February 17, 2016

Consensus: To Boldly Go (Part 2): Let's Do This

Let's look again at the guidance in the editorial that followed on the heels of the Consensus report that dropped at the end of January:
Citizens and leaders of our community and our region need to talk a lot more, think more deeply about the commissions's recommendations, question the assumptions of each other and ourselves, and summon the will to change the status quo.
(If you're interested, here's the full report, or a summary, and I encourage you to read these if you live in the Central New York area.)

Public officials have been asked to not comment extensively on the recommendations, and I think for the most part they appear to be paying attention to that request. There have been several public meetings, some in the city and some outside, and many comments shared on the news, on articles published about the recommendations, and on social media generally. What seems to be clear is that there is a divide in sentiment based on where a person lives. I'm over-generalizing here, but not by a lot:
  • Many city residents appear to fear a lack of standing, a lack of voice, if the city gets absorbed into the county. The economic savings, or the opportunity for the 'city' itself to survive, are positives, but the thought that people of color would have "less consideration" under a county government where they would be in the minority, seem to be outweighing the benefits in many people's minds.
  • On the other hand, people from the suburbs are concerned with the lack of savings that will come from consolidation, and fear being saddled with all of the city's problems in return for their $200 or so savings. The city's problems, as perceived by some who've commented, have crime and poverty high on the list, and from a suburban perspective, having "their (own) resources" go towards fixing "their (city people's) problems" is wrong. 

Where have we seen similar divide in community conversations?  Just about everywhere, I think -- most notably in our long conversation on what to do with I-81 that cuts the city in half.  Again, over-generalizing here as well:
  • Folks who live in the 'burbs want to maintain their reasonably fast commute into the city and the reasonably fast exit from it at the end of the work day. Many have been less interested in the 'city' as other than a place they have to go to for work, and leave quickly, and don't want to see that changed. They don't want to see tax dollars wasted on anything fancy, because they're not interested in putting the city back together.
  • City residents, some of whom are still living where they lived when the interstate cut through the heart of the city, through some of its oldest, most culturally-thriving yet economically challenged neighborhoods seemingly without a thought, want to get "their city" back, want to tear down the divided highway that divides the city, and are either not concerned with or perfectly OK with a tunnel, or a boulevard or some hybrid solution that moves traffic more slowly. 
John Cleese/Monty Python
So how do we bridge the divide? The Consensus folks paved the way for us. They put the road map on the table, with a lot of  easy-to-understand facts and figures and, to their credit, not a ton of editorializing. 

They believe, and I agree, that we need to do something to save what we love about living in Syracuse and Onondaga County, and I think that something  has to be something completely different if we're to have the chance to thrive. 

Now, it's up to us, just us, to think deeply, to listen, and to talk. 

If you're a city resident, put yourself in the position of someone in the suburbs and picture this whole Syracuse-Onondaga community from their perspective. And then, think about what sacrifices we can reasonably make for the greater good, and how we might be better off if we let some things go. At the same time, think about how the new plan can be structured to balance everyone's needs for fair representation so no voices get lost in the shuffle.

If you're a county resident, do the same thing - pretend you live in the city (there are some really beautiful neighborhoods here, by the way) and think about what your future will look like if we don't make some critical decisions on how we allow the city where you work, where you attend concerts and SU games and where you go to restaurants and hospitals, and museums. Picture there being no 'city' here. And think of a way to support the city that supports the majority of us in the county.

If you don't want the empty shell of a city, and the bloated multiple jurisdictions that exist in the county, the choice is clear. The path is not completely defined (more on that later), but the choice is clear.

Let's build our Syracuse-Onondaga community.