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Design Competition Finalists Re-imagine Infrastructure Around Erie Boulevard In Syracuse and Dewitt

Chris Bolt

The finalists for the "Elevating Erie" project were unveiled at the Erie Canal Museum Thursday Night. These cutting edge designs to transform parts of Syracuse and Dewitt could spark change in city infrastructure. 

For many people there's little connection between Erie Boulevard and the Erie Canal.  But a design competition - and some creative future thinking - are trying to change that.

Architect and planner Jeff Olson of the design firm ALTA was a judge at the competition. He started out by thanking the entrants, who collectively came from 16 different countries.

 “We don’t get enough chances to do this, to have imagination -  be a leader in our communities and to help look at that 50 year future supervisors said we’re building,” Olson said.

Credit Chris Bolt / WAER News
This entry depicts luxury apartments behind Erie Boulevard and the re-opening of the canal, which would allow sailboats to drift down the water. The competition was opened in the Fall of 2015 by the City of Syracuse and Town of DeWitt.

  And the designs are certainly futuristic.  Some envision a new plan for Erie Boulevard with park-like, bike, pedestrian and alternative transportation corridors.  Others re-cast the wetlands near Bridge Street as a park, wildlife area, or waterfront for businesses and restaurants.  Another imagines a DNA-shaped bridge for walkers and bicyclists that would connect the Erie Canal in Dewitt across Route 481.  Some of the ideas focused on closing a gap in the Cycle the Erie Canal trail through Syracuse.

Landscape Architect Chris Reed of the design firm Stoss said many designs utilize, in some way, the old Erie Canal; the original plan is just re-imagined.

“How can we think of multiple uses, layered on to that line of infrastructure?” Stross said.  “You see this across the states, you see this around the world, how cities are kind of rediscovering some of the infrastructures of the past, making them into parks, looking at ways to kind of reengage in that history. At the same time, they look forward to redevelopment and reinvestment.”

Dewitt Town Supervisor Ed Michaelenko says many of the ideas contained in the designs match up with goals of town development.

“Establishing safe bike and pedestrian paths, improving traffic flow, enhancing business and residential opportunities, and providing green space and increasing property values -  in support, the town is currently planning to restore the wide waters of Erie Boulevard and Bridge Street," Michaelenko said. "I call it Dewitt’s Manius Duck Pond.”

 Of course investment, and who would do it, are the big questions - especially given costs of some of the more imaginative designs.  But planner Jeff Olson said a turning tide of investment in urban areas.

 “I would characterize this movement as 29 years of pushing a rock up a hill, and then there’s this year,” Olson said. “All of a sudden, it feels like we’re going downhill with the wind at our back. Projects that we had never imagined would happen are happening on a regular basis. Walkway Over the Hudson, New York City Greenway System – I was in Saratoga this morning working on a greenbelt trail, a complete loop around the perimeter of our city.” 

Credit Chris Bolt / WAER News
This entry shows the use of a two-level, bike and pedestrian DNA-shaped bridge that would wind around Route 481 to connect Syracuse and Dewitt. All submissions are on display at the Erie Canal Museum and online.

  The right design and enough proponents could be coming along at the right time. The Upstate Revitalization Initiative recently awarded the area $500 million for development of projects related to city infrastructure.

The Elevating Erie Designs can be viewed at the Erie Canal Museum through August 14. The entries are also available online, where the public is encouraged to give feedback on ideas that were submitted. This online survey is also designed to gage community priorities for the corridor.