Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Diggin' the City

It's good to see that new Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner's 50-Point Plan includes provisions for developing a city "green code," promoting urban agriculture, developing green infrastructure, improving walkability, and other "smart growth" ideas.

That our new mayor is including these ideas in her transition platform is a positive step and will do much to consolidate Syracuse's reputation as a green and clean hub that could become a template for smart growth for post-industrial cities.

Those who wish to hear more about the 50-Point Plan should head to City Hall Commons at 7:30 am Friday, March 12, where F.O.C.U.S. Greater Syracuse will host Miner and ask her to elaborate on the plan.

Things have come a long way quickly in Syracuse since my first early morning F.O.C.U.S. meeting, hosted by the indomitable Chuckie Holstein. I recall that urban planning was the topic of that meeting, some three years ago, and I brought up the issue of a lack of green space in downtown Syracuse.

Some in the audience took umbrage when I pointed out how few green spaces there are in the city. But I come from a country where there are parks large and small every few blocks. In my hometown of Brighton & Hove, there are three significant parks within five minutes of my house, and this in a town notorious for its lack of space, hemmed in as it is by a national park on one side and the sea on the other. Compared to Brighton, downtown Syracuse (I'm not counting Thornden Park: it is too far from downtown to be a walkable option) is a true urban jungle.

But former Mayor Matt Driscoll did something about this that Mayor Miner should continue. A couple of years ago, on the corner of Warren and Washington streets (I think I have the intersection correct) an old building was torn down and, this is significant, not turned into a parking lot—a small park with benches and public art was created on the lot.

Many Syracuse buildings are on the verge of falling down, long unoccupied. One brick building next to I-81 just north of the city has fallen down recently, closing down the highway. It looks as though the Syracuse winter finally did that building in.

By deconstructing long-unoccupied and decrepit buildings in the city and coverting them to parks, community gardens, recycling/composting stations, bioswales, and the like, Mayer Miner could check off much on her sustainability wishlist, and improve the quality of life (and economic development prospects) of Syracuse to boot.

—Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence

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