~ Urban Renewal ~

All American cities have experienced, to some extent, an exodus of business and residents to the suburbs especially cities in the northeast.  Community leaders have sometimes decided that it is older downtown buildings that are to blame.  As a result, large downtown areas have been leveled in the name of "urban renewal."

In the 1960's and 1970's these leveled areas were often covered with windswept new plazas hosting modern high-rise office towers like the MONY plaza and towers downtown.  It wasn't until years later that people started to notice that no one was using these new plazas (to understand why go to The Future of Clinton Square).  The liveliness of the street network had been replaced with empty stretches of concrete that no one cared to linger in.

More recently, large areas have been leveled in order to build suburban style developments.  Downtown was loosing shoppers to the suburban shopping malls.  Why not the reasoning went build shopping malls downtown to bring the shoppers back?  The Galleries on South Salina was such a project.  In most cities, as in Syracuse, after spending enormous amounts to build them, these new downtown malls have attracted no more business than the buildings they replaced.

Other times historic buildings were simply destroyed in the hopes that something better would follow.  We've been waiting since 1970 for something new and better to be built on the former site of the Yates Hotel.

So what strategies have succeeded in bringing renewed life to downtown?  In Syracuse the only downtown area that has shown renewed economic life in recent years is Armory Square.  This wasn't a huge government led project and it didn't depend on massive government subsidy.  It was started by enterprising business people who shared a vision of the kind of development they would like to see.  And it depended for its success on the type of historic architecture destroyed by failed urban renewal attempts.

Statistics consistently show that preservation projects create more jobs, income, and wealth than comparable new construction projects while preserving an area's history in the process (see Profiting Through Preservation).

  • Destroying Syracuse's 15th Ward. In the 1960's Syracuse destroyed a predominantly African-American neighborhood southeast of downtown to make way for the new Interstate 81 and several civic projects. As these residents scattered to new homes in other parts of the city, many white residents picked up and moved to the suburbs. It is a sad chapter in the city's history, and one the community is still struggling to come to terms with.

  • There Goes the Neighborhood. To spark urban renewal, some towns dynamite history.   Littleport, Iowa was "the town you can blow up," Mayor Zapf offered it on the Internet to any Hollywood studio that needed a small town to dynamite to smithereens for an action movie.

  • Drugstore Chains bring suburban development to the city.  As chain drugstore companies vie for name recognition and market dominance, they prefer to locate at prominent intersections at "The Corner of Main and Main." Historic buildings frequently occupy the chosen sites, making them vulnerable to demolition.  Historic buildings are being lost to chain drug stores at an alarming rate, in Syracuse and across the country.

    • Chain pharmacies are returning to Downtown -- and destroying it.  Burd found himself fighting a lonely battle to save a cluster of buildings in Shamokin, a sleepy town of about 20,000 residents nestled in central Pennsylvania's once-prosperous coal valley. His Goliath-sized opponent was Rite Aid, the quickly expanding drugstore chain.

    • Chain Drugstore Success Stories.  Fifteen success stories from around the country -- including Syracuse, Buffalo and Albany -- where national drugstore chains have agreed to spare historic buildings rather than tear them down.

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Home Up Williams and the 15th Ward