CLIFTON PARK — In a country with large and growing income disparity, the Country Knolls section of Clifton Park is an enclave of affluent equality.
Nearly everyone in the suburban community has the same income — so much so that a newly released U.S. Census Bureau report says Country Knolls has the least income variation of anywhere in the United States.
The median household income in the neighborhood north of Ushers Road is a robust $107,000, more than double the median for the region as a whole. And the census, using data from 2005 to 2009, estimates that not a single family in Country Knolls fell below the federal poverty line.
“I couldn’t afford a mansion,” said Country Knolls resident Tom Paolucci. “But I work hard and live a comfortable life, and there’s a lot of people here in the same boat.”
The census highlights Country Knolls at a time when awareness of the gap between rich and poor is high. That, after all, is the goal of the protestors occupying Academy Park in Albany, Wall Street and sites across the country.
The newly released census report confirms that the gap between rich and poor is growing. It also notes that no state has a larger income disparity than New York.
Yet no such gap exists within the borders of Country Knolls, where 98.5 percent of housing is owner-occupied, the census says, and 26 percent of people over the age of 25 have a graduate or professional degree.
Depending on your view, Country Knolls is the epitome of the American Dream – or the epitome of suburban monoculture.
But the community, built in the late 1960s and early 1970s by developer Robert Van Patten, was not designed with income or architectural diversity in mind.
“You’ve got a lot of homes built by the same owner and a lot are very similar,” said Town Supervisor Phillip Barrett, a Country Knolls resident.
The ranch- and Colonial-style homes of Country Knolls repeat on winding streets that often end at a cul-de-sac. That sameness of style and size leads to similarity of price — and therefore income.
The census definition of Country Knolls includes the area bordered by Ushers Road, the Northway, Longkill Road and roughly Shadow Wood Way. That territory includes nearly 1,800 people but does not include a section of Country Knolls in Malta.
The community’s population is 96.2 percent white, the census says, and 85 percent of households are led by married couples.
There is little, if any, multi-unit housing in Country Knolls. Commercial development is relegated to fringes of the neighborhood.
That makes Country Knolls far different than dense cities like Albany and Troy, but similar to almost all of the suburbia built after the World War II.
“We’ve become spatially separated by income,” said Gene Bunnell, a planning professor at the University at Albany. “People seem to be grouping with like-minded and similar people, and the developments cater to that.”
It’s easy to see why Country Knolls, which is near Exit 10 of the Northway, is popular with suburban families. The streets are quiet and safe. The school district — Shenendehowa — is well regarded. The homes sit on deep and wooded lots.
Paolucci, who serves on the Clifton Park Town Board and describes his neighborhood as “a breath of fresh air when you come off the Northway,” says the appeal of Country Knolls is enhanced by a high level of civic involvement.
“Everyone has some skin in the game here,” Paolucci said. “They contribute to making it a better place to live.”