Editorial: 40 years later

September 23, 2003

Looking through the lens of historical perspective and moral hindsight, the urban renewal responsible for the demise of the Syracuse's 15th Ward, which had been an enclave and refuge for Syracuse's African-American community, was at best short-sighted. At its worse, the federal program, which supplied cities with money to revive blighted areas, was unjust and cruel. It allowed municipalities to bulldoze areas, many of which were inhabited by blacks, leaving displaced families in its path.

In Syracuse, which marks the 40th year of the program this month, the remnants of 15th Ward, once the home to thousands and schools, businesses and churches was destroyed. The destruction came in the name of progress, and the face of the city did change. The city got the Everson Museum, University Hospital, high- rise apartments, a highway and a new police station.

What was unfortunate was that the planners, as was the custom in communities throughout the nation, did not consider preservation of neighborhoods as a goal equal to economic development. And the times must be considered. It was the mid-60s and African-Americans were still fighting for the right to sit at a lunch counter let alone the right to sit at the table during economic development discussions that would profoundly affect them.

The irony of ironies is that former Syracuse Mayor William Walsh was a proponent of the urban renewal and his son, Rep. James Walsh, R- Onondaga, is working to reverse some of the problems that urban renewal either caused or did not address.

The elder Walsh told the Post-Standard that he was in favor of the renewal because he wanted to revitalize the downtown area in an attempt to encourage residents, some of whom had flocked to the suburbs, to remain in the city. The flight still occurred, and city officials are still trying to get people to return to downtown and the city.

Walsh, the son, the chairman of the House subcommittee on housing, created the Syracuse Neighborhood Initiative and secured $35.5 million in funding. Its purpose is to revitalize neighborhoods especially through home ownership and funds have been targeted in the areas around the 15th ward.

That is a good thing. The aftereffects of urban renewal linger in the area some 40 years later. The region needs an infusion of housing and businesses there are some efforts underway to address these areas and attention from leaders at all levels. It needs urban renewal the right kind, in the right way.

2003 The Post-Standard.