June 5, 2016

An Idea for the I-Team


June 5, 2016

Andrew Maxwell
Director of Policy, City of Syracuse
Director of Innovation, Syracuse I-Team
Syracuse City Hall
via email

Dear Mr. Maxwell,

Although I grew up in western Onondaga County, I've lived in the city for my entire adult life and, like you, consider myself a passionate Syracusan.  I appreciate the many things our city has to offer, including our diverse festivals, cultural opportunities, beautiful city parks, easy commutes, and our thriving downtown with its residential growth and enviable occupancy rate typically hovering at or above 99%.

I've long been a proponent of trying to find ways to extend the successes of downtown into our neighborhoods, including those closest to the downtown corridors. Programs such as the Near Westside Initiative are important in helping create identities and develop under-appreciated, under-served neighborhoods into ones that can eventually thrive, just as many of our other neighborhoods do, including Sedgwick, Westcott Street, Strathmore, Meadowbrook, Eastwood, and The Valley, where I live now.

We need even more of these initiatives that are designed to foster neighborhoods and communities within the city, the type of thing that could help save a neighborhood that's on the brink of tipping into despair, or that might even bring back a neighborhood that has fallen out of favor and is now deteriorating more and more every day.  I believe we need a Parade of Homes in the city.

Not the kind of Parade where homebuilders put up McMansions and McRanches with garages that are twice the size of the average city home; what I'm talking about is engaging the same folks who build the Parade homes, and putting their significant creativity, expertise, resources, and contacts into renovating a city neighborhood.

I've written about this in my blog, including in 2014 where I used Skunk City as the guinea pig neighborhood and described how a public/private collaboration including the City, the Onondaga Historical Association, the Greater Syracuse Land Bank, the school district, and the Homebuilders and Remodelers of CNY (HBRCNY), local businesses, and others could be tapped to help make this work. 

As I write this, the 2016 Parade has just opened, in the town of Manlius. Again. With $450,000 homes. Again. This year, with huge property tax breaks. 

It seems the Innovation Team has been focusing on infrastructure improvements (at least, that's the sense I get from looking on the website), and while clearly repairing our aging water delivery system and roads are critically important, those are necessities, not options. I appreciate having innovative ideas to approach these necessities, and am delighted that we've made progress in that area, but I believe that we need people infrastructure just as much as we need potholes filled.  We need neighborhoods. We need kids in our schools and we need police on the streets and we desperately need to expand our tax base. 

Just today, I found an article from April 2008 that touched on this same subject. In it, then president of the Greater Syracuse Board of Realtors David Manzano was noted to have said that
this is a good time to re-energize housing in the city, because...Syracuse has not felt the effects of the (housing market) crash.. (He) recalled telling a reporter that "for a while we were feeling like the crane was an endangered species, and I'm not talking about the bird."
Now he points to projects at hospitals and DestinyUSA as evidence that investors are once again interested in the Syracuse housing market...(He) also said he felt this would be a good time to educate young residents and then bring them back to Syracuse, to stimulate the local economy and housing market, If we're bringing young people to get educated and come back, it's nothing but good...
They say that all everything old is new again, and I think that's true in this case. Cranes are up at the hospitals; there's work being done on the SU hill with exciting changes coming to the Dome; the restoration of our beloved Hotel Syracuse is nearing completion; and there's work at DestinyUSA and in the Inner Harbor... 

So, is now the time to finally have a Parade of Homes in Syracuse? And is your Innovation Team the group to get the ball rolling?

I appreciate your consideration, and look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks.