Our Boulevards Can Be Civic Spaces Too!

By Joe Sisko + Trevor Lee, partners of Locus, and the Creators of Elevating Erie

The historic Erie Canal was once the economic life blood of Syracuse, putting the city on the national map and sparking a century of economic boom throughout the region. What was once the Erie Canal as it runs through Syracuse and DeWitt was paved over with up to eight lanes of impervious asphalt surface transforming the canal into Erie Boulevard. Today, the Boulevard has as much or more traffic lanes than most of I-690 and double the majority of Route 81. With the singular purpose to move cars quickly from one place to another the unnecessarily wide Boulevard does not create jobs or drive significant commerce to the region, and is not a destination. Urbanistically speaking, it is a disproportioned road with very little social and economic value. We have always accepted its faults, but we can do better.   

Joe Sisko (top) & Trevor Lee, LOCUS

Joe Sisko (top) & Trevor Lee, LOCUS

The greatest cities, towns, and villages around the world all have at least one thing in common. They have functionally diverse spaces designed for people, many of which are linked to streets and boulevards. These are places to lounge, relax, play, socialize, and exercise. The best places prove that when infrastructure is designed for people and built to combine transportation, ecology, commerce, housing, and recreation, they tend to generate significant and continued private investment.

Erie Boulevard has lulled us into complacency. We assume that a disciplined engineering team designed it, so there must be clear logic for six travel lanes in our city. As a result of the Elevating Erie Competition, we can reimagine how this corridor could once again be a strong social and economic connector. If anything it is abundantly clear that the Boulevard holds far greater opportunity than it is currently yielding.  We SHOULD be demanding better, and we should all be thinking creatively about how to improve our city.

The challenge here is how to reimagine a transformed Erie Boulevard into a public amenity. Inadequate planning along the Boulevard has forced us to reconsider nearly 330 acres of the city. This is why it was clear to LOCUS that we needed a bold, positive vision of the future that people could support. What is the appropriate vision, and how do you bring dramatically underutilized infrastructure back to life?

Small, incremental changes over time will not be enough. We HAVE to think big in order to make significant and meaningful change. We learned from the I-81 challenge that before we can have any real options, we need to know what the community wants; what gets people excited? A multi-municipality conversation about big ideas with the goal of instigating big changes needs to take place. We have to get people engaged, and we need to get them envisioning the potential for something great.

We determined the best way to get people talking is to generate many different possibilities, so we held an international ideas competition. We wanted people from all over the world to validate the importance of Erie by developing progressive, innovative, and creative solutions that could ignite our community’s imagination. We wanted them to help us Elevate Erie, and now that the big ideas are in it is on us to start talking about what has value, what is right for Syracuse, and what we should be expecting of our public spaces. 

Joe Sisko and Trevor Lee are the creators of Elevating Erie and the partners of LOCUS, a hybrid consultancy that uses a combination of design and storytelling to lift the ideas off the ground and get them out into the world with clarity and style. LOCUS collaborates with engineers, developers, universities, not for profits, cities, and businesses to generate positive social, cultural or ecological impacts. Every project has a story to tell.  www.designinglocus.com