a framework that already exists. Many of the same factors, such as population density and proximity to resources such as hospitals and jobs, are important. Washington County has more people and proximity to resources than, say, Hamilton, Clinton, or Essex.
Greenwich is 40 minutes from Troy. Most of lower Washington County is a bedroom community for urban Capital Region workers. Like it or not we are closely linked to the fate of Albany-Schenectady-Troy. Calling ourselves North Country won’t change the fact that we’re geographically and, in a lot of ways that matter right now, demographically closer to the Capital Region.
But Whitehall isn’t Greenwich!!! Yup. That’s right. But now we’re getting into a different argument about dividing individual counties by population density, which is a whole other problem to solve at a time when our state has a lot of problems.
Should Saratoga County be Capital Region? Absolutely, based on the density-resource equation it’s the only region where we fit. But what about Corinth, Hadley and Day? They’re arguably just as rural as Granville and Whitehall. Parts of these communities are in the Adirondack Park. Shouldn’t northern Saratoga County also be North Country?
The answer is maybe, if we had time to create a new metric for establishing economic regions by town. But we don’t, not right now.
Imagine the ramifications of Un-Pausing NY by town rather than by region. Our most rural communities lack the resources needed to meet the guidelines for reopening, and that means we’d all be last, once again coming in behind the “small cities” with their greater population density and proximity to resources. Which was the entire point of establishing the economic regions.
While the initial implementation was messy, the economic regions ultimately work in our favor. I don’t have any real answers for what should happen next. None of us do, really.
Community Development is part of what I do for a living and these are my personal observations. Our futures are tied to one another regardless of geography, and I think reorganizing the economic regions will cause problems we cannot even begin to anticipate, let alone solve in the midst of a global crisis.