February 3, 2018

Grains of Salt (v30): SOTC, Part 2

The other day, I took a look at new Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh's State of the City address.

In my first post on the SOTC, I focused on Walsh's plans to leverage collaboration, the careful planning of his Transition Team, performance metrics and accountability, and the work of the I-team to help us innovate our way out of our financial difficulties and into a more successful fiscal position.

Let's pick it up again, starting with the I-81 project.
We will also make 2018 an important year for progress on the I-81 Viaduct project. Syracuse and all of Central New York must seize the opportunity now to drive inclusive growth in the city and the region. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform our community. And thus far, we have failed to grab it. We can't afford to wait any longer. 
The facts are out there, Walsh tells us, and he's right. There's a ton of data on the NY DOT website, including the options still under consideration and those dismissed. We've been at this for years now, and we have to move forward at some point. Walsh supports the community grid plan, not a huger viaduct, and not Syracuse's version of The Big Dig. Why?
...commutes will actually be made easier by a street system that stops funneling our entire inbound and outbound daily migration to a major choke point - Harrison and Adams Streets.
...I have had elected officials from outside the City tell me that they understand exactly why I support the community grid, even while they advocate for a different solution. And, to be fair, I understand their position as well.
He's heard and understands concerns in Dewitt about increased traffic, noise and pollution with I-481 being made the new I-81. He's heard and understands concerns from north of the city, in Salina, about loss of tax revenue from hotels and other businesses that have grown up around the current path of the interstate. West suburbs worry about increased truck traffic, as people get off the highway earlier and take back roads to get to points west, disrupting or even destroying the small-village look and feel. And he's heard from our friends at Destiny USA about losing traffic and visibility if the I-81 name is moved to a different location, even if the physical highway will still remain.

And, he's got answers, Walsh does. The concerns are legitimate but solvable; he understands that threats to economic viability should be taken seriously; he gets that main streets are a cornerstone of both commerce and quality of life. Most importantly he's open to collaborative problem-solving.
We should not feel the need to argue over how the current pie is carved up. This city is prepared to work together to make a bigger pie for all. Together we can do transformative things for our city while simultaneously investing in and strengthening the economies of our suburban communities and improving our region's overall quality of life. 
As a community, we have already begun to rise, but handled properly, the I-81 project can be rocket fuel to our ascent. New revenue for our city... Inclusive job growth... A healthier economy and better neighborhoods... All are there. The I-81 opportunity is a clarion call for action and in 2018 the City is ready to answer. 
Specifically on the tunnel, a project which has received significant backing from local State Senator John DeFrancisco, who just announced his candidacy for Governor, Walsh pulls no punches.
Instead of contemplating spending several billion dollars more than is necessary on a tunnel to serve only 30,000 cars per day, what if we invested even a fraction of those dollars and the full power of our collective energy and creativity in undertaking meaningful economic development initiatives in areas outside of the city?
And there was this comment, which was directly related to the I-81 project, but really extends beyond that into Walsh's overarching approach to governing.
Instead of pitting our communities against each other, what if we stood together, unified, with a plan that creates wins for all of our communities? I believe the decision before us can and should be a source of deeper collaboration and a way to reconnect the economic interests of our City and our suburbs. 
He's got a lot of things in mind to help capitalize on the opportunities presented by the I-81 project, including assisting women and minority businesses in obtaining the necessary certification to allow them to grow now through participation on government projects, allowing them to be prepared to work on the community grid (or whatever solution we end up with).

He's partnering with folks from San Francisco in establishing the Syracuse Build program, modeled after City Build, the construction workforce training program they implemented. Other partners include the Syracuse Industrial Development Agency (Walsh was the Executive Director of SIDA under Mayor Stephanie Miner's administration), trade unions, community organizations, and the state departments of Labor and Transportation to move this innovative program forward.  And, he sees it extending beyond just construction training into other potential growth areas.

Walsh is also looking ahead to building new neighborhoods in the areas freed up by the anticipated removal of the viaduct. There's a massive review of the city's zoning ordinances, which started in 2015 when Walsh was still working for City Hall, and he's committed to getting it done this year. As he noted, the last time it happened, his grandfather was our mayor. And the Syracuse Housing Agency, with many properties in the impacted area, is also going to be ready, by engaging the community now to plan what to do then.

What seems clear from this section of the SOTC? Sitting around waiting for something to happen is not the way our new mayor plans on working, and it's not the way he sees us being successful.

I'll close with one more quote from his remarks.
In case you haven't noticed, I reject the idea that people of good will and open mind cannot find common ground.

No comments:

Post a Comment