Green Candidate Howie Hawkins Presents His Vision for a Sustainable Syracuse


Says Community Grid in the I-81 Corridor is First Step

Calls for Additional Civic and Environmental Corridors To Revitalize City Economy

Speaking from the top floor of the Crowne Plaza Hotel overlooking the I-81 corridor and the rest of Syracuse beyond, and surrounded by vision maps and drawings of what a “Sustainable Syracuse” could be, Green Party mayoral candidate Howie Hawkins presented his ideas for “rebuilding Syracuse green” on Tuesday.

“Rebuilding the I-81 corridor as a community grid, with a mixed-income, mixed-use, walkable neighborhood that is serviced by public transportation, should be the first of three civic and environmental corridors Syracuse should build to become sustainable fiscally, economically, and ecologically,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins pointed to the vision maps and drawings to call for two more “civic and environmental highways” beyond the community grid in order to revitalize the city’s economy and urban design. The visual depictions featured an east-west linear eco-industrial corridor along a restored Erie Canal and north-south linear organic agricultural corridor along Onondaga Creek.

Hawkins also outlined how his proposals for neighborhood assemblies, community-owned enterprises, affordable housing, clean energy, and public transportation were integral to the Sustainable Syracuse vision.

The maps and drawings show a restored Erie Canal flowing from the Inner Harbor through downtown and out Erie Boulevard East lined with housing, retail businesses, and manufacturing factories that process renewable and biodegradable agricultural feedstocks from region’s farms, both urban and rural, for food and other products.

Onondaga Creek is restored to a more natural state, with some small ponds and low-head hydro dams, biological sewage treatment in “living machines,” greenhouses and urban agriculture, and ecological housing, retail, and restaurant development at periodic junctions along this new waterfront property.

“These green industries can provide the foundation for a Syracuse that is sustainable fiscally, economically, and ecologically,” Hawkins said.

Civic and Environmental Corridors To Revitalize City Economy

“We need to take bold urban design initiatives to boost Syracuse out of its economic doldrums. Syracuse can’t be Everywhere USA and expect it to attract people and business any better than any other conventionally designed city. By restoring the old 15th Ward community street grid and the Erie Canal and Onondaga Creek waterways, we would create three civic and environmental highways criss-crossing the city. They would enhance the city’s charm and beauty and provide attractive gathering places for businesses, residents, workers, shoppers, and tourists to participate in commerce, recreation, education, politics, arts, and cultural activities,” Hawkins said. He said the concept of the civic and environmental highway is based on design concepts for revitalizing the Onondaga Creek corridor developed by Emmanuel Carter, a landscape architect at SUNY-ESF.

“The value-added nature of agriculture and manufacturing along the corridors would create real wealth and serve as an economic foundation for the service, retail, and government sectors. If Syracuse workers are producing real goods that the local community and other markets can use, our economy will be stronger, more self-reliant, and less dependent on decisions by distant corporate and government decision-makers,” Hawkins said.

Neighborhood-Directed Development

Hawkins said the “core principle of a Sustainable Syracuse is neighborhood-directed development using green technologies and widespread community ownership to create living-wage jobs and wealth for working families in a city that is ecologically and economically sustainable. It means the people plan their city and neighborhoods and the developers bid to work on parts of that plan, rather than continuing to defer to private developers as the default city planners for Syracuse.”

Hawkins called for transforming and strengthening the eight large neighborhood planning councils called Tomorrow’s Neighborhoods Today into more humanly-scaled Neighborhood Assemblies that correspond to the 20 or so city neighborhoods that people have named and identify with.

A strengthened and renamed Department of Planning and Sustainability would provide technical assistance and support for the community planning by Neighborhood Assemblies as well as the city’s overall urban design.

Community-Owned Enterprises

Hawkins called for a city-owned Municipal Development Bank to provide planning, advice, and financing for community-owned enterprises that provide good jobs and build wealth for city residents and revitalize the struggling commercial and industrial districts of the city.

The forms of community-owned enterprises that should be developed, Hawkins said, would include owner-operated small businesses, “community corporations” where voting shares are restricted to residents (like the Green Bay Packers), a city-owned Community Investment Trust where economic assistance such as tax breaks is converted to ownership shares in conventional businesses, and consumer cooperatives such as grocery stores and credit unions that provide goods and services to members at cost, not for the profit of absentee owners.

Two forms of community-owned businesses would receive a high priority, Hawkins said. One would be publicly-owned utilities for power and broadband. Public power would enable the city to build a 100% clean renewable electric power and heating and cooling infrastructure at lower cost. Community broadband would enable the city to provide high-speed fiber optics and free WiFi hotpsots in each neighborhood to bring state-of-the-art internet access to all businesses and residents. Hawkins also said the Department of Public Works should take responsibility for sidewalk maintenance and snow removal as it does for the city’s streets.

“Utilities are the public avenues of private commerce. With public power, broadband, and sidewalks, we can to upgrade the quality of our power, communications, and transportation systems and lower the costs of living and doing business in Syracuse,” Hawkins said.

“Worker cooperatives should receive a high priority for development because they provide their workers with a path out of low-wage poverty because they build business asset wealth as well as wage income for their workers. In a worker cooperative, workers receive the full fruits of their labor as income and assets, instead of the profits going away to absentee owners,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins said he would pursue a worker co-op development partnership with the “Eds and Meds” on University Hill on the model of the Evergreen Co-ops in Cleveland around University Circle where the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western University are located and surrounded by a low-income African-American community. The hospitals and universities provide working capital for worker co-ops that service Eds and Meds markets.

The Evergreen Cooperatives include an industrial laundry for linens and uniforms, an urban greenhouse farm providing fresh produce for hospital and university food services, and a solar panel manufacturing and installation cooperative. Hawkins suggested that the Coyne Laundry, which is now sitting idle on the city’s south side, could become an industrial laundry worker co-op in a Syracuse version of this program.

Safe, Affordable Housing

Hawkins said rebuilding Syracuse green also means a major commitment to rehabilitating and expanding the city’s housing stock to be affordable, desegregated, and environmentally safe.

Hawkins called for an inclusionary zoning ordinance so that all new and rehabbed housing development includes both low-income and upscale units in order to being de-concentrating poverty in Syracuse, which is the highest in the nation for black and Latinos and fifth highest for whites.

To address the problem of child lead poisoning, for which Syracuse has the nation’s highest rate, Hawkins called for an ordinance requiring landlords to get lead-safe certificates for their housing units before they are rented out.

With two-thirds of city residents being renters, and over half them paying more that 30 percent of their income on housing, which is the federal standard for affordability, Hawkins called for scaling up public development of affordable housing within mixed-income developments, rather than relying on primarily private developers. He cited the Syracuse Housing Authority redevelopment of the Leonard Apartments on the west side and the new Freedom Commons on the south side utilizing low income housing tax credits to finance the projects as a model that should be scaled up to address the shortage of affordable housing in the city.

Public Transportation

The vision maps and drawings portray the city serviced by a light rail system. Hawkins also had a map of the street car system in Syracuse in 1903, when every home was within two or three blocks of a street car line.

“The point is to move people, not cars per se. With convenient and affordable public transportation, we can radically reduce the land footprint of the automobile in the city and put that land to better use. If they could build out that kind of public transportation system over a century ago, there is no reason why we can’t do it again today,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins originally presented his Sustainable Syracuse ideas in a detailed position paper with the drawings and maps in his 2005 mayoral campaign. Sustainable Syracuse was his proposed alternative to the pending property tax breaks through 2035 to subsidize development of Destiny USA, which was the central issue in that year’s mayoral election.

He predicted then that the low-wage jobs and subsidized retail competition at Destiny USA would entrench low-wage poverty in Syracuse neighborhoods and undermine downtown and neighborhood business districts. Since then, high-poverty census tracks have grown four-fold in the city and notably on the north side that was supposed to benefit from Destiny USA according to its proponents.

Hawkins also noted that his position paper predicted the housing bubble, which subsequently burst in 2007-2008, had made it a bad time to bet Syracuse’s economic future on consumers and tourists for Destiny USA.

Hawkins made another prediction on Tuesday. Within a decade, self-driving cars will largely replace personal cars. They could serve as a personal rapid transit system that should be provided by a publicly-owned utility to provide the service affordably at cost. These autonomous vehicles will radically reduce the need for devoting city land to parking, opening up new space to mixed-use housing and commercial development. He said the city should be planning now for that eventuality, including its planning for the community grid in the I-81 corridor, where parking for downtown and University Hill commuters now has huge footprint.

Hawkins concluded by saying that the Sustainable Syracuse ideas are meant to provoke discussion, not as final plans. “The central concept of Sustainable Syracuse is neighborhood-directed planning. If the people are directly involved in planning their neighborhoods and the city’s urban design, they will be able to look out for their own best interests.”

More information:

Sustainable Syracuse Vision Maps and Drawings: http://www.howiehawkins.org/sustainable_syracuse_documents

2005 Sustainable Syracuse Position Paper:
http://www.howiehawkins.org/sustainable_syracuse

Emmanual Carter, Onondaga Creek Corridor Studies:
http://www.esf.edu/la/carter/A.pdf

Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland:
https://community-wealth.org/content/cleveland-model-how-evergreen-cooperatives-are-building-community-wealth