Pictured is Little Harlem, formerly at the corner of Townsend and East Washington streets. Credit: Courtesy of the Onondaga Historical Association

This story is part of a series of submissions to Central Current by CNY Fair Housing explaining its Run the Redline event and how redlining affects Syracuse. CNY Fair Housing is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring housing access and eliminating housing discrimination. Read the first, second and third stories in the series here.

CNY Fair Housing will host the first ‘Run the Redline’ through portions of downtown Syracuse on Sept. 17. The route — which can be run, rolled or strolled — traces a portion of the red lines drawn across the city by federal and local housing officials during the 1930s.

CNY Fair Housing’s series on redlining has explained the damaging impact that federal housing policies have had on neighborhoods across the country. In Syracuse, redlining and Interstate 81 were responsible for the decimation of the 15th ward, as well as the unraveling of other ethnic communities. 

The race route for Run the Redline was carefully chosen. While many portions of Syracuse were impacted by redlining, the 15th ward was destroyed and its residents displaced.

“I’d like to think of this as a reflection of history’s injustice, to take a step back and recognize the cross generational effects redlining has had on wealth, income, education and health of our communities,” said Tysha Martin, CNY Fair Housing’s director of community engagement. “The displacement of hundreds of families and whole neighborhoods is relevant and deserves our attention as we embark on the I-81 project again. We cannot take back what has already been taken from us but we can agree to not let this happen again.”

Along the race route, organizers have collaborated with the Onondaga Historical Association to highlight prominent neighborhood buildings and meeting places that were central to the residents of the 15th ward, such as AME Zion Church. While the original structure still stands at 711 E. Fayette Street, its congregation now worships in Syracuse’s Southside neighborhood. 

The same building that used to be located in Little Harlem is pictured here. Credit: Courtesy of CNY Fair Housing

“With assistance from the historical association, we have collected numerous photos of structures that were present prior to the construction of I-81 and the displacement of neighborhood residents,” said Martin. “These photos will be displayed along the route to show how public policy and programs like redlining and urban renewal failed existing communities. This inclusive event was created as an opportunity to look at the state the City of Syracuse finds itself in again as we tackle the numerous concerns expressed by local neighbors, politicians, businesses, community groups, and the County as a whole with the I-81 project.”

While this event is designed as a traditional 5K/3K, Run the Redline at its core is an educational event. 

“While these neighborhoods are accessible and drivable every day, when do we slow to consider what once was?” said Alex Dukat, CNY Fair Housing’s grants manager. “Do we take time to consider why there are so many vacant lots, why the city feels cut in half, and most importantly – who benefitted from all of this happening? When was the last time you walked or stood underneath I-81 and took a breath of the air, took in the noise pollution, and considered what it would be like to lose your neighborhood or your health because of policy without representation?” 

Along the race route will be information and photos of what was – housing, buildings, neighborhoods. Organizers hope that participants will allow themselves to slow down and take in the redline so that as we move forward, we do not repeat history. 

“The historic practices that shaped our neighborhoods can seem distant and abstract, yet they are ever present for those who continue to live in these redlined neighborhoods or close to I-81,” said Sally Santangelo, Executive Director of CNY Fair Housing. “The results of these historic decisions are a constant presence impacting the quality of life and health of Syracuse residents. We hope that those making the decisions about the future of this neighborhood will engage in this event and take the time to understand this history and how their decisions can have an impact on generations to come.”

read more about redlining in Syracuse

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