On Sunday October 22, the West Onondaga Street Alliance (WOSA) announced that it would repaint the railroad bridge that crosses over West Onondaga Street at the edge of Downtown Syracuse. Currently, that bridge highlights the Rescue Mission’s work feeding the hungry and housing the homeless on its campus between the train tracks and the Adams Street Expressway. It’s painted bright red with the words “Mission District” on one side and “Lives Change Here” on the other. Soon, the bridge will instead read “City-Gate,” a name that WOSA has made up for what it’s calling a “new” neighborhood.
This stretch of West Onondaga Street is not a new neighborhood. People have been living in this part of town since 1824. A lot of the people who lived there over the years were very rich, but now a lot of the people living there are very poor. WOSA worries that all that poverty makes some people from outside of the neighborhood feel like they’re not “invited” into it. WOSA told the Post-Standard that, while the words “Mission District” focus people’s attention on homelessness, the words “City-Gate” will get them to think of something other than poverty when they pass under the bridge on their way out of Downtown.
But poverty isn’t a problem that goes away when you stop thinking about it. Making up a new name won’t change the truth that people living just southwest of Downtown face everyday. It won’t bring Nojaims back. It won’t fix up Blodgett. It won’t shorten SHA’s waitlist for rent vouchers, and it won’t cosign anyone’s mortgage. There are all kinds of real problems that have entrenched poverty in this neighborhood and in this City, and they’re what people need to be working on.
Until that work is done, the poorest members of the community deserve our full attention. That’s what it means to be a community–to recognize that my life is tied up with yours, so I can’t pretend that my good fortune is unrelated to your daily hunger. Attempts to cover up part of a neighborhood–or to pretend that you belong to a “new” neighborhood that doesn’t have the same problems as the old one–sever those ties. The result is a community that’s poor in spirit, no matter how rich any of its members may be.