Transformed Neighborhoods

Someday, NYSDOT will demolish the structurally suspect I81 viaduct that runs alongside Downtown. That’s going to uncover a lot of land in the City’s center. Some people want for NYSDOT to build a new viaduct on that land, but last week, the Gifford Foundation put out a statement suggesting that Syracuse instead use the land to build a new neighborhood.

The Gifford Foundation isn’t interested in just any neighborhood–it thinks that this is an opportunity to do something “transformational”:

“A transformational neighborhood with mixed-income housing, extraordinary schools, and facilities, programs, and services that honor the rich history of the community, reflect priorities of those who live there, promote health and safety, and create jobs”

That sounds like a great place to live and a positive addition to the City. It’s the best possible outcome of this whole drawn-out process. Here’s hoping that kind of a neighborhood goes up when the viaduct comes down.

But in the meantime, let’s recognize that what the Gifford Foundation has described isn’t just a good blueprint for building a transformational new neighborhood. It’s also a call to transform the neighborhoods that Syracuse already has. Everybody living in this City deserves access to good schools, services, community, health, and employment, so while we’re all waiting for the possibility of getting a neighborhood that’s brand new, let’s do the work to make those things a reality in the neighborhoods that are already here.

It’s dangerous to focus too hard on something like I81. It’s such a big thing that’ll have such a big effect, that it’s too easy to just wait around for it to happen. But Syracuse can’t wait. Blodgett is falling apart now, people are showing up hungry at the Samaritan Center now, Centro’s out of money now, and this City needs to respond to all of that with urgency. If it does, then that new neighborhood the Gifford Foundation’s imagined won’t be so transformational. It’ll just be a new addition to a Syracuse that’s already transformed.