Posted by: Alex MacGregor | November 18, 2013

Heading Upstate

My latest work journey wasn’t quite so exotic as some of the other places I’ve been, but I still made time to explore and take some pictures during a recent trip to New York’s capital, Albany. Knowing next to nothing about upstate New York, I had zero expectations about the place, which is kind of a fun mindset to have, and one that’s difficult to achieve on a proper vacation.

I visited on a crystal clear (yet piercingly cold) day as fall was taking its last gasp.


Albany, like Worcester, 100 miles to the east, is a pleasant, manageable city that’s still large enough to have everything I crave in a visit to the old northeast…

downtown maiden

…like narrow, colonial lanes…


…ornate early 1900s architecture…


…and, my personal favorite, the occasional intrigue and beauty of a decaying industrial monolith.


Albany’s downtown itself didn’t seem to have a huge amount to see, so I strolled up to the government buildings that are the main reason Albany remains a notable dot on the map.


During the 19th century, Albany was a pretty important place: as the eastern end of the Erie Canal and the capital of New York, it was one of the 10 largest cities in the country. Albany’s 1883 City Hall reflects its stature during that time.


New York’s gorgeous State Capitol


The building was so massive and ambitious that it proved too much for its hilltop setting, and the building’s foundation actually began to fracture under its weight. This huge staircase was added after the fact to hold the thing together, like a bookend.


Around the southern end of the building is one of the more serendipitous things I’ve ever stumbled upon: Empire State Plaza.


The area is truly impressive: a mini-Brasilia of modern architecture on top of the main hill in town.


I had no idea Albany had anything like this!

empsq egg

The Egg. Empire State Plaza may lack any creations of the famed Oscar Niemeyer, but I’m afraid it beats Pampulha, Belo Horizonte as far as an accessible way to see some cool modern architecture.



Old and new(ish)


I decided to take a stroll through the adjacent South End on the way back to downtown.


South End is a typical northeastern rowhouse neighborhood. It definitely has its charming points…


…but as I walked a little more it became clear this isn’t the best part of town. As I headed under the viaduct back into downtown, I found myself acutely aware of the laptop in my briefcase tapping against my thigh with each step I took. Which is probably quite silly, considering all the far sketchier places I’ve been: maybe we’re more sensitive to being in a rough neighborhood when it’s part of our own culture.


The night before, I ventured into the Lark Street neighborhood for some Indian food (one of my go-to cuisines when I’m plopped down in a random city). The area is indicative of an unsung demographic trend. Much of the discussion of immigration in the US is focused on Mexican immigration to sunbelt states, particularly working in agriculture and construction. However, the northeast, which is largely wealthier than the sunbelt but is losing American-born workers to the sunbelt, immigrants from around the world step in to fill higher-paying service jobs of various skill levels. Worcester, for instance, gets about the same amount of immigration as Jacksonville, while Providence outdraws Nashville.

These skilled immigrants who backfill the disappearing American-born workforce are highly clustered by nationality in seemingly random patterns: immigration to Providence is dominated by Dominicans and Cape Verdeans, while Worcester is a magnet for Ghanians and Iraqis. This district of Albany seemed heavily Bangladeshi. Hence all the Indian restaurants.

hudson train

Back downtown, I wanted to check out Albany’s Hudson River waterfront. Unfortunately, Albany’s waterfront is marred by transportation corridors running between it and the city, just like so many other urban waterfronts around the globe.


To address this problem, they built a brand new, beautiful footbridge to connect downtown with the river. At least that saves Albany from being like Santo Domingo, where a single crossing over to the Malecon probably lowers your life expectancy by a week.


The chilly Hudson.

Albany was a surprisingly nice place to visit. If you’re ever passing through, I’d definitely recommend stopping for a stroll!


  1. enjoyed the pictures. Made me want to visit Albany, NY. Nice job.

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