Don Jordan (center) speaks with an urban planner from Dover, Kohl & Partners about the 500 block of Oakwood Street, the street his family has lived in for nearly the last century. Credit: Chris Libonati |

Nearly an hour after public conversations ended about residents’ visions for Syracuse after the Interstate 81 viaduct comes down, Don Jordan walked in.

Planners had stayed late after Wednesday’s design studio to review streetscape designs and chat about the feedback community members had shared all day.

As they looked at potential designs on a projector and pondered the fate of public housing in Syracuse, Jordan spoke up and provided a different vision than most of the residents had already given the urban planners.

He said Pioneer Homes had outlived its useful life, but he also pushed back on Blueprint 15’s vision for the area.

Residents in the city’s South Side had come to accept too little, he said. They deserved homes they owned and to stay in their community. 

“I’m sorry, we don’t need Pioneer Homes no more,” Jordan told planners. “That’s what used to be. We don’t need that no more.” 

Jordan shared how he’d seen in his lifetime in Syracuse how city and state officials pushed I-81 through a majority Black neighborhood with little care for how it affected his neighbors. Some of his family members ended up in Mulberry Square or Kennedy Square, projects doomed to fail. 

I-81 spared his nuclear family and their house at 552 Oakwood Ave. — by just two blocks. Jordan’s father lived there before him, and Jordan’s son will take over the deed soon, he said.

The planners asked to see his house, so he took a group of about 10 on an impromptu walk to the 500 block of Oakwood Avenue. Jordan pointed out Tucker Missionary Baptist Church, founded by his uncle Forest Adams.

He recalled stories of how some houses deteriorated in the 1980s during the crack epidemic. Jordan said he fought off “crackheads” to keep the block safe. His car was shot up, his dog was killed, he said. His block has improved since then, he said.

Then Jordan walked planners to the Dunbar Center. Along the way, he pointed out houses where neighbors used to live.

He wanted to show the planners what he says is the key to unlocking the neighborhood: homeownership.

Owning part of the neighborhood improves pride in it, he said. The notion that Jordan is rooted on Oakwood Avenue pushes himself to personally clean litter off the street every so often.

Some of his neighbors bought up vacant lots next to their homes, expanding their yards and saving the green space from speculators and irresponsible landlords.

“We don’t need high rises, we don’t need no more projects,” Jordan said. “We don’t need that. We need housing. We need grocery stores. We need sustainability.”


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Chris Libonati

Chris Libonati covers government, accountability and equity. Have a tip? Contact Chris at 585-290-0718 or