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New York' Public housing transformation gets boost from freeway teardown

In Syracuse, New York, the relocation of I-81 creates opportunity for replacing public housing with a mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood.

Linear Park
New "linear" park and public facilities proposed for Connecting the New 15th Ward. Source: UDA

"One of the oldest public housing projects in the US is being redeveloped in concert with the tearing down of an elevated freeway in Syracuse, New York. The transformation of the late 1930s Pioneer Homes is designed to restore a mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood adjacent to the current Interstate 81. 

The plan for Pioneer Homes, other public housing, and the surrounding neighborhood raises the stakes and opportunities for the freeway transformation. This area in Southwest Syracuse is the site of the former 15th Ward, a largely African-American neighborhood that was torn down for “urban renewal” and highway construction. I-81 is planned to be routed around the city on the current I-481, and the elevated in-city section will be replaced by a surface street, connecting this neighborhood to Syracuse University and a medical district.

The neighborhood plan, Connecting the New 15th Ward, is to be developed by McCormack, Baron, Salazar, (MBS) an affordable housing and urban redevelopment firm. Urban Design Associates (UDA) of Pittsburgh is leading the urban design and public engagement—a process that began in the spring of 2021. The Syracuse Housing Authority has set up in-person meetings for residents, but the designers have worked remotely, due to the pandemic. 

The city has endorsed the plan, which is being submitted to US Housing and Urban Development as a $50 million Choice Neighborhoods grant (deadline is February 15). Normally, the housing authority would take the lead on a project like this. Because the overall effort is so important to the future of Syracuse, the City itself is initiating the application. The housing authority is a partner in the plan.

The $800 million project leverages local and state funding sources, and also includes wellness and education. The City is working with Purpose Built Communities of Atlanta, a nonprofit that promotes mixed-income housing, cradle-to-college education, and community wellness. Purpose Built Communities operates in 25 cities, and its model is combined with new urbanist design in Syracuse. The organization participated at CNU 27 in Louisville, and discussed with CNU how to combine their model with a stronger urban design focus. Purpose Built Communities set up a local nonprofit in Syracuse called Blueprint 15. Urban Strategies, a national nonprofit, is also a partner in health, workforce development, economic stability, education, and overall wellbeing. [...]"

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