December 21, 2011

Warren Street (Part I)

If I could have one goal for this blog, it would be to reshape perception about Warren Street. In my opinion, it's Downtown's most neglected and overlooked street and what I believe to be the next domino that needs to fall in regards to restoring Downtown's vibrancy: Armory Square got redeveloped, now it's Salina Street's turn, and hopefully the positive effects will trickle out into Warren Street. I have a lot of ideas and thoughts about the street and I'm sure I'll dive into them on this blog in due time. It's one of my favorite streets in Downtown and one that I feel has the most potential for rebirth.

I randomly found this newspaper clipping as I was clearing out papers in hopes of getting my tax stuff ready for 2012. It's a few paragraphs about M Lemp Park, an open lot that sits at the corner of S Warren Street and E Fayette St, that I submitted as a letter to the Editor in the Sunday, January 16, 2011 edition of the Post-Standard.

Just for a quick history recap of M Lemp Park: a couple of buildings were demolished around the 321 S Warren St area in early 2009. Soon after, a "pocket park" was created by former mayor, Matt Driscoll, and designed to be temporary until a developer could be found to redevelop the site. In the Post-Standard article, "A new place to 'park it' on Warren Street", the previous mayor was quoted in regards to the new open space: "...Warren Street is a cold, dark, narrow, concrete canyon and I think that's one of the problems with it. As we talk to the state and developers about coming up with a plan to spruce up the infrastructure of Warren Street, I think it is important to think about opening it up a bit, letting more light in, creating some green spaces like the one we'll be building.". About a year later, Dick Case took suggestions on not only dedicating a plaque to local volunteers, but also naming the area M Lemp Park as a kind of homage to M Lemp Jewelers that sits directly across the street. The name was soon adopted by the owners, the Syracuse Industrial Development Agency, and now even appears on official Downtown Syracuse brochures.

Here were my thoughts from earlier this year...

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City’s M. Lemp Park not planned for permanence
To The Editor:

In response to Dick Case’s Jan. 13 column, “Under the snow, Syracuse’s downtown shows some signs of life”:

While the idea of using a park as a place to honor volunteers is a good one, the southeast corner of Warren and Fayette streets is the wrong location to do so.

The original design concept for M. Lemp Park was that it serve as a temporary park and lead to construction of a new building in its place, thereby restoring continuity of the streetscape, solidifying the corner and making Warren Street look like it no longer has a blatant missing tooth. Naming a park and building a memorial garden is a great idea, but to do it for an area that only functions for workers during lunch breaks is extremely shortsighted and only assures that the park is going to be around longer than it should be.

The idea of bringing more greenery downtown is good, but it should not be done at the expense of sacrificing character or restricting any potential for real development. As one of our most unique streets, Warren Street’s charm is that it’s laid out to feel condensed, narrow and enclosed (similar to New York City’s Prince Street). These aspects are dissolved when you hastily construct a large, flat green lot and plop it on the corner of a very dense urban street.

If M. Lemp Park really is a park, it looks very much out of place, is too large to be reserved for something that acts more like an open-air cafeteria, and doesn’t offer anything of real value to downtown residents.

If the city wants to add a true downtown park, it should figure out locations that function correctly, can be used by all demographics and construct them with proper design aspects. Until then, it should not be figuring out how to add remembrances of volunteers, but focusing on constructing a new building in its place, thereby giving Warren Street back its real potential.

Josef Lorenz

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I still feel very strongly about this subject and the negative impacts of what it can do to such a condensed urban area. I'm pleased I was able to word my thoughts the way I did (it's tricky to get your thoughts across in as few words as possible sometimes), but am not pleased with the way that this corner's fate has unfolded. The series of events that took place since the buildings were demolished are kind of absurd. The park's naming, design, and energy seem to be entirely spearheaded by the Post-Standard and most specifically by Dick Case, who has written (at least from what I was able to find) four different articles about the area within a year's time: Example 1, Example 2, Example 3, and Example 4. And more effort has clearly been done to add benches, signs, flowers, names, and remembrances, when the real goal should be to re-establish the continuity of the streetscape.

It would be one thing if the park was designed correctly, not located on a corner lot, not located in an area that's supposed to feel enclosed, and felt like a valuable place to be, but as it stands today, it doesn't do any of those. And, as I've mentioned several times on this blog already, why is this even needed when Clinton Square is 2 blocks away?

This is a prime example of suburbanizing Downtown. If history is any indication, my fear is that it sits here for decades because of an empty promise and because a few people wanted to dedicate an empty lot to somebody else just to feel good about themselves. Though, it is nice to know that there are fresh faces in our local government since 2009. I truly hope that this area gets redeveloped correctly and we don't get stuck with an open lot with grass on it because a few people liked the idea of "light" and "open space".

I'll leave this post at that for now and I'll dive into thoughts on the park and about Warrren Street again soon. Hence, Part I.

November 27, 2011

The Post Standard Building & The Public Realm

"The public realm in America has two roles: it is the dwelling place of our civilization and our civic life and it is the physical manifestation of the the common good. And when you degrade the public realm, you will automatically degrade the quality of your civic life and character of all the enactments of your public life and communal life that take place there."

"The public realm comes mostly in the form of the street in America because we don't have the thousand year-old cathedral plazas and market squares of older cultures. And your ability to define space and create spaces that are worth caring about all comes from a body of culture that we call the culture of civic design. This is body of knowledge, method, skill, and principle that we threw in the garbage after World War II and decided "We don't need that anymore. We're not gonna use it.". And consequently, we can see the result all around us.

"The public realm has to inform us not only where we are geographically, but it has to inform us where we are in our culture: where we've come from, what kind of people we are, and by doing that it needs to afford us a glimpse to where we're going in order to allow us to dwell in a hopeful present. And if there is one great catastrophe about the places that we've built, the human environments that we've made for ourselves in the last 50 years, is that it's deprived us of the ability of live in a hopeful present."

- James Howard Kunstler
From the TED: Ideas Worth Spreading conference in 2004 in Monterey, CA

Loosely paraphrased, what this means is each place should have a proper function, design, and conscience in order to fully engage the public space and the people who interact with it.

I feel like Syracuse's Clinton Square works fairly well in defining public space - despite it having been remodeled a number of times throughout history. It's organized, it defines the area very well, and easily says what it is: a central public gathering place that emphasizes the city's culture and history while showcasing a taste of its beautiful architecture.

There is, however, one building in this civic arena that stands out and fails to encompass the public realm very little, in some cases poorly, and that's the Post Standard building; a low-standing, massive, and concrete structure just directly north of the city's epicentre. The building's designations (both the building itself and its private parking lot) are between north of Genesee St, east of Clinton St, south of Herald Pl, and west of N Salina St.

Two downtown city blocks are designated to this one commercial business and its private parking lot (two distinctions that make it a bit more obtrusive and maybe even a bit more arrogant than the Atrium, a hotel and office convention center built in 1972, that stands at the opposite side of the square). It would be one thing if the Post Standard building took up this amount of space and played into the public realm correctly, but it fails to do so in many regards.

First, here's some bits of history...

November 11, 2011

Syracuse breweries

Between 1860 and 1930, Syracuse was the brewing capital of upstate New York. It's breweries could be found in the center of the city along the Erie Canal, near railroads, and on the city's Northside. Below are two current brewery locations as they exist today (November 2011). You can be certain that both of these buildings will not be around too much longer.

Onondaga Brewery / Ryan's Consumer's Brewery Co: 501-511 Butternut St
Established in 1865.
Brewery operations shut down in 1920 due to Prohibition, resumed later in 1933.
Renamed Haberle Congress Brewing Co in 1933, closed in 1962.
At one time the brewery employed 70 men and 30 horses.
Beer included: Haberle Ale, Black River Ale, Steinbrau Beer, National Ale, and Derby Porter, among others.
Jan Primus Gambrinus, a mythical Flemish king, was an 11-foot tall cast zinc sculpture fixated at the brewery's 4th story.
Gambrinus can now be found at the Onondaga Historical Museum on Montgomery St.

October 28, 2011

Recommended Reading

The above video is of the late activist and writer Jane Jacobs speaking about urban life and planning. You can find any number of videos about Jacobs on YouTube, but this one stuck out for me as I think a lot of it can be applied to Syracuse fairly accurately.

Rest assured that on this blog I'll be quoting Jacobs from her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, as well as excerpts from James Howard Kunstler's, Home From Nowhere and his other related work. Jacobs' book is a heavy read, but full of a seemingly endless amount of poignantly worded statements about urban renewal in the mid-20th century and its negative effects on a neighborhood's quality of life. Kunstler's book on the other hand, written in 1996, deals with suburban sprawl, urban design and charm, America's car-centric outlook, and proper land use. His elegant sarcasm cannot be understated and makes for a very entertaining read with hilariously worded observations at times.

The two books may be out-dated in certain areas, but are timeless in most other parts and very oriented on the human-scale of things as oppose to the automobiles. Both books I highly recommend reading if you're at all interested in urban life and design.

October 26, 2011

Gritty Syracuse

I love Gritty Syracuse. This is an alley off of N Clinton St near the corner of W Genesee St. Some see blight, I see character.

It's too bad alleys have gotten such a bad rap on TV and in movies. Putting waste, recycling, and service vehicles here helps the public side of the street function easier. Though, the picture above is probably a bad example of that.

Below is Robert R. Haggart Memorial Park at the corner of Genesee and Clinton Streets.

So glad the city finally put this thing up to block it. After a sinkhole was discovered, it was roped off and barricaded. Soon after, people ignored the signage, garbage was tossed all over the place, the tape was ripped down, and the barricades were all scattered about. This gray wall quickly deterred it all.

I'm curious to see what kind of park improvements the city makes with this. I live nearby and haven't heard any construction equipment going on so I'm assuming this will stay boarded up until Spring '12.

Let the record show that I generally despise the term and entire idea of a "pocket park". I'd much rather see a thin, 2 or 3 story building constructed here over a tiny corner park that merely heightens the idiocy of putting two "green" areas kiddy-corner to one another. I'll dive more into this area at another time.

To be continued...

October 25, 2011

Opening Day: Onondaga Creekwalk

The Onondaga Creekwalk official opened today, so I took it thought I'd walk a small portion of it to see how it looked.

I've been waiting for the Downtown portion of the creekwalk to be completed since I moved into the neighborhood in the Spring of '07. I managed to snap a few pictures of the Franklin Square creekwalk in October of that same year. That section was fairly short, but it was an enjoyable walk none the less. And looking towards the 690 overpasses, it was a path just begging to be lead south into Downtown.

Starting today, the new sections have been unveiled and the creekwalk now runs from Walton St, up through the city streets on the west side of Downtown, then underneath several 690 overpasses, on into Franklin Square, up through the Inner Harbor, and heads toward Carousel Mall.

I began the walk near the steel serpent section off of Walton Street (FYI the serpent has his own Twitter now). I didn't get a picture, but I should have. That sculpture is so awesome.

Mission Statement

Just a personal blog to showcase the ups and downs of Syracuse as it progresses and regresses over time.