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With I-81 to come down, Syracuse focuses on an equitable redesign

The intersection of Interstate 81 and East Genesee Street, Syracuse, NY. April 11, 2022.
Maxwell Mimaroglu
The intersection of Interstate 81 and East Genesee Street in Syracuse, N.Y., April 11, 2022.

The city is planning for a Syracuse without the elevated I-81 highway, and the infrastructure update is part of a national movement to redesign cities equitably.

When I-81 was constructed, it cut through the minority community of Syracuse’s Southside. Other projects across the nation similarly harmed neighborhoods of color. But urban planning consultants for the city of Syracuse say their approach aims to unite communities.

The founding principal of Dover, Kohl, and Partners Town Planning, Victor Dover, said their work focuses on countering the poorly made policies of the past.

“City planning, big infrastructure, were used to reinforce division, and frankly, to suppress people. That's a very bad history. And we're sensitive to that fact. It's really all about change. But city building, done right, can also be healing and restorative. It requires us to focus our attention upfront on equity and inclusion and community benefit,” Dover said.

Project Director Josh Frank, said it’s important to them to re-incorporate greenery, bike lanes, and community artwork.

“We're looking towards the folks who live there to help make things places that have either meaning symbolically or physically or historically, but also to create areas that are full of pride that people can be proud of, proud to live in, proud to start a business and browse, proud to raise a family,” Frank said.

Dover said Syracuse’s approach serves as a model for others.

“I want to make sure you realize that you're the new leaders of the pack in cities, you've gotten farther and you've gotten there faster than many of your peer metro areas that are working on something similar. All eyes are on Syracuse. This is really a national occasion in the movement to tear down and replace what our Congress for the New Urbanism calls freeways without futures,” Dover said.

The discussion with Dover and Frank is part of a series of community talks hosted by Focus Greater Syracuse. Another session on I-81 will be held in late August, and recordings of past talks are posted on the Focus Greater Syracuse website.