The next slum is not in the city

Take a drive down West Onondaga Street and notice the amazing architecture. One mansion after another, some in great shape, but far too many broken up into apartments, turned into slums. At one time, these were the McMansions of their time. The same holds true for much of James St. Think this couldn’t happen out in suburbia? Think again.

No less a prestigious periodical than the Atlantic Monthly has published an article, “The Next Slum?“, outlining the kinds of changes that are already positively affecting our cities and threatening the vast rolling hills of McMansions. You know where they are in the Syracuse area – out beyond the villages that surround the heart of Central New York, on land that you may remember for its dairy farms and corn fields. When you walk into one of these houses, look up. You’ll see where all the (expensive) heat is rising to – wasted space in cathedral ceilings. Count the number of square feet per person living there – by international standards, it borders on obscene. Look around and notice the large lawns requiring much mowing and many chemicals to maintain. Take a walk and notice the distinct lack of humans. No human interaction to speak of, just a lot of cars pulling into and out of the driveways. The garages are not “a pair of parking spaces” but rather car parks vaster than the average family home in most countries in the world.

Contrast this to our “village within the city” of Eastwood. We have a mix of homes, with many two- and three-family homes mixed in with the single-family variety. We even still have our James St. mansions. People from all walks of life are found on our streets and in our cafes, actually meeting and even greeting each other, especially in the good weather.

We are a five-minute drive from the urban center, where apartments are renting for twice what they rent for in Eastwood. We have many community groups, grassroots activists, people who have lived here their entire lives and people who have moved in from the suburbs. Things are getting visibly better in Eastwood. The phrase “Eastwood renaissance” is being used and correctly so.

Here’s a bit from that Atlantic article that forecasts what we in Eastwood can look forward to (bold font mine):

Twenty years ago, urban housing was a bargain in most central cities. Today, it carries an enormous price premium. Per square foot, urban residential neighborhood space goes for 40 percent to 200 percent more than traditional suburban space in areas as diverse as New York City; Portland, Oregon; Seattle; and Washington, D.C.

It’s crucial to note that these premiums have arisen not only in central cities, but also in suburban towns that have walkable urban centers offering a mix of residential and commercial development. For instance, luxury single-family homes in suburban Westchester County, just north of New York City, sell for $375 a square foot. A luxury condo in downtown White Plains, the county’s biggest suburban city, can cost you $750 a square foot. This same pattern can be seen in the suburbs of Detroit, or outside Seattle. People are being drawn to the convenience and culture of walkable urban neighborhoods across the country—even when those neighborhoods are small.

Given this, is not Eastwood currently the bargain of the century? Don’t you wish you’d bought a building in Armory Square in the early ’90’s? Well, Eastwood is still undervalued but on the rise. While the rest of the country frets about recession, Syracuse does what it seems to do best – moves slowly, carefully, without the big booms and busts that plague many other parts of the country. The cost of living is still low here, while the simple pleasures that make life worth living – people to enjoy, recreation, sports, cultural events, good food and plenty of water (and wine and beer!) – are here in abundance.

9 thoughts on “The next slum is not in the city”

  1. Great article Lonnie! We are hoping to be moving to Syracuse at just the right time, soon enough to get in on what really can be a great, great city.

  2. Yes, agree that is a great article and I always can feel the passion in your words for Eastwood Village!

  3. I enjoyed your artical but I tend to feel a bit differant concerning Eastwood, and Syracuse as a whole. I was born in Lyncourt and grew up their and now live in Easwood. Ive lived all over the city and Ive watched every part of this city deteriorate over a 20 year span and thats not including the south or west side and we all know why but where to afraid to say it. You cant safely walk the Nortside at night and Easwood is not that far behind. All the business are closeing down or moving because they know a storm is coming. I still consider Eastwood and Lyncourt the two better places in Syracuse but if we dont start makeing some changes the nortside will flow into it. Id like to see some culture in this part of town. The Palace Theater was a good move but we need the Easwood police on patrol more to get the kids who think their gang members of the street at night and the drug dealers off the corners and out of the bars. Id like to see finer businesses go up and see the village raise the cost of living a bit to keep the government supported down to a few. Would you live in the Eastwood Arms? or the one next to it and all the others on James street that are fast becoming like it. I wish I could see it through your eyes but its hard when you get jumped walking down the road in your hometown like I have.

  4. “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” – Robert F. Kennedy. In the case of Eastwood, I dream of things that were, not so very long ago, and I see things developing that didn’t exist even four years ago, such as a renovated Palace Theater, a completely leased Eastwood Plaza, and an Eastwood Chamber of Commerce. All three of these institutions went downhill in the past and have come back beautifully. And the Palace and the Eastwood Plaza are what might be considered the anchors on either end of our James Street business district. I see streetscape improvements that have taken place because concerned citizens are actively involved in numerous neighborhood groups. I see young people moving to Eastwood in order to raise their families. I see improvements in our library and increasing numbers of activities in Sunnycrest Park. Pressure to keep police on the beat and drugs out of buildings like the one owned by Byrne (next to Byrne Dairy) is a job for every citizen in Eastwood. This is not a gated community – it’s one that welcomes those who will and those who won’t do their part to keep the neighborhood moving in the right direction. It’s open and diverse and at times messy. That’s part of what attracted my husband and me to this place, from the suburbs. It’s not like the empty streets that have no sidewalks. Actual humans, for good or for ill, walk the streets. I hope to keep advocating, in my own small way, for a “village” that is already primarily peopled by wonderful, funny, interesting and law-abiding folks. We do have our village idiots – what village doesn’t? And we do want protection from the dangerous ones. I hope you will write a steady stream of letters to City Hall and the newspapers!

  5. Loved the article and I share your belief that there are many positives within the city that could be the sign of an urban renaissance in Syracuse.
    I disagree with the statement that the W. Onondaga St and James St homes were the McMansions of their time. As the article pointed out, the craftsmanship and the materials used in grand old turn-of-the-century buildings were far superior to the cheap and unimaginative McMansions being built all over suburbia. The quality of this new construction (cheap dry wall, hollow doors, cheap hardwood floors, thin molding, etc) will never endure like the old mansions did. And the same goes for their design. Someday they will become as passe as a 1970’s split level. Can’t say that about an 80 year old victorian, colonial, or tudor.

  6. I stand corrected! You are absolutely right about the difference in style and construction of the two types of houses. Only in size and the relative wealth of their original purchasers do they have much in common at all. I hope that every last mansion on W. Onondaga and James can be brought back to life. As I drive around the neighborhoods of Syracuse, I often think what a wealth of housing stock we have. Even the smaller houses are full of woods and fixtures the likes of which we’ll never see again.

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