Q/A with Elevating Erie Ideas Competition Finalist Chris Merritt

Chris Merritt's vision of Erie Boulevard as the Erie Eco-Transect

Chris Merritt's vision of Erie Boulevard as the Erie Eco-Transect

The ideas and illustrations generated by the Elevating Erie Ideas Competition have inspired us all to think bigger as we envision the future of Erie Boulevard. Today we hear from Chris Merritt, who delivered stunning imagery of a vibrant, urbanized boulevard. His proposal reads as a how-to guide on striking the ideal balance between reestablishing our rich heritage, committing to new patterns of use and investing in the core fabric of our community through an activated streetscape. 

Project Finalist Chris Merritt

Project Finalist Chris Merritt

EE: What inspired you to enter the Elevating Erie competition?

CM: This competition was a unique opportunity for me to think about how a community can reposition its abandoned and forgotten infrastructure – using landscape architecture to transform the city. By coincidence, around the launch of the competition I drove through upstate New York from Cleveland to Boston and thought about the incredible history and future potential of the Erie Canal. I have always been interested in the revitalization of post-industrial cities through investment in public space, and the Elevating Erie competition posed questions on how to do that – questions many other cities are also thinking about.

EE: What did you find to be the most interesting or unique challenges of the project?

CM: As our cities sprawled during the middle of the last century, we forgot about what we now know creates healthy communities. The car dominated city building and development decisions, and Erie Boulevard between DeWitt and Syracuse is case in point of the negative impacts. Many cities are now faced with trying to reverse these past decisions to make their communities more walkable, bikeable, and pedestrian friendly. The Elevating Erie competition has prompted local discussion on the future of mobility and connectivity – and has the opportunity to leverage the abandoned canal as an asset to transform the corridor.

EE: What do you feel are the most compelling elements of your project?

CM: My proposal suggests that investment in public space can serve as a catalyst for transforming the community. By creating a linear park that uncovers the canal of the past with references to native habitats, the corridor can be used for gathering, recreation, and relaxation. The canal would serve as a multi-functional infrastructure. In addition, improvements to street and sidewalk infrastructure that are pedestrian rather than vehicular focused, provide connectivity and would promote economic development along the corridor.

EE: What elements or components of walking/biking infrastructure are most essential to you, personally speaking?

CM: I am an avid cyclist. I bike for commuting and recreation, and have experienced living in cities with excellent and very poor bike facilities. In order for bikes to work in cities, it needs to be safe and people need to feel comfortable – that is difficult with how we have designed many of our cities. It is important that we all recognize that cycling is a mode of transit. I recently returned from a trip to Europe where I was able to see this cultural mindset and investment in bike infrastructure first hand. The extension of the Erie Canalway Trail through this area is critical for regional connectivity as well as local – and can further solve the physical and cultural infrastructure problems existing in Syracuse and DeWitt.

EE: What are your aspirations as a designer? What motivates you?

CM: I am motivated by city leaders and communities who are passionate about creating healthy, fun, and green places to live and work. As a landscape architect, we can play an important role in advocating for public space in cities as they rebuild and grow. The Elevating Erie competition is a great first step from the community leadership that positions the canal and Erie Boulevard as a priority in thinking about the future of Syracuse and DeWitt. 

Chris Merritt is a Master of Landscape Architecture Candidate at Harvard University. He currently resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts.