South Side neighbors unite to plan for future
A self-described California girl, a man who works in Albany, a woman from Oregon who said she lives in the Valley, a French-Canadian male, and an Argentinian female were among those crafting a five-year neighborhood plan for Syracuse’s South Side on July 25.
Camille Coakley, the facilitator of the third and final workshop aimed at creating this plan, highlighted her personal journey in front of the audience assembled at the South Side Innovation Center: “I’m a California girl with a background in doing community service in Los Angeles. Being a Syracuse native, one summer I came back to visit this city and asked myself, ‘If community revitalization efforts are underway all over the nation, why not in our own neighborhood?’ So, now I live a couple blocks over from the innovation center and I’m helping in these efforts.”
Coakley was joined at the meeting, titled “How to Achieve the Desired Future Vision of the South Side,” by more than 40 people. The group included: Jessi Lyons, project coordinator for the Brady Faith Center Urban Farm on 150-151 Ford Ave., who originally is from Portland, Ore.; Colin Crowley, a legislative aide in Albany to Pam Hunter, state representative for New York Assembly District 128; Alex Poisson, who said he was from Montreal, Canada, and who works as campus sustainability coordinator at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF), and Belen Cordon, from Mendoza, Argentina, who is a mapping and data analyst in Syracuse’s Department of Neighborhood and Business Development.
This Tomorrow’s Neighborhood Today (TNT) Area 3 workshop was open to all South Side “stakeholders,” defined as residents, members of businesses and organizations located in this area as well as friends of the neighborhood. It wasn’t disclosed how many of participants were actually South Side residents, nor whether these were a majority or minority in the meeting.
At the beginning, Coakley told the attendees: “I thank you for being believers and leaders, and for not giving up on the South Side. There’s a 1995 municipal ordinance requiring all city areas to adopt a plan to the effect of gaining better access to public resources but the South Side’s is missing.”
Then, there was a heavy emphasis in treating the image or perception of the South Side as a commodity, as something that could be marketed or sold.
“Its proximity to the I-81 highway is one of its selling points,” Coakley said.
A representative of the Housing Task Force, Patrona Jones-Rowser, added, “We need to develop a neighborhood’s marketing plan geared toward bringing professionals to live here, including nurses, teachers and people who work at Syracuse University and other universities.”
A Brighton resident praised Dunk & Bright Furniture for being an anchor asset in that section of the South Side.
“I have been personally involved in this family business for 25 years,” said Jim Bright, president of the store, who was in attendance. “It’s centrally located because there are so many homes on the South Side, and it can be easily reached from suburbs. I can’t imagine a better location for my store.”
Coakley added, “The South Side has the South Salina business corridor but, if we want more businesses to come, we need policing. Gary Williams, from the Business and Economic Development Task Force, went on to say, “Our focus should be to support and encourage small business development in order to create sustainable businesses in the area and attract big businesses.”
Coakley presented a slideshow with statistics from recent years that she had compiled from the private company City Data and also from a fall 2015 report by the Maxwell Community Benchmarks Program, titled “Below the Line: An Analysis of Concentrated Poverty in Syracuse.”
Unlike the figures that she had shown in the previous workshop, these were broken down by each of the four sections making up Area 3: Brighton, Southwest, Elmwood and Strathmore. Some of the statistics from City Data were on median household income and percentage of the population below poverty level. The numbers indicated the disparities existing between Brighton and the Southwest, on the one hand, and Elmwood and Strathmore, on the other. The median household annual income was $26,666 for Brighton, $20,259 for the Southwest, $47,744 for Elmwood and $52,083 for Strathmore; the percentage of the population below the poverty line was 43.5 for Brighton, 55.0 for the Southwest, 26.6 for Elmwood and 20.2 for Strathmore.
Tim Rudd, an Elmwood resident who ran unsuccessfully in the past elections to represent the 15th District in the Onondaga County Legislature commented, “Strathmore and the South Side are racialized terms. We as neighbors need to come together.” A Strathmore neighbor echoed Rudd’s sentiments, “The half called Upper Onondaga Park in Strathmore is ritzy while the half called Lower Onondaga Park in Strathmore has vacant and demolished houses. We should integrate both halves.”
Then the public chose one of eight breakout groups to discuss the top community priorities identified in the preceding workshop: housing; business and economic development; neighborhood management; neighborhood beautification; youth and education, communications, media and special events; grant-writing and fundraising, and crime and safety. The participants in each group drafted an specific action plan according to an outline handed out by the facilitator, which was divided in the following items: priority, goals, actions, steps, measures of success, partners and leaders.
In the Neighborhood Beautification Task Force were: Poisson, the SUNY ESF coordinator, and Robbie Coville, from Alchemical Nursery, both of whom currently provide help at the Rahma Clinic Edible Forest Snack Garden at 3100 S. Salina St. They were joined by Renee Burgess, Kristie Blume and three others. Burgess and Blume are principal and special education teacher, respectively, at McKinley-Brighton Elementary School. The spokesperson for the group said that its priority was to clean up a lot and plant and maintain an annual and perennial vegetable garden by the medical facility; its leaders will be the school and the clinic; its goals will be for students to learn how to grow and cook vegetables; its partners will be Alchemy Nursery, Believe in Syracuse South Side, Onondaga Earth Corps., ESF and the Syracuse City School District, and its measure of success will be children collectively coming together. The task force already started implementing this project on July 30.
The workshop concluded by Coakley saying that 100 surveys related to the action plan have been filled out so far and that she expects to have between 200 and 300 of them in three months.
“Now that the workshops are complete,” she began, “the full report for the South Side Neighborhood Plan will be compiled and presented for view at a TNT general meeting in late October or early November.”
The next scheduled regular meeting of TNT Area 3 is set for 6 p.m. Sept. 12 at the South Side Innovation Center.
– By Miguel Balbuena, community correspondent for The Stand