Destiny's Plans Sour Urban-Planning Architect
October 27, 2004
Andres Duany dislikes the overall plans for Destiny USA, and he dislikes
Destiny's vision for developing the Syracuse Inner Harbor.
In truth, the word "dislikes" puts it much too mildly.
The father of "New Urbanism" reviewed Destiny's harbor renderings
Wednesday. He also looked over a map for Destiny USA released this year by
company executives, a map that shows the project spilling from Oil City into
the North Side.
Duany described the plans as "heartbreaking" and called them "silver
He agreed to talk about the projects in the middle of a noisy public
standoff between Destiny officials and Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll. As
usual, the dispute boils down to the way some public incentives will be
handed out, and whether one side is misleading the other.
The clash makes it easy for the community to take its eye off the ball,
which — from start to finish — has always been design.
Cities can rise and fall on the way major projects are designed, on what
gets knocked down, how visitors park, the way they get in and out. Those
issues are a passion for Duany, a Miami architect whose name evokes
reverence among many urban planners. His life's work, in this automobile
age, is developing livable and walkable neighborhoods and shopping
After looking over the Destiny proposals, Duany reacted with a profanity,
then sent us this e- mail:
"The plan ... is that of a suburban theme park. It bears very little
relationship to the urban fabric of Syracuse, to the point of being
contemptuous of it. This is the kind of plan that devalues the qualities of
an existing traditional city, by inserting a competing model that is slicker
and highly subsidized. It is obvious that Destiny has little intention of
sharing much with the City of Syracuse, beyond the highways.
"To propose a Florida-style theme park as a salvation for a city is the
kind of simplistic idea that, from time to time, has bamboozled elected
officials. The long, sad sequence (Duany wrote out a long list of such
typical projects as space needles, aquaria, and convention centers) is a
history of failure. They proved to be nothing more than one silver bullet
after another. They all failed to deliver because what a city requires is
slow, patient work by excellent government and many small investors.
"A mall can help a city to move forward, but a plan to achieve that would
be very different from the one currently proposed by Destiny. The current
plan is, in fact, so inept that it doesn't even do well what its developers
intend it to do. The conception is passé and it will be the laughingstock of
the design world."
Duany knows Syracuse. He came here in 1999 to create a plan for eight
locations in Onondaga County, including a Syracuse neighborhood near the
harbor. Those memories helped him when he offered this guess about the
relationship between Destiny and City Hall:
"The city knows it wants something but can't say exactly what it is,"
Duany said by telephone, after sending the e-mail. "The developer has the
entire discourse on its side." In other words, if Destiny is offering all
the proposals, city leaders appear to be obstructionists whenever they
He doesn't dismiss all the ideas put forth by Destiny, whose officials
could not be reached Tuesday night. Duany just doesn't like the concept of
putting every attraction and hotel room under one central umbrella. He
described Destiny USA as a "1980s project." He said the scale is too big,
and he predicted the development — as it's proposed right now — would not
The negotiating dynamic, he said, needs to be reversed. Because of the
level of public tax breaks and incentives, Duany said, Destiny USA has "an
obligation" to lift up the city around it, including downtown. Once Syracuse
officials figure out how they want to do that, Duany said, they should go to
the developer and demand a plan that fits.
He also invited Driscoll to give him a call. Duany said he could talk to
the mayor about other cities that might serve as good models, and he could
provide a list of planners who'd help Syracuse articulate what it really
needs. If Destiny ever began to fall apart, Duany said, he could also
suggest developers who would race to Central New York for a shot at the
Duany is not without critics of his own, and you can find urban planners
who disagree with him. But he is certainly right when he says our community
emphasis should be on design — on making sure Destiny melds with existing
neighborhoods, on making sure the whole venture benefits the greater city.
As a start, as soon as City Hall opens today, maybe Driscoll should go to
his desk and make that call.
© 2004 The Post-Standard.