Lanessa Chaplin (far left) talks with Victor Dover (second from the right) about zoning and changes that could come to the South Side of Syracuse when Interstate 81 is knocked down and Blueprint 15 is built up.

The city of Syracuse with an urban design firm will be hosting two more days of conversation about the teardown of Interstate 81 and potential changes coming to public housing. 

Dover, Kohl & Partners, hired by the city as consultants, has hosted three days of discussion so far. Urban planners from the firm took a community tour on Monday and hosted meetings at STEAM at Dr. King Elementary School on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

Three more sessions are planned:

  • Thursday, ongoing until 7 p.m.
  • Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Satruday from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Saturday’s session will include a presentation of the ideas generated in the previous conversations.

The purpose of the design studio, according to its organizers, is to give residents a chance to voice their vision for the city at a critical time. The state plans to tear down the I-81 viaduct as the city and region implements the Blueprint 15 housing and development plan.

Victor Dover, one of the design firm’s leaders, guided some of the key discussions this week. He said displacement was a repeated, key concern brought up in sessions so far.

“The phrase ‘deconcentrate’ for poverty sounds like a dog-whistle for dislocating, displacing, urban removal, breaking things up,” Dover said. “We ought to be sensitive to that.”

On Wednesday, three community members — Desmond, Marlene and Stew — sat with several of the urban planners and shared that sentiment.

They said they worried about the availability of quality housing for those who choose to leave public housing in the South Side.  

Just after the group left, NYCLU’s lead counsel Lanessa Chaplin sat down and questioned the design firm about zoning, preserving the already existing neighborhood, and ensuring that any changes benefit people already living in the South Side. She said she worried changing the neighborhood could push residents into a volatile housing and rental market. 

She brought up ReZone Syracuse, the plan to change zoning citywide. It designates large swaths of the South Side as mixed-use (commercial and residential) buildings.

“We have exclusionary zoning. We’re going to double down on that,” Chaplin said.

Dover told Chaplin the firm’s work could lead to changes to Syracuse’s zoning plan.

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Chris Libonati

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