Counting Crows (Part 1 of 2 )

I used to work in an office where one day the manager came to me in tears, “there are crows all over the front lawn. Somebody’s gonna die.”

She was so shaken that she sat down and had to compose herself.

I said, “people die every day so a crow here and there doesn’t mean anything.”

There were Crows on my block a few weeks ago, lots of them. I thought nothing of it until a few days ago.

My neighbor’s son hailed me and said he wanted to speak with me. As I walked over I thought something had changed on the block during the past week, I’d noticed more cars. My thought was interrupted.

“I’ve been trying to get your attention for the last week. I wanted to let you know that my mom died.”

I recalled his mom as the first person to welcome me to the neighborhood. When you purchase a previously distressed -property, neighbors aren’t quite sure what to make of you. But she was welcoming and would give a hearty wave as I zipped past her yard headed home.

“You’re early today,” she’d shout as I was home off schedule one afternoon.

She was the first person to sign a petition asking the city to tear down a distressed property that became home to skunks and feral cats.

The street was overgrown. Maple and cedar saplings were commingled with weeds making every effort to grasp the telephone wire above. Byrne Dairy and chip bags drifted like tumbleweed until the wind whisks them into your fenced yard for disposal.

The block had become a dumping ground for tires and trash. I have a photo of a pile of trash at N. Lowell and School streets where the trash accumulation decomposed into a compost heap held together by shards of garbage bag remnants.

As I passed the petition to property owners in the neighborhood I was warned. “Nothing’s going to happen, it’s been like this for years.”

Every property owner on the block signed the petition. I then presented the document to the mayor and a couple members of the Common Council.

The City of Syracuse began to aggressively enforce housing codes, citing the vacant house next door even sending a crew to clean up when property owners refused to take care of the home. Graffiti covered hunks of steel that once were trailers began to disappear from the weed-encrusted property that stretched over a small city block.

At city meetings, once friendly councilors would conveniently disappear as I approached them to discuss conditions. But, the city with its limitations attempted to do something.

But my letters to the Council went unanswered.
How can Van Robinson “take down” Route 81 if he can’t “take down” problem properties in neighborhoods? How can Pat Hogan help you if you don’t live in Tipperary Hill?

Once you cross W. Genesee Street at North Lowell you are no longer in Tipp Hill, kinda like in the Wizard of Oz… that part when Dorothy’s house lands on the wicked witch as she opens her door… Bling! Suddenly everything’s in Technicolor. That’s how it is when you live next to an area like Tipp Hill. They’re a Technicolor neighborhood and we’re just simply plain…like Kansas. No programs no curb appeal.

The property next door has since started birthing yellow insulation from the exposed roof cornice. I don’t ask my Common Councilor for the time of day. And those who serve At-Large have been a large disappointment if you don’t live in a designated “Technicolor neighborhood.”

Property owners living in Tipp Hill were even given money to plant flowers… “curb appeal grants” … while some of my “non-Tipp Hill” neighbors’ homes are held together with plywood, mismatched shingles and duct tape. These are working class mostly white homeowners who have no ombudsman, no preacher, no Al Sharpton.

We have a library, school and church within sight, all the things that are supposed to make up a great neighborhood.
Living in a predominately white working class neighborhood has taught me that the problem in Syracuse is not just restricted to race. It’s class. When a street and a shamrock can mean the difference between petunias and dandelions, the issue is class.

I’m not going to any more meetings because I’ve heard enough about what the city wants to do.

The phone is ringing as I complete this piece.

Do I answer it?

It’s Mayor Driscoll inviting me to the State of the City.

I’ll go this time.

And next week, I’ll tell you how it went.