September 9, 2012

Imagine a Parade of Homes in the City of Syracuse

HBRCNY photo
Every September, the Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Central New York (HBRCNY) sponsors the Parade of Homes. The event showcases the talents of many local home builders, decorators and interior designers, and landscapers.  There’s also a strong charitable focus; in addition to the sneak peak charity event held just before the Parade’s opening day, the greeters in each home are typically volunteers for local organizations. 
This year’s Parade of eight homes is in a waterfront development in one of the northern suburbs; previous Parades have been scattered across Onondaga County, and frequently the Parade homes are sold before the event begins. Prices are usually at the higher end of the market, given that the homes are showplaces. For example, a Parade home is the House of the Week today and has already been sold for over $400,000.  At just over 3,900 square feet, it features a rec room with three flat screen TVs (32-inch, 60-inch, and 80-inch), and a swimming pool, along with many other upscale amenities.

I frequently wonder what would happen if the local home builders took a chance on the city, and did some extreme homebuilding (or even extreme remodeling) in Syracuse, instead of continuing to build upscale homes in the outer reaches of the county.  Can you even imagine the impact this could have?
  • new residents, or returning residents, and the energy they'd bring
  • families with children, injecting new blood and interest in the city schools
  • a strengthening of the city tax base
  • reduced stress and traffic during daily drive times, since folks would already be in the city, where most county residents work 
  • the potential for small businesses to spring up in the newly energized neighborhoods
  • reduced impact and stress on the environment, as we'd be developing areas that already had the necessary infrastructure
I appreciate that not everyone wants to live in the city; many folks prefer suburban living because of what if offers, but there are also many who prefer it to what they think city living is like.

After living in the city for more than 30 years, I can assure you that most areas in Syracuse don’t really resemble the stereotype of crime infested drug havens full of welfare people who do nothing but hang out on the street all day.  Rather, there are many areas that are ethnically, economically, and culturally mixed, areas that have both owner-occupied and rental units, areas  that have a strong sense of community centered around libraries, churches, parks, and locally-owned businesses, rather than everything centering around the off-ramp and the strip malls.
Imagine how our city would change if the folks who were able and willing to purchase $400,000 houses with swimming pools and home theaters chose to bring their families, their spending power, their commitment, into a city neighborhood en masse, or into multiple neighborhoods, expanding the opportunities the city offers to all residents?

Picture what could happen if we had a Parade of Homes on the city’s North Side, or Eastwood, or in the NoSen section of The Valley (north of Seneca Turnpike), or out on the Near West Side, where there’s already focused effort to transform the neighborhood?  Picture a concerted effort to transform Midland Ave, or Onondaga Street, or Court Street, or East Fayette Street, to remodel some of the beautiful old homes, restoring them to their past glory?  What if we could create new city neighborhood like Meadowbrook or Sedgwick Farms?
This type of effort focused on immediate home ownership for those who can afford it, coupled with the city’s work getting rid of abandoned properties, the Syracuse Housing Authority’s projects to bring ‘rent to own’ units throughout the city, and those of organizations like Home Headquarters, could transform our city neighborhoods, just as the creation of residential units in the center city is transforming that area.

The local builders are clearly talented; the designers they work with are clearly creative; and there’s clearly a need for residential development within the economic and cultural center of Onondaga County.  
Just imagine the possibilities...