We’ve talked a lot about urban design over the last few months as it relates to I-81. Now, NYSDOT is on the same page.
*Also, get ready for the phrase “urban design” to be used as frequently as your favorite pen. But is that necessarily a bad thing?
This week, the I-81 Viaduct Project Stakeholder’s Advisory Working Groups (also, known as SAWGS… a mouthful, I know) held meetings focused solely on urban design. According to their report released on the DOT website, there will be continuous meetings concerning the effect of the highway on urban design in Syracuse. We at SYRUP have been discussing how the inclusion of urban design is imperative to reworking the I-81 Viaduct in a useful way. It’s exciting to see the state take part in the conversation as well.
NYSDOT claims it is committed to understanding urban design as part of its study on how to best recreate the I-81 Viaduct area.
“A well-designed urban environment contributes to a feeling of well-being…a sense of place.” – SAWGS Report
This report takes us through the history of Syracuse – how it’s urban context was formed during the settlement of the Onondaga Nation to the downtown development of the 1860s and 70s to the highway-centric, nearly gridless city that we have today.
The advent of the “superblock” street grid in the mid-twentieth century contributed to Syracuse’s struggle to achieve walkability and connectivity. From 16 to just five blocks in the 15th ward, it’s no wonder that we aren’t satisfied with impact of urban renewal’s poor design on our city. With this project, we have the ability to make up for those costly mistakes.
This discussion can serve as a way for us to look to the city’s original success in design and use the new opportunity of transforming the viaduct to bring the Syracuse back to a strong layout.
Other design-related considerations by SAWGS in this report include: weather and streetscape design, public squares and connectivity, the increase of biking facilities, the reduction of surface parking and the use of historic resources and public art.
The report also looks into how the neighborhoods of Syracuse access and connect with I-81 and I-690. As I’ve mentioned before, I live on West Campus near the Southside, meaning I-81 and all its viaduct splendor sit right outside my window. The changes we decide to make to this highway directly affect us all in a very serious way. We need to start thinking now about better connecting our neighborhoods through design.
The report also discusses the city’s land use and development plan which will strengthen the urban core around I-81. Luckily, we are already well on our way to achieving this success. Key components to this development include pedestrian heavy street design, repurposed surface lots and the rise of mixed-used development.
This public discussion is meant to demonstrate NYSDOT’s interest in including urban design in the I-81 Viaduct Project Environmental Impact Study. In the coming years, we will be able to see whether or not our ideas and these concerns have been taken seriously. It’s a good sign that we’re already thinking about design in this early stage. Let’s continue to find ways of helping our city and state leaders understand the value of urban design.