November 8, 2013

Sacred Places Symposium

Grace Episcopal Church in Syracuse (courtesy of wikipedia)

The Preservation Association of Central New York will be hosting a statewide conference to discuss the preservation and potential uses for scared buildings next weekend. The conference will be held on Saturday, November 16th at St Paul's Episcopal Cathedral (310 Montgomery St in Downtown Syracuse).

Local case studies being examined include Grace Episcopal Church, designed by Horatio Nelson White, and the former African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, designed by Charles Erastus Colton.

The symposium costs $40 for the general public and $25 for PACNY members. More information including registration can be found on the PACNY website.

Saving historic places of worship is something that needs to be looked at more seriously as the years move on and as parishes close / merge, organized religion membership dwindles, and by the mere fact that we just don't build places of worship as beautifully as we used to. It's a topic I've been meaning to tackle on this blog for quite some time (and I'll get around to it), so I'm glad that these type of discussions are happening before time runs out on these beautiful pieces of architecture.

October 28, 2013

Champs-Élysées: Paris, France

Comparing Paris to Syracuse is kind of like, well, comparing a fine Cabernet Sauvignon to a glass of salt water. But the hopeless dreamer in me believes that one day Syracuse's post-Interstate 81 land, a 1.4 mile stretch of highway running from Pearl Street to Adams Street, could somewhat resemble Champs-Élysées in Paris (albeit on a much smaller scale and perhaps incorporating ideas of mass transit).

Obviously, if the boulevard concept is ever realized (which is one of several options being considered by the state), a city like Syracuse cannot realistically expect the exact same results as Paris; especially right from the get-go. Still, it never hurts to think big and to dream. Even without having visited it, you can feel how alive the street is. It emanates from the pictures.

October 21, 2013

An Analysis of OnTrack Passenger Rail

Former F.O.C.U.S. Greater Syracuse Intern Eric Ennis completed this extensive report on OnTrack, Syracuse's failed rail system, for his senior thesis.

It's a tremendous read and very interesting if you're at all into the idea of Syracuse having a light rail system one day.

Hat tip to F.O.C.U.S. Greater Syracuse for the link.

October 16, 2013

10 Reasons Why I Do Not Like Save81

"Of course not. You lack vision. But I see a place where people get on and off the freeway. On and off, off and on, all day, all night. Soon, where Toon Town once stood will be a string of gas stations, inexpensive motels, restaurants that serve rapidly prepared food, tire salons, automobile dealerships, and wonderful, wonderful billboards reaching as far as the eye can see! My God, it will be beautiful."
- Judge Doom, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit"

In August of 2013, Save81, a coalition of Onondaga County Legislatures, Destiny USA representatives, and local businesses, was launched. The group is dedicated to keeping the I-81 highway through Syracuse in some capacity (be it underground, depressed, or via a new highway) and is vehemently opposed to a boulevard concept; one of several options being considered by the New York State Department of Transportation.

Since the group's inception, Save81 has managed to gather signatures and add membership from local residents, businesses, and politicians. However, in the process they've managed to ignore recent facts and trends, have shown flaws in their arguments, and have been unable to demonstrate with any sustenance as to why they do not support the excluded boulevard option. This post is not written just because I disagree with their stance. It's written because the group cannot formulate a legitimate argument and is therefore detrimental to an intelligent discussion of I-81. The following are 10 reasons why I do not like Save81.

July 26, 2013

I-81 News and Updates for July '13

Some recent news bits and thoughts about where we stand in the I-81 discussion...

- State Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald unexpectedly pulled a request to spend $32 million plan in studying the environmental and engineering impacts for the future of I-81.

Apparently the plan was set to go ahead (and the SMTC fully expected it to begin), but was questioned by Kathleen Rapp, chair of the Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board who oversaw the meeting. You may remember Rapp as one of the county legislators who unanimously voted that the state rebuild I-81 as an elevated highway.

- Sen. Charles Schumer says, "I would not tell people think small. I'd say come up with what you think is best and then we would try to get the funding."

Nothing overly newsworthy. It's a fairly even-keeled comment and shows we still have a long way to go.

- Owasco residents are concerned about increased truck traffic in the event of an I-81 boulevard through Downtown Syracuse.

Personally, I think this issue should hold very little (if any) merit in the discussion because of its distant proximity to the subject at hand, its lack of immediate social impact, and for just being plain bogus and insignificant.

- Earlier this month, the State DOT asked for public input on I-81 based on the SMTC analysis. For what it's worth, I sent the following E-mail to them.

To New York State Department of Transportation,

My name is Josef Lorenz. I'm a 6-year resident of Downtown Syracuse and am vehemently opposed to re-building an elevated highway through the city.

As it stands, Interstate 81 severs two key areas within Syracuse: University Hill, which contains two of the region's biggest economic engines (Syracuse University and the medical centers), and Downtown Syracuse, the city's epicenter, cultural hub, and fastest growing neighborhood. If we want to continue the positive growth from these neighborhoods seen over the last several years and not dampen their potential space for further growth, the state should be doing everything in its power to encourage these two areas to intertwine and mesh together as much as possible; something an elevated highway currently prohibits.

The Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council did an outstanding analysis of the possible options for I-81 which provided comprehensive details in regards to cost estimates, transportation benefits, environmental effects, social and quality of life factors, and economic competitiveness; all of which clearly pointed to a boulevard being a far better option for the surrounding neighborhoods and for the community as a whole.

In addition to the analysis done by the SMTC, the state should also be looking at recent city and nation-wide trends...

 - A 25% growth in residency within Downtown Syracuse over the last 5 years that shows no signs of decline.
 - The potential higher maintenance costs of an elevated highway and what that burden would put on future budgets.
 - How the removal of highways in other downtowns around the nation has resulted in increased real estate values to the immediate areas (something the city of Syracuse desperately needs).
 - Air quality for those who have to interact with and live next to an elevated highway is poor and often includes higher rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
 - Younger generations are currently driving less than previous generations, a reversal in trends for the first time in 60 years.

Given these factors which provide in great detail the negative consequences of rebuilding an elevated highway, I urge the state to consider a boulevard an an option for I-81 through Downtown Syracuse; a decision that will be beneficial not just for the community right now, but for the betterment of the community 50 years from now.

Thank you for your time and best of luck with the planning process.

And lastly, there has been a lot of construction on the highways in and around Syracuse which is causing some summer traffic issues - mainly during rush-hours. Many commenters on seem to have this fearful notion that this is what would happen if the elevated highway is removed through Downtown, a perspective that I wholeheartedly disagree with.

We have yet to find out exactly what we'll have to work with and how that plan will operate in full detail. It's very possible we have different on and off ramps, different light timings, more lanes, no one-way streets, or even (dare I say) a better overall flow of traffic than what we have in 2013. Anything is really possible at this point. To suggest that this is how things will look in 10 years or to use this construction season as a threat is completely premature and fairly irrelevant.

July 5, 2013

All Hail The Car (Re: "A point-by-point look at the I-81 alternatives: Commentary")

Minch Lewis, former Syracuse City Auditor and MDA Project Manager, recently wrote a commentary for the Post-Standard in regards to the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council's analysis of I-81 and how that summary provided mixed signals to the public.

While I strongly disagree that the SMTC’s analysis provided little if any mixed signals, Mr. Lewis is certainly entitled to his opinion. However, his arguments, which favored rebuilding I-81 through Downtown Syracuse, consisted of vague points, random figures, irrelevant references to city life from 40 years ago, and used poor examples in supporting his case.

Mind you, this was not an article per-se, but more of a largely worded opinion piece which was printed by the Post-Standard. I understand that the main media outlet in the region is doing its best job (and they have for the most part) to provide a wide range of opinions about I-81 as this is a major decision that will have drastic consequences in either case of a rebuild or boulevard. My concern is when these opinion pieces are filled with very little facts or thoughtful dialogue, such as the one written by Mr. Lewis.

You can find the entire piece here. There's quite a bit to get into, so I'll do more of a response to the individual sentences and paragraphs.

June 21, 2013

Friday Follow

If you do one thing today, you should probably start following Future Syracuse Committee on tumblr (and on twitter as well @futuresyracuse), which is a wonderfully poignant look at remembering the group of political, business, and community leaders that originally fought against railroad elevation in Syracuse during the early part of the 20th century.

It's striking to see the resemblances with what these leaders were thinking at the time to the relationship that we have now between the city and its elevated highways (specifically the future of I-81).

"Elevation within the city would encumber Syracuse with the poorest and worst planned railroad plant of all the cities in this state, and one of the worst in the country. Our city would then have these barriers, these embankments, north, south, east and west. What use of any more city planning after such a series of walls are built? All we need is a moat alongside to complete our medievalism. This is the era of city planning. For their own comfort, and because of the desire to favorably impress strangers, people of various communities strive to make their cities more beautiful. Any factor which militates against this is sure to be tabooed by the forward looking element in every community."

- Louis Will (former mayor of Syracuse), Syracuse Journal, March 14, 1923

June 18, 2013

Syracuse's Elevated Highways in Pictures

Here are some recent pictures of the elevated portions of I-81 and I-690. Having lived next to them for about 6 years now, I've walked underneath them many times, but had never walked the entire length of I-81 through Downtown before. Some opinions and observations from the experience...

  • It's huge. The amount of space that the elevated portions take up both horizontally and vertically is massive.
  • Homelessness is a real problem at the intersection near Erie Boulevard and Townsend.
  • There's almost no on-street parking around the highways and almost all of the surface lots are privately owned or owned by the NYSDOT.
  • It's loud. This is an uneducated guess, but I'd go out on the limb to say that the noise level hovers around 70 to 80 decibels; or the amount of volume that comes from a vacuum cleaner. In all seriousness, it would be interesting to see what the exact decibel levels are and how much exposure someone would need for potential ear damage generated by these highways.
  • I did not feel safe walking underneath the elevated portions; most specifically when crosswalks were poorly marked, but also in terms of personal safety from of the amount of desolation and isolation that they encourage.
  • There's no sidewalk on the western side of I-81 between Harrison and Adams streets, so anyone living in the Pioneer Homes who needs to walk north, has to walk on a dirt path (which you can actually see on Google Maps).

    On to the pictures...

  • June 9, 2013

    West Genesee Street Love, or How I Learned to Start Worrying and Question Onondaga County

    As my dad says quite often, "Some change is good, Joey. But some change is not so good.".

    It might come off as a bit Yoggi Berra-ish, but that statement echoed with me a lot last year as I looked from my apartment window onto West Genesee Street.

    If you were around the city at all last year or even up until now, you probably noticed the above average amount of construction going on all over the place. Downtown and University Hill had a lot going on. Roads, bike lanes, new buildings, etc... A growing community is something to generally be proud of (when it's done correctly) but it can also make getting from point (a) to point (b) tricky on occasion. I won't dive into each and every project, but one of the construction zones that hits closer to home is the Save the Rain project along West Genesee Street; a program designed to help contain sewage overflow. The project is spearheaded by Onondaga County (with construction carried-out by an independent contractor). It was scheduled to finish in August of 2012, but the finish date ended up being closer to December of 2012. I only know this because of the constant drilling, pavement machines, beeping, and tree cutting that happened outside of my apartment building well into last winter.

    Just to preface, I'm generally not one who gets behind the county on many decisions; for the main reason that, historically speaking, they tend to know very little on how to plan for an urban environment like Downtown. To use some examples, it's the same organization that wanted to build a sewage treatment plant next to Armory Square, liked the idea of putting a baseball stadium in the middle of nowhere, and recently passed a vote to suggest to the NY DOT that rebuilding I-81 through Downtown would be wonderful before doing any of their own cost analysis or interpretation of any design concepts. This project on West Genesee Street isn't quite as extreme as those examples. The end results of this project can go either way. There's good change and there's bad change.

    On the one hand, it saves money, prevents sewage overflow, and its objectives seems to be clear: a safe, clean, and reliable solution for sewage run-off; all of which are difficult points to disagree on. However, my concern lies with its aesthetics and how they were overlooked or in some cases not even taken into consideration. And many of these details that fell by the wayside will end up having long-lasting effects on the overall character, feel, and function of the street. There are several areas to look into so let's get rollin'...

    May 22, 2013

    Syracuse Love

    Thoughts from the SMCT's public meeting on I-81 yesterday. Hat-tip to Jim.

    May 13, 2013

    Salt City Critique's proposal for I-81

    The I-81 debate is catching fire as of late. There was a meeting in Salina about I-81 last month, four proposal companies are being reviewed by the state, the Onondaga County Legislature did a premature ejaculation vote on keeping I-81 as a highway, I wrote a letter to the editor about the vote on, The Post-Standard editorial board wrote their response to the vote, then the Town of Owasco voted to keep I-81 as a highway (where town supervisor Ed Wagner will be galavanting around Cayuga County to dredge-up support to keep I-81 as a highway through Downtown Syracuse), and there is another public meeting on I-81 next week.

    Owasco? Yikes. Let's keep this discussion within the same ballpark. That's like saying I have a right to input on tolls on the Jersey Turnpike.

    And we're still many months away from any sort of official word from the state.

    So at the risk of turning this into an I-81 discussion blog, which at this point is pretty much what this place already is, I thought I'd lay out my plans for what I hope is done with I-81. Let's kick it...

    Proposal for I-81

    1) Dismantle the elevated portions of I-81 between Adams St. and Pearl St. This isn't an opinion, but a mandatory project that the New York State Department of Transportation will be conducting sometime around 2017.

    Construction of the I-690 and I-81 interchange in the middle 20th century

    2) Encourage and re-route I-81 travel to I-481. I'm not a licensed traffic engineer, but I'm guessing that this is what the state DOT will be doing anyway during the dismantling process. As I see it, cars will still be able to drive north on I-81 into the Adams St. area and south on I-81 into the Pearl St. / Salina St. area, but we may see signs as far south as Nedrow and as far north as North Syracuse that detour thru-traffic to I-481. Again, all speculation. Though, if this is the case, I have a feeling this is going to be the messy part of the entire project regardless of whatever solution NYS decides on. People will be over-reacting and up-in-arms about traffic times and on and off ramp delays in and around Downtown. Maybe rightfully so in some cases because I can see it getting tricky around rush-hour times, so it actually might be difficult if there are no sensical on or off ramp solutions or detours that NYS encourages.

    3) Rename I-81 between I-481 N and I-481 S as the Syracuse Intercity Highway (or some variation thereof). Rename I-481 as I-81. This is more or less a smoke and mirrors tactic to cloud the fact that cars will be adding several minutes to their commutes around Syracuse via the old I-481.

    Map demonstrating new I-81 and the Syracuse Intercity Highway

    4) Have the new Syracuse Intercity Highway dump in and out at Adams St. (south of Downtown) and near Erie Blvd. (north of Downtown), create simpler and easier transition to I-81 at Pearl St., and improve all of its on and off ramps north to regional transportation center.

    5) Build a civic parkway beginning at Adams St heading up toward Erie Blvd; two, one-way streets bordering a neighborhood park stretching ~0.8 miles in length with stop lights at most intersections (lights at Madison St, E Genesee St, E Fayette St, E Washington St, E Water St, Erie Blvd E) which restores this section of Downtown to its original streetscape and grid pattern.

    Map demonstrating new greenspace and the Syracuse Intercity Highway

    6) Construct the parkway as a likeness to Commonwealth Ave in Boston, MA. A park in the center, buffered by two one-way streets, buffered by sidewalks.

    7) Add bike lanes between the street and sidewalks (which could help spur growth) and connect them to routes along Connective Corridor.

    8) Require specific building permits and zoning laws on the new plots of land in front of the sidewalks. The new zoning laws: units at least 2 or 3 stories high (strictly mixed-use or residential buildings only) located close to the sidewalk.

    9) Decrease the speed limits to a sensible 30 or 35 mph, have crosswalks at each intersection, and have parallel parking on each side located along the new parkway.

    10) Name the new parkway the Almond Street Parkway. It's catchy, reminiscant of the old street that I-81 was towering over, and brings some much needed elegance to the city.

    11) Plant almond trees along the center of the new greenspace to match the name of the parkway and bring some much needed color into Downtown.

    12) Tie the new greenspace together with Forman Park, creating one centralized park for Downtown and University Hill; a symbol of unification between the two neighborhoods.

    13) Plant a tree (something different, an oak perhaps) or a water feature at the nexus of the two parks, signifying the abandonment of the elevated, concrete highway through Downtown - which is similar to what the residents did in Greenwich Village when they blocked an elevated highway running on top of their neighborhood in the early 1960's. The tree still stands today.

    My hopes and expectations

    It will take some time, but I'm hoping the city will grow specifically between Downtown and the medical centers. Will traffic be a harder handle between Erie Blvd and Adams St? It's possible - but specifically only during weekday rush-hours. Street traffic volume as well as current I-81 traffic volume is very low outside of rush-hours.

    Other predictions: real estate values rise along the ex-highway that is now beautified (just like it's happened in other cities that have done the same thing), the university and medical centers begin to intertwine with Downtown (just like other successful cities do), new businesses and more jobs move in and around Downtown, more people move into the city (specifically around Downtown) as a result of its current and potential growth, and the city's tax base begins to grow, giving them desperately needed money to spend on police and fire departments, schools, utilities, and housing.

    That's mine. If you have thoughts, critiques, or ideas of your own, feel free to write them in the comments.

    May 9, 2013

    Food for thought on I-81

    This is short, SimCity-ish video of Rio de Janeiro's plans to transform its entire waterfront district in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. The city is planning to demolish its elevated highway, construct an underground tunnel (totaling about 0.9 miles in length), and rebuild its streetscape along the old highway. Hat tip to The Atlantic Cities.

    I can't say I like all of the ideas in this video (especially the parts that hint of neighborhood gentrification), but it's interesting to see what they might be doing there and compare that to what kind of effect those types of things could have on a region like Central New York; especially considering that an underground tunnel idea has been floated before, the possibility of bringing a real park to Downtown Syracuse, and what future changes to I-81 could have on I-690.

    May 8, 2013

    Neighborhood parks

    "You can neither lie to a neighborhood park, nor reason with it. 'Artist's conceptions' and persuasive renderings can put pictures of life into proposed neighborhood parks or park malls, and verbal rationalizations can conjure up users who ought to appreciate them, but in real life only diverse surroundings have the practical power of inducing a natural, continuing flow of life and use."

    -Jane Jacobs, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities"

    May 6, 2013

    Franklin Square water tower

    The amount of arrogance emanating from Destiny USA can be excessive at times, to say the least. I even get a little pissed-off when I see that huge, unused crane resting outside the mall towering several hundred feet into the air as if to say: "Look at me, goddammit!". The relationship between the city and the mall is awkward and always has been, ever since the city got hosed on the deal from the get-go.

    Our latest fiasco comes from last week when Destiny USA began to paint over an old New Process Gear water tower only to receive a "stop work" from the city's codes enforcement. The tower, built in 1921, is one of the most recognizable pieces of architecture in Syracuse and unmistakably identifiable with Franklin Square.

    The catch is even if you own the property that the water tower rests on, you still need permission from the city to create any kind of advertisements. As it stands, the Lakefront and Franklin Square both have zoning codes which do not permit any billboards.

    It's tough to say what actually when on here, how much discussion or thought there was on the part of Destiny beforehand (if any), or what they were planning to paint on it. I'm certain we'll hear the spin machine take its defense soon. I think when you get down to it, that historic water tower has ties to Syracuse very powerful industrial age and I'm sure the residents of Franklin Square do not wish to see an advertisement for Destiny USA when the site already exists several hundred feet away from where they live. Whatever the case is, the move definitely doesn't show any respect or regard for the city's past or its residents.

    And as one resident so eloquently puts it in this article from CNY Central: "If it had something like 'Welcome to Franklin Square' on it, that would be one thing, but if it's going to be a giant neon arrow pointing down the street to Destiny, that might be a little different".

    And the awkward relationship moves onward...

    May 5, 2013

    215 Tully St

    I wandered around this afternoon taking pictures in the Near Westside and found myself at 215 Tully St. I didn't even know that building existed and am glad I randomly stumbled upon it. The art is gorgeous and I had to take some pictures. Coincidentally, two younger guys were walking along side of the building discussing the graffiti so I asked if they had any additional information about it. Turns out they were two of the artists.

    You can find more information about 215 Tully and some of the artists in this article from

    April 26, 2013

    Inner Harbor construction to begin soon

    According to, COR Development plans to begin its construction of the Syracuse Inner Harbor project before the end of the year. Aside from renderings that have already been made public, COR plans to present the city its design and site plans within a few months. Among the developments being planned on the 34 acres of former state land over the next 5 to 10 years are...

  • A marina.
  • A three-story, 150-room hotel along the south bank.
  • 80 three-story condominiums.
  • Apartment buildings containing 210 apartments along the western bank (Four-story buildings with retail on the first floor).
  • A community boat house.
  • An academic satellite campus (COR is hoping for OCC) with a 50,000 square foot building on the southwestern corner - with a possible 100,000 square-foot expansion in the future.
  • A total of 120,000 square feet of commercial space.
  • A total of 200,000 square feet of retail specialty shops.

    It's an ambitious project to say the least.

    As much as I love its potential, I understand the criticism. Not only could it end up looking very "corporate", but we're giving one company a huge share of land and money and basically saying, "Here you go. Do what you want.". It reeks of Congelism. But I think in this scenario, given the history, successes, and mistakes that have lead us to have a huge contrast of desirable and undesirable settings within such a small amount of land (a half mile radius to be exact), this needs to happen in order to connect the dots between everything.

    As it stands today, we have roughly four different vibes happening in the Lakefront...

    1. A desirable and huge mall that feels totally disconnected from the rest of the city.
    2. A scattered and unorganized arrangement of newly refurbished apartment buildings, shells of old industrial buildings, a creekwalk, and a nearby sewage treatment.
    3. A very desirable area in Franklin Square; possibly the city's greatest pedestrian district and asset for original character.
    4. A blank slate of land (with water) laying between the mall and Franklin Square.

    And as much as I don't want Destiny USA to be associated with this city, we have to come to terms that it's here to stay and a part of our community. And if we want to improve its relationship between where it is right now (on the outskirts of town) to where it could feel psychologically (tied in with the city), we need to start building on the empty land that separates the two.

    Picture if you will, a walk from shopping at Destiny USA, to the Inner Harbor for a stroll along the boardwalk, to beautiful Franklin Square for coffee, down the Creekwalk, and into Armory Square. I mean, it will provide so many different environments and relationships within such a short distance. And it could help connect everything without having to use a car in order to do it (ideally).

    So this sounds hasty, but I'm all for this thing getting underway as soon as possible. However, I also understand the criticism because it puts a lot of hope and faith into one private company. If you have any thoughts, feel free to leave them below.

  • April 12, 2013

    Ammo against I-81

    The "what to do with I-81?" discussion will be heating up soon, as the state DOT attempts to make a decision by 2017-ish on the fate of the elevated highway through Downtown Syracuse. Between now and then there will be a ton of public debate about what the best option will be for not only Downtown, but for Central New York in general.

    Personally, I find the whole thing to be a no-brainer: tear it down, utilize I-481 as a bypass and rename it, and replace I-81 with a ground-level parkway or boulevard; something that helps to connect The Hill with lower Downtown.

    If you generally agree with that sentiment, then I've gone ahead and done some of the dirty work for you. Please feel free to use any or all of these passive-aggressive, bullet points and/or questions when someone actually tries to defend rebuilding I-81 through Downtown Syracuse.


  • Separating the city's two major money generators, Syracuse University and the medical centers, from the city's epicenter and most desirable neighborhood, Downtown, with a giant concrete highway seems like a gross misallocation of resources.

  • I fail to see how demolishing more infrastructure for the sake of a bigger highway system will help the city grow.

  • How will an elevated highway beautify both Downtown and its walking experience and can you provide some examples of when this has worked in other cities? (The answer is usually "no").

  • According to Google Maps, a trip from Nedrow to Cicero via I-81 takes 22 minutes. The trip around Downtown via I-481 to I-81 takes 26 minutes. Unless my math is incorrect, that's only a difference of 4 minutes.

  • Building a huge, concrete highway directly through the region's urban center seems very 1954-ish to me.

  • I wonder if there's any correlation between the construction of I-81 and the city's population plummeting during the middle-half of the 20th century?

  • Did you know that Downtown Syracuse has no true park for its 2,500 residents and its 30,000 workers? I thought that was a funny little bit of info.

  • Since its lifespan is nearing an end and the highway is coming down anyway, how does rebuilding it every 50 years make good financial sense?

  • Syracuse is a small city and rebuilding a highway through its center contains its size and dampens potential growth of Downtown and University Hill, its two fastest growing neigborhoods.

  • Ambulances and emergency vehicles should be fine. More people will not die because there is no elevated highway. Emergency vehicles nowadays have these fancy things called sirens and lights. Furthermore, an emergency vehicle can get trapped on a highway just as easily, if not more easily, than it could on the streets (here's a good example of it actually happening).

  • If not having an elevated highway helps to attract new businesses and people to Downtown, is it so much to ask for people to sacrifice their already low commuting times?

  • Gas is wasted and the environment is polluted the second the ignition is turned on in a car. Please don't use the "we'll be wasting more gas" as a legitimate argument or try to make me feel guilty about the environment any more than I already do. People will be using more gas for the very reason that they chose to have a car and live far away from the city's center in the first place.

  • Riddle me this: do we want a better place to live or do we want to drive faster?
  • April 10, 2013

    "Give Yourself the Green Light"

    I love watching propaganda films like these. This one, "Give Yourself the Green Light", was produced by General Motors in 1954 and is advocating for the creation of the Interstate Highway System.

    While watching this, I can't help but be reminded of the current and the upcoming discussion of I-81. I think if someone were to make a film advocating for the reconstruction and rebuilding of an elevated highway through Downtown Syracuse today, their ideas would be presented in a similar style as this one.

    Towards the end of the film, you see examples of highways from Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Chicago. It's actually hard to fathom how much of their core infrastructure these cities were willing to sacrifice and destroy just for the sake of automobiles. This was taken about 60 years ago, but the magnitude of what was going on is still hard to comprehend today.

    April 9, 2013

    The Libido for the Ugly

    The following is an essay written by H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), a renowned journalist, satirist, and social critic of the American scene. "The Libido for the Ugly" describes the ugliness of poverty and architecture during the American Industrialization of the 1920's.

    Note: There's no rhyme or reason for this post in particular, but just thought it would be a nice anecdote to add to the blog.

    H.L. Mencken
    (from Prejudices: Sixth Series, 1927)

    On a Winter day some years ago, coming out of Pittsburgh on one of the expresses of the Pennsylvania Railroad, I rolled eastward for an hour through the coal and steel towns of Westmoreland county. It was familiar ground; boy and man, I had been through it often before. But somehow I had never quite sensed its appalling desolation. Here was the very heart of industrial America, the center of its most lucrative and characteristic activity, the boast and pride of the richest and grandest nation ever seen on earth-and here was a scene so dreadfully hideous, so intolerably bleak and forlorn that it reduced the whole aspiration of man to a macabre and depressing joke. Here was wealth beyond computation, almost beyond imagination-and here were human habitations so abominable that they would have disgraced a race of alley cats.

    March 19, 2013

    What might have been...

    Excuse the quality of these images, but these are pictures of a design concept of a Downtown baseball stadium; conceived just before the construction of P&C Stadium Alliance Bank Stadium NBT Bank Stadium. The framed pictures are hanging up at Mully's in Armory Square if you care to take a gander for yourself.

    It's hard not to like this concept and even harder to try to understand why some of the higher-ups at the time would not be all about this. What I like most about this design is how it moves some of the psychological borders of Downtown's space southward and westward. It would have been such a great thing for the city because it could have added some continuity to the surrounding streets, tied Armory Square in with the Near Westside a bit, and gotten some actual use of the West Street artery.

    Maybe we'll get a do-over someday and get this right next time. One can only hope.

    February 21, 2013

    Thoughts on a Downtown grocery store

    1. Loud noise; din.
    2. Confusion; tumult.

    Now that Downtown Syracuse is officially (or unofficially?) on the upward swing of things in regards to development, residential population (at much-touted 99% occupancy rate), and positive growth, some hubbub is being made about how badly Downtown Syracuse needs a grocery store - a move some see could really put the proverbial stamp in showcasing the true progress of the little urban neighborhood on a comeback.

    Just about every blog, organization, and news outlet seems to be chiming-in and clamoring for a grocery store for Downtown Syracuse. So, I thought maybe I'd bring my 2 cents to the table, as 1 of about 2,000 residents. Mind you, this is just one man's opinion and I can only speak for myself. Who am I?

    It was never easy for me. I was born a poor, black child...

    No, I won't bore you. I'm a guy who moved back here from Boston - who, in 2007, decided he wanted to give urban living a shot in Syracuse (which was kind of an oxymoron at that time). I was sold the day I moved into my first apartment, a small studio in a very historic building near Downtown, and I've been living both in and around Downtown since that time (3 apartments in 6 years). I'd rather not toot my own horn, but... Alright... I will. I know Downtown Syracuse frontwards and backwards. I know where just about every restaurant and shop is. I know what time most businesses are open until and on which days (if you live Downtown, you generally know what's open and what's not open on Saturdays and Sundays). I know the best times to beat traffic. I know where the ridiculous the one-way streets are. I know how to avoid parking tickets and when you will never get them. I know how and when to get the best parking spots. I know what lights to avoid while driving. I know all of the new construction projects that have happened here since 2007. I know just about everything that has left since 2007. I know most of the parking garage and parking lot rates. I know what streets to walk down and which ones not to walk down at at which times. I'm not saying I know EVERY-SINGLE-THING-EVER-LOLZ-OMG, but as a resident of about 6 years, I know this neighborhood just as well as anyone does who lives in a neighborhood for that amount of time and who has spent just about every morning, noon, and night of his or her life in it.

    And I know a thing or two about getting groceries. Downtown currently does not have a true grocery store. So, while the neighborhood surges onward, its residents have had to get by the best they can. I live on a third floor walk-up and my parking lot is about a 3-block walk from it. This means that in order for me to do a normal round of grocery shopping during the week (at say Price Chopper, Nichol's, or Wegmans), I have to walk down my stairs, walk to my car, drive to the store, shop, drive back, try to find an on-street parking spot within a respectable distance from my apartment, go up and down 3 flights of stairs to bring up my groceries, in some cases several times, move my car to my parking lot, walk back to my apartment, and go up 3 flights of stairs again. Then I'm home.

    PHEW. I'm tired just by writing it, but that's my life. And I'm OK with it. Is it different than living in the suburbs? Yup. Does it suck? I don't think so. I've carried groceries on the T when I used to live in Boston. THAT sucks. The routine of getting groceries is basically a force of habit depending on your living situation. I'm sure other Downtown residents have similar or maybe slightly different ways of doing things. This has been my routine for about two and a half years and it hasn't phased me from moving away - or anyone else for that matter (that 99% rental rate statistic never seems to go down).

    Granted, as a resident, you can get a few odds and ends around Downtown without having to drive anywhere. The farmers market is helpful in the summertime, Vinomania has wine, Columbus Bakery and Pasta's have bread and other goodies, Thanos has cheeses, olives, and other pantry items, Rite Aid provides those things you need in a pinch, and yes, A-Plus and Hess even have beer (though it's a terrible selection and can be a fairly sketchy experience at times). But it is possible to get by. And the stores that are here are great in most aspects. But sooner or later you'll need to drive to go get real groceries. And that is not the way that a walkable, urban neighborhood should be functioning. Basically: Downtown needs to provide more grocery shopping options for its residents. And there's very minimal debate about it.

    That all being said, here are my two major, pressing issues and questions that I have since everyone seems to now be making a huge deal about Downtown needing a grocery store...

    - If Downtown does indeed need a grocery store (which is probably does), how large does it have to be and what types of options are out there? (the good and the bad).

    - If Downtown does indeed get a new grocery store, will we be using our recent positive momentum incorrectly and end up getting a design or concept that we (a) don't need, (b) don't like, or (c) both?

    Think about that. Like really think about these two things and what could happen from any one of their chain of possibilities. Think of how many bad and decade-regretting decisions have been made in Syracuse. And just think of what could happen if we let a bad decision slip by us this time, with or without positive momentum.

    This is how precious and delicate of a decision is. Really, the only other issue that I see as more fragile than this one right now is what will happen to I-81 (a topic for another time, I promise you).

    For the first time in probably 60 years, Downtown now has a light at the end of its tunnel and it has been amazing to see the changes first-hand these last 6 years. But Syracuse as whole has had a long and sad history of either jumping on the first ship that comes to shore, taking the quick and easy way out, or just getting shit-on in general; depending on how you want to look at it all.

    Carousel Mall was built on the cheapest, non-taxable land one could find and as far away from the actual city as possible, the baseball stadium location is ridiculous and... almost sadly comical, and I-81 destroyed a neighborhood, sliced Downtown in half, and made it just as easy for people to drive away. Those are the three major boo-boos. What do they all have in common? They all somewhat come at the expense of Downtown Syracuse. They've all either used Downtown as some accessory to other neighborhoods or towns or they flat-out ignore the neighborhood altogether and even dampen its possible potential growth. This cannot afford to happen again. And it cannot afford to happen over the simple decision of bringing in a grocery store to a neighborhood that doesn't have one yet. The result can't be something that will have focuses on other parts of the city or region. And the result can't be something that diminishes or stuns its current growth. It has to set-out what it's intended to be: a grocery store providing basic and daily needs for the immediate neighborhood.

    As I've fussed about before, I'm a firm believer in what is good for Central New York may not be necessarily good for Downtown Syracuse and vice versa. What works in say, Fayetteville, may not necessarily work for Walton Street and vice versa. And I guess that's where my fear arises with this whole topic; that we're going to make some awful, brash decision when we had the opportunity to make a really smart one. If we're going to add a grocery store to this neighborhood, if that indeed is what's really necessary here, then it should be geared towards the neighborhood and not towards somewhere else or because we're trying to entice or trying to appeal to a different type of demographic than the one that's there.

    I'll shut-up with my rhetoric and show three examples that demonstrate a small range of what my greatest fears and my greatest aspirations are in regards to a Downtown grocery store.

    February 20, 2013

    Mayors Challenge Finalist Video: Syracuse

    Syracuse is one of 20 finalists in the Mayors Challenge Fan Favorite Selection, a partnership between Huffington Post and Bloomberg Philanthropies. The Mayors Challenge is a competition to inspire American cities to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life.

    I think this is a pretty solid concept; especially considering the former HSBC bank on this corner is going unused and is in such a prime location.

    To vote for Syracuse as your favorite and to see the other finalists, click here.

    January 21, 2013

    These Evolving Times

    On January 18, 2013, the Syracuse Media Group, the company that produces and The Post-Standard, announced its new headquarters at Merchants Commons, a refurbished complex at 220 S. Warren Street.

    The shift will move about 150 people to a glass-lined, street-level office on the corner of Warren and Fayette streets once renovations are complete in April. Company support services and human resources departments will remain at the Post-Standard building at Clinton Square. Once the Syracuse Media Group moves out of Clinton Square, it will empty about 25,000 square feet of space which the company plans to lease out.

    There's a few major points to dissect here. The first one: Technology.

    Just in case you're unaware, The Post-Standard plans to scale back its production of newspapers by only offering home delivery service for three days out of the week (beginning in February of '13). A continuing trend with many of the Newhouse-owned newspapers around the country. The Post-Standard will continue to print smaller editions of its newspaper within Onondaga County on non-delivery days.

    I think when news broke about this late last year, a lot of people freaked out. And it's undertandable. Central New York is fairly rooted in its own ideals, life, and habits, and getting that daily dose of news in the morning, maybe talking with strangers at diners about the day's hot topics, reading the obituaries and Op-Ed sections, et al, are all things that people here have made a comfortable, daily life out of for decades. The thing is... times are changing. And technology is making information incredibly accelerated - to the point where society can only play catch-up. And for most people over the age of say... 45, having a physical newspaper delivered to their homes only 3 days out of the week is a very hard pill to swallow and maybe even a bit of culture-shock to their daily life.

    As we all know, it can be easy to pick on Syracuse. It's easy to bring in hyperbole and knee-jerk reactions into a discussion like this. "Syracuse is going downhill!", "Pretty soon there will be no paper at all!"... Those are easy reactions. But if you take a look at the big picture of everything that has happened over the last several years - not just here, but practically everywhere - technology is changing our lives. It's changed how we communicate, how we present ourselves, how we find new restaurants, how we meet, how we date, and it's definitely changed how we get our news.

    The Syracuse Media Group plans to evolve with the times. It will offer a digital-first focus, completely (at least in their mission) to redefine the way we receive news and information in Syracuse. Is it a risk? You bet'cha. Can it work? Maybe. Was it the right move? Probably. Is it needed for the growth of the city? Yes.

    To say it like it is, people in our generation do not get our news on a daily basis. We get it on an hourly, minute, and sometimes second basis (I kid you not if you're addicted to Twitter). And the lone media giant in our region has to evolve with the times. It's very sad and unfortunate that people have to loose their jobs and careers over a transition like this, but on the other hand, I do applaud the company for taking the initiative - and not just taking the initiative because they went bankrupt, for instance. It's a gamble and I'm sure a lot of people will be watching not only on their smart phones and iPads over these next several weeks, but as a collective whole to see if this thing can actually take-off and work correctly.

    The second: Warren Street.

    As I've written about before, Warren Street is my favorite street in Downtown Syracuse. It has such a large amount of potential and neglect. So much so that it's almost impossible not to root for it. I've been extremely passionate about how this street gets handled as we progress forward and how it gets perceived (sometimes incorrectly by local leaders). The fact that this entire digital endeavor is being spearheaded at the nexus of Warren and Fayette streets is extremely encouraging. When I first read about construction plans and viewed renderings of the Merchants Commons online, my initial reaction was for a major retailer to move in and with apartments above it; thereby giving some much-needed, daily life to Warren Street and this area of Downtown. Finding out that a media company will be moving in to occupy both the first and second floors did not sit well with me at first. If Warren Street is going to wake up from its long nap, the last thing is needs is for a long-awaited addition to be full of nothing but people driving away from it at 5 PM, Monday through Friday. Essentially, more neglect. The street needs life from individuals outside of this timeframe. So, needless to say, I was not pleased.

    But check out these renderings and current construction pictures.

    It's not too shabby. The building is close and open to the street, it has a trendy, new, and sleek interior, flat-screens and computers will display the news and videos at all hours of the day, walk-ins will be welcome, and the employees will be seated a mixed-use collaborative space that will operate longer than the traditional 9-to-5 workday (so I'm told).

    It's hard to argue with the positives that could transpire for the life of the street. It could very well be the shot in the arm that Warren Street has been needing all these decades.

    That being said, I'll be curious as to not only what will transpire with this entire process, but what will happen to the leased-out section of the Post-Standard building at Clinton Square. I'm generally not a fan of the building or its interaction with the neighborhood. I'd have no qualms with demolition and redevelopment. I would, however, have qualms about a potential grocery store; a topic and aspect of Downtown living that has been gaining momentum lately as the entire neighborhood continues move forward. I'll tackle that beast very soon as I have a ton of thoughts on grocery shopping as a Downtown resident over these last 6 years.

    For now, let's sit back and watch the changes as they unfold over the next couple months. I hope things go well for the new company, their employees, and its new headquarters on Warren Street. A street that desperately needs activity and life.