Surge-a-cuse! Mayor Ben Walsh Delivers Substantive Inspirational Vision for the City of Syracuse

This is about Surge-a-cuse! A city about to surge into the future, the following is an analysis of the State of the City and implications for our city.

In his second State of the City Address, delivered from Red House at City Center, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh is giving us a vision of a revitalized city of Syracuse. Unlike previous presentations that offered metaphoric socio-economic, “thoughts and prayers”, Walsh’s message outlining the Syracuse Surge, was substantive, full of initiatives that are both exciting and inspirational. The hour long presentation was a display of Mayor Walsh’s ability to not only to think out of the box, but to lead, out of the box. “States of anything” addresses have become trite and hackneyed and as satisfying as a mouthful of Captain Crunch. Soon the sugar high dissipates and you’re still hungry. See full text : Mayor Ben Walsh Delivers his 2019 State of the City Address

Mayor Ben Walsh speaks with media after State of The City 2019

This State of the City was like going to the Brazilian steakhouse and getting 17 courses of meats. This municipal buffet continues the Walsh Administration’s commitment from the very beginning, to be different, and that it does; as we can envision Syracuse rising like a pound cake baking in a mother’s oven. Overpowering past policies that had the aroma of poorly cleaned chitterlings!

First of all Mayor Walsh defined a vision for Syracuse, “Syracuse will be a growing city that embraces diversity and creates opportunity for all….This is our vision because it is what we need. For decades we have been losing population, losing jobs and, for some, losing faith in our collective future.”

In order to accomplish any success the mayor detailed his administrations four objectives:  Achieving fiscal sustainability, Delivering city services effectively, efficiently and equitably; Increasing economic investment and neighborhood stability and, providing quality constituent engagement and response. (see links below, for an example of initiatives accomplished.)

The Future is now

Walsh continues, “The world is changing at a breakneck speed, and virtually every scholar tells us the pace of change in our global society is only getting faster with each passing year. Think about it – this was a car in 1960. Here is a car from 1990 with automated locks and airbag safety technology. Now, here’s one from 2018 – this one drives itself around town. And by 2023, we anticipate that a ‘car’ that looks like this will be making its way into cities across the country. The future promised in the Jetsons is finally here.”

Something to Put in those Bike Lanes

The Syracuse Mayor proudly displayed new innovation as if they were on an upbeat game show such as, The Price is Right; “I’m very proud to show you tonight — in collaboration with Gotcha Bike, Adapt CNY and the Syracuse Bikeshare Committee — the very first new Syracuse Sync bicycle. When the warmer weather arrives in April, we will have 200 Syracuse Sync bicycles on the streets. People can use them to get to work, go shopping, or just go for a ride. Sync bikes can be left at designated ‘mobility hubs’ that will be located in neighborhoods across the city for another rider to use.” There will be multiple ways to pay for the service, by the day, hour, month, etc.

The Syracuse Surge

After explaining goals and objectives….Walsh dropped the hammer, as he explained, The Syracuse Surge. This is the most comprehensive reinvention of Syracuse since, dare I say this, Urban Renewal and the construction of Interstate 81.

The Resurrection of Central Tech High School

The signature investment for the Southside Campus will be in the former Central Tech High School which graduated its last class in 1975. In the original plans for Urban Renewal the public was promised enlarged playing fields, as with many improvements promised, never materialized. Since we began renovating our schools, countless people have advocated for the restoration of the former Central Technical High School. There’s now a plan to make those ideas a reality, with Central Tech as an anchor for an urban campus.

“The predominant feature of the campus will be a new regional Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math – or STEAM – school. It will be built in a fully restored and modernized former Central High School, an historic gem that has awaited reuse for decades. The school, planned in a partnership between the city, the county, school district and OCM BOCES will capitalize on the city’s success in career and technical education, making it available to students from districts throughout the region. Additionally, the Southside Campus will house an expanded workforce development center in the fully renovated and expanded SUNY Educational Opportunity Center complex adjacent to the STEAM School.”

New technology in Street Lighting

The city’s investment will pay off since the new lighting incorporates the new technology of LED with the possibilities for a variety of functions including the possible introduction of municipal Wi-Fi.

These units will be “smart” enabled propelling Syracuse into the future of managing energy use, while unlocking the possibility of delivering new services to residents. With 50% of Syracuse residents not having access to broadband, proper use of these technologies could bridge the digital divide in an impoverished city.

The new lights save the city 3 million dollars annually. On display were prototypes of new lighting LED, for both traditional city streetlights and historic district lighting.

There are several items wrapped within these Street Lights including making lights brighter at a crime scene, counting numbers of pedestrians and vehicles that pass during a given period.

Fully loaded, the new technology can gather important information suitable for economic development application, along with the built-in capability for the installation of surveillance cameras.

Selecting a Police Chief

Deputy Mayor Owens led the process that included meetings with stakeholders; this included clergy, elected officials, public safety experts and area residents. Ultimately, Chief Kenton Buckner was selected for the job. A top to bottom review is taking place at the department which will result in some changes. Chief Kenton Buckner is conducting a review of policies and procedures, beginning with use of force and pursuits. Several weeks ago 35 new Police Officers graduated from the academy and are now patrolling our streets. Another class will be prepared soon.

Fire Department

According to the Mayor, “Under the leadership of Fire Chief Mike Monds and First Deputy Fire Chief Steve Evans, our city Fire Department had an outstanding year. The department graduated its own new class of recruits – 26 additional firefighters. Community outreach has never been stronger. The Department staged a Smoke Detector Block Blitz using data to target homes that were more likely to not have detectors. They installed approximately one thousand new smoke detectors this year, surely steering hundreds of city families from peril. Chief Monds also established a new officeof public information.”

What Troubles Syracuse: The Impact of Poverty

Walsh didn’t shy away from stating poverty as being a primary concern of his administration. With the city’s I-Team leadership they’re getting into details impacting not just the impoverished, but the entire community. Focusing on housing stability and what can we do about 25% of city residents who are “moving one or more times per year” according to the mayor.  Initiatives introduced at The State of the City Address, indicates that Mayor Walsh is not afraid to handle some of the systemic problems Syracuse is challenged with.

Financial Empowerment Center

We’ve heard about Syracuse’s staggering poverty once it hit national lists. But there have been few substantive efforts made to bring about change to those who may be impoverished; and or those who are one paycheck away from poverty. The city becomes one of few across the nation that are making an attempt to work with people in an effort to empower them financially.

Syracuse will become one of only fifteen cities in the United States to open its own Financial Empowerment Center. According to the Mayor, “Individuals and families will be able to get free professional financial counseling. The service will help families create and build the kind of assets that can help them weather unexpected events and separate themselves from the risk of falling in to poverty. This is critical for Syracuse. Almost 75% of households struggle to afford basic necessities like housing, transportation, child care, or food even when employed.”

The Financial Empowerment Center will help people improve their lives by possibly stabilizing their economic condition. Economic stability can reduce the number of people moving annually, build more stable neighborhoods and create new homeowners.

Signs of life

County Executive McMahon and area leaders agree on major tax deal

The mayor also mentioned the surge in development on W. Onondaga with the success of Salt City Coffee and plans to renovate a long vacant mansion transforming it into a Pathfinder Bank location. It’s clear, look around and observe there’s a new vibe in the city of Syracuse.  The city and Onondaga County recently ratified a Sales Tax agreement that secures a set percentage of revenues split between the city and county. In the past, county legislators have attempted to fight for larger shares for towns and villages. This agreement is void of the ranker that’s surrounded past inter-municipal agreements.

Look at Syracuse University, a new National Veterans Center is being constructed along with new residential housing that has changed the Marshall Street area forever, as construction has spilled off the university hill into surrounding neighborhoods. Westcott Street may be home to a new mixed use building, extending the residential building boom into another neighborhood commercial center.  A massive investment in Carrier Dome is planned, changing our recognizable pillow topped skyline.  Regardless of what happens with Interstate 81, Syracuse Housing Authority plans major changes including adding mixed use housing and selling parcels such as McKinney Manor to interested developers.

As of 2019, each of our five TNT’s aka Tomorrow’s Neighborhoods Today; have a Five-Year plan constructed by the people, who give the city an idea where to invest limited available resources. And provides a communicative platform where consensus is built regarding a community’s future. After decades of being prohibited in city parks, sledding has returned Syracuse.

Remaining Challenges – Violence

Gun Violence

There’s a cry of desperation from the neighborhoods, where children can’t play outside without fear. Where, we’re saddened on a far too frequent basis on the news about another young life being cut short. The mayor lamented in a past interview over violence as being one of the toughest challenges that he deals with.

In the midst of this surge, there’s a critical problem with violence against and between young people. We lead the nation in being a place where it’s not safe to be a young person between the ages of 14-24. However, he’s facing the issue head on, the new Police Chief will be making substantive changes as to how policing is done. The Administration is also searching for neighborhood based solutions in an effort to create neighborhood based employment. They’re not sugar coating anything.


Ben Walsh’s Inaugural Address

The first year of the Walsh Administration clearly indicates a commitment to the diversity of our city. His inclusive administration has stunned naysayers who continuously said, “He’s still from a Republican family”. Ben Walsh is responsible for the appointment of more African Americans to positions that wield true responsibility and power, than multiple Democratic and Republican predecessors combined.

Now, there’s a pause. The first year is done. The Administration has mapped out a plan of action ranging from municipal snow removal from sidewalks to harnessing technology to attack some of our more daunting problems such as a transient population and evictions.

He’s now installed a team tasked with fulfilling the Ben Walsh vision of Syracuse.  Walsh has mended fractured relationships with state and local leaders, winning partners, creating an atmosphere that’s inspired young people to become active participants in local government.  He’s laid out an ambitious plan for the Syracuse Surge; the address was not about what he wants to do, The State of the City was clear, we’re doing this!

“The transformation of the city of Syracuse is, indeed, underway. Tonight, we have shared a vision for growth. I’ve presented accomplishments on the city’s fiscal health, in improving city services, creating economic investment and stronger neighborhoods, and engaging with you.

We have revealed plans to surge Syracuse forward as one of America’s great cities through smart investments in technology and people. These actions will give our businesses a competitive advantage, attract investment and prepare our citizens for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

The journey to shared prosperity will be hard, but the path will be lighted by a focus on equity – in the way we deliver services, and how we create opportunity. We will be sure that our partners are with us every step of the way, participating in, and benefiting from our surge forward.

I stand before you tonight thankful for the opportunity to be your mayor. I am appreciative of the support you have given me. And I am confident in our future. Syracuse’s best days aren’t just ahead of us. Our city’s best days are within our reach.” – Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh