The Very Idea of a New Neighborhood

Tired of taking on Syracuse’s seemingly intractable problems, a lot of people in positions of power throw their hands up and say ‘let’s just start over.’ Segregation, poverty, and exclusion are all so systemic in so much of the City, and depopulation and deindustrialization have combined to leave so much cheap empty land, that it seems easier to just build new neighborhoods than to try and make life better in the ones where people already live. But those very conditions mean that building a ‘new neighborhood’ entails a lot of those same systemic problems in ways that are rarely confronted.

Take the Inner Harbor. The plans call for all different kinds of housing within walking distance of businesses and institutions where people can work, run their errands, and socialize.

But it’s hard to build that from scratch. The whole idea relies on there being lots of different things to do and lots of different places to live, so it won’t work until it’s mostly finished. All of the buildings will be new, so their owners will have to charge high rents to cover the initial construction costs. There aren’t so many people and businesses moving into Syracuse, so there’s not a whole lot of demand for all of those new expensive apartments and storefronts. The result is a place with a few buildings designed to be totally self-sufficient and separated by surface parking lots. An exclusive place where only few can afford to live, and no one can make a full life.

None of that is a problem in Syracuse’s older neighborhoods—places where there is already a supportive mix of businesses and residents, where a variety of buildings offer housing options at a variety of price points, where even a little population growth would be enough to fill whatever brand new high end building a developer might find room to put up. 

How much simpler, then, to focus on the places where people already live, to ask what people need to make life in those places better, and to make those things happen. That’s what’s going on on the Northside, where a range of non-profits, religious institutions, and commercial developers are building on the variety and strength that already exists in the neighborhood with new housing, adult education, and small business support. The same approach would put more a greater variety of housing types in Westcott, bring fresh groceries to the Southside, and renovate Blodgett on the Near Westside—all things that would cost so much less and do so much more than any ‘new neighborhood’ ever could.