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
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
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.