A city vision that's on the level

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .


Infrastructure presents a great challenge and great opportunity to cities looking to the future, from the redesign of storm water collection to the remaking of streets.
Atlantic Cities today features a look at the opportunity Syracuse, N.Y. has to regain a stolen piece of its urbanity by tearing rerouting I-81, a national highway that cuts through the core of the city.
In “The Future of Urban Freeways Is Playing Out Right Now in Syracuse,” Amy Crawford writes about one leader’s interest in correcting the suburban mindset of city planners in the mid-20th century. Van Robinson, a member of the Syracuse Common Council, proposes to reroute I-81 around Syracuse and build on its current footprint a landscaped boulevard. 
“But suburban business-owners and many of the 45,000 drivers who use the highway to commute fear that any change could hurt the local economy,” the article reads. “It’s a debate that goes beyond the immediate question of how Syracuse workers will get to work — to what kind of city Syracuse will be in the 21st century.
It continues: 
“Similar discussions are happening across the United States, says John Norquist, president of the Chicago-based Congress for the New Urbanism, which publishes an occasional list of interstates ripe for demolition. Many urban freeways — a staple of mid-20th century car-centric development — are beginning to fall apart, and today cities from New Haven to Seattle (not to mention others around the world) are taking the dramatic step of tearing them down.”
Now that society has become more city-friendly, this idea resonates on several fronts in Pittsburgh.
A couple of years ago, Carnegie Mellon University architecture and design students came up with a brainstorm to drop Route 65 to street level as it passes through Manchester and Chateau on the North Side. Their brainstorm went much further, with designs to make Chateau — which is almost wholly industrial — into a more liveable place.
By dropping Route 65, the roadway would be part of the neighborhood and tie Manchester and back Chateau together. A landscaped boulevard with consideration for pedestrians could be a game-changer for both neighborhoods.
The 579/Veterans Bridge atrocity is too new to be “ripe for demolition” but in my bag of fantasies, that roadway disappears and becomes a boulevard that reintroduces Downtown to the Hill at pedestrian scale.
Mr. Robinson's vision sets a good example and it begins with this quote from the article: "Who in the world would put an interstate through the middle of a city?”
But that's not the last word. I-81's current path through Syracuse benefits outlying communities just as Route 65 serves interests in Bellevue and further upriver. If you pulled traffic down to the level where people walk and slowed it, would it be as likely to shoot through to these communities?
Every potential solution has a consequence, but it can be argued that strength should not be nurtured from the outside in but from the inside out. A suburb is only as strong as the metro hub that gave it birth.


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