Prior to the 1950’s, downtown Syracuse was a vibrant community of homes, small businesses and department stores that thrived, even through economic cycles. Theaters, restaurants and entertainment venues lined Salina Street. Downtown was a destination.
Until, that is, planners in the 1960’s decided to rip out the fundamental core of urban homes and supplant them with a Corbusian themed civic and arts strip that never really grew to its fullest potential. Many downtown buildings soon succumbed to the dwindling downtown population. Businesses moved out, Syracuse crumbled.
Fast forward to the twenty first century and Syracuse is now benefitting by revitalization more relevant to a true urban characteristic through the manifestations of residential urban growth. Each apartment that is being built, mostly into renovated older buildings that have stood vacant for decades, brings closer to home the notion that living downtown is a sustainable way of life.
Great public spaces are safe and welcoming, promote community and social activities, and makes positive use of local architecture and history. In order to re-create a vibrant community, we need to establish a direct line of commerce which is receptive of people’s desire to meander and explore in a safe and enticing manner.
And so as we hear about buildings being bought by prominent developers who are gifted in the art of redevelopment, we find that downtown Syracuse is on the cusp of transformation, but are we ready for the influx of residents? Is our downtown ready for dog walkers, school kids, and transit-oriented growth? Are our streets safe, walkable, welcoming and unique?
The cities abandoned buildings and large parking lots create a vacancy that is not conducive to pedestrian safety or feeling of ambiance. As we work to take back abandoned buildings and adapt them to our needs, special attention should be paid to how they communicate a message of pedestrian friendliness and contribute to the landscape and unique character of our city and neighborhoods.
Also, a look at traffic patterns and transportation alternatives should be considered to alleviate the need for large parking lots and provide a place for various methods of transport in a true “live work play” atmosphere. Traffic calming techniques implemented correctly, safely move vehicular traffic through the city while making allowances for pedestrian protection and movement.
If the vision for Syracuse in the years to come is one of a successful urbanized character with vibrant streets, entertainment, tourism, and economic vitality, then what types of urban infrastructure are we implementing today to get there?