Tuesday, April 21, 2009

April 9, 1967

Last I heard, Syracuse needed a job. Tens of thousands of them, in fact. This being the case, has Syracuse taken a look at its resumé recently?

First, if Syracuse wants to be the cutting-edge green technology "Emerald City," (and it doesn't, according to this webpage, but rather "A City for All Seasons"), why is its web site design exactly the same as it was five years ago? Even five years ago, it looks like something that had been created five years earlier. Script typeface? And three different ones, at that? What, was Comic Sans not available?

There are approximately three dozen significant community and neighborhood parks in Syracuse. Perhaps we should not allow just one of them to own a whole department. Or just hope that not knowing how to correctly use apostrophes doesn't reflect badly upon the city school system.

And the "Community Videos" page:

Really? It took more than two dozen business sponsors, seemingly upchucked on the page, to fund this series of videos, which YouTube or Vimeo could host for free? Certainly it couldn't be the production costs, as it appears that the same dozen or so clips are used in every video. (Not to mention the exact same series of videos—with Rochester images—are on the Rochester, NY website, except their "Welcome Message" is "Coming Soon.") And about those pictures: you might want to go a little less literal and more metaphorical when discussing Syracuse as "the crossroads of New York." Aerial photographs of elevated highways bisecting a downtown in six different directions haven't been a selling point for cities since the Cold War.

Speaking of cold, eleven videos about the Syracuse community and not a snowflake in sight? Besides the need to play to one's strengths, honesty is important, Syracuse—you don't want to be hired and get caught in a lie.

Despite 172 municipally owned and maintained parks, fields, inactive cemeteries and medians/traffic islands, Syracuse has frequently missed the forest for the trees. A bizarre rebranding campaign that seems to celebrate the literary pride of Chittenango instead of picking up a copy of Ithaca's own Strunk & White. 1.5 million dollars to install new benches downtown, to sit among litter that still lines the streets. And in 1967, when Syracuse was preoccupied with tearing down historic buildings in hopes of revitalizing downtown, city leaders not only missed, but openly mocked, a simple opportunity to promote Syracuse during a six-month period of time when over fifty million people drove right by their doorstep.

In April 1967, the city of Montreal was about to open the doors to Expo '67, the first World's Fair following the 1964 New York World's Fair. Much like the New York fair, Expo '67 featured an emphasis on future technology, centered around the theme "Man and His World." Buckminster Fuller built the geodesic dome that served as home for the US pavilion (similar to what he later designed for Disneyworld's EPCOT center). Syracuse University Industrial Design students were personally invited to the Expo to show the full scale model of the all-electric car they had designed for the "neighborhood of tomorrow." The car, named "Shuttle 1984," carried two to four passengers and was powered by a fuel cell, designed by students "to eliminate pollution...work[ing] on the assumption that by 1984, this type of car might be the only one allowed in certain communities." (Post-Standard, April 1, 1967). Crucible Steel was used in the creation of Montreal's subway system: "look for it when you ride the Metro—it's in the escalators, the turnstiles, the trains, and even the signposts." (Post-Standard, April 26, 1967).

Early estimates assumed that over 30 million visitors would make the trip to Montreal between April and October 1967. Needless to say, cities along the driving route—and especially within a day's driving distance—were thrilled about the potential marketing and tourism opportunities. Plattsburgh, as the nearest American city to Montreal, kept their Chamber of Commerce open 16 hours a day, and offered "courtesy nickels" to cars parked overtime at meters, stressing this is Plattsburgh's "first — and perhaps the last — opportunity to meet five million persons in such a short time, and to impress them so that they will want to see [the city] again" (Post-Standard, April 19, 1967). St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce launched "Expo-sure," a series of courtesy workshops and orientation programs for all county employers, as "the county can not afford to miss this once in a lifetime opportunity." (Post-Standard, April 29, 1967) Vermont went all out, placing full-page ads in newspapers such as the Syracuse Herald-American (February 26, 1967):

Syracuse, located a five-hour drive from Montreal, and directly along the route of any Expo visitors traveling from the South, had its own tourism campaign:

Rochester—a full day's drive away from Montreal—tied in its Lilac Festival with Expo '67, Cortland appointed a special committee to see how they could attract Expo visitors, and Syracuse, apparently too busy with razing the Wood Hotel, one of the first poured concrete structures in the city and headquarters for many of the vaudeville actors who played at Keith's and Loew's (Syracuse Herald-American, April 9, 1967), didn't really see the point in taking advantage of gaining the attention of any of the 50 million visitors that eventually attended Expo '67. According to an April 9, 1967 article in the Syracuse Herald-American, the Syracuse Chamber of Commerce had done little to lure Expo visitors to stay in the city's hotels, shop at its stores, or enjoy any local attractions. How little?

Fulton: several thousand brochures telling about Oswego County were placed for free distribution at the state pavilion at Expo 67 (Post-Standard, April 28, 1967)
Syracuse: According to Spencer Wallace, president of the local Hotel-Motel Association, the group put up "a new bulletin board at the Thousand Islands side of the international bridge which invit[ed] people to come to Syracuse."

Auburn: The Auburn Chamber of Commerce pooled its resources with several other local Chambers, including Canandaigua and Seneca Falls, to hire a man to visit places where they think Expo travelers will stop and distribute information about the Finger Lakes Region
Syracuse: According to Leslie Parnell, executive director of the Syracuse Automobile Association, "We are not doing anything but our overall organization is routing some traffic through here...[we are] taking care of [our] members by booking travelers into trailer parks in Canada."

Buffalo: Buffalo Area and Convention Bureau's mailing envelopes printed with information about the Expo and reminding travelers of Buffalo's proximity to Canada
Syracuse: According to Chris Paskalides, Syracuse Convention Bureau manager, Syracuse had "advertise[d] in several Canadian magazines"

Ithaca, Oswego, Auburn, Massena, Malone and Utica: set up special information booths along their thruway and/or highway exits providing visitors with materials on Expo as well as what to do and where to stay in each city
Syracuse: According to Syracuse Chamber of Commerce Publicity Director Richard Grimshaw, when asked about what the Chamber is doing to attract visitors in Syracuse: "well, we are not running an advertising campaign in Ohio saying while on your way, stop in Syracuse."

In fact, the only Expo related signage in Syracuse in 1967 was taken down after Governor Nelson Rockefeller signed a bill changing the name of the Exposition (itself an officially abbreviated version of New York State Agricultural and Industrial Exposition) back to the New York State Fair (Syracuse Herald-Journal, April 12, 1967).

While discussing how to "sell" Oswego County to Expo visitors, the Oswego County Tourism Council came to an important realization:

Most of last night's discussion, however, centered around local promotion as the council's objectives—and ways and means of achieving them—began to crystallize. It was pointed out that before the county can be sold to tourists from outside, local inhabitants have to be made aware of the attractions in their own back yard. (Post-Standard, April 28, 1967)
It should be no surprise that Syracuse did not promote itself during Expo '67, as 1967 Syracuse did not have a clue as to its identity. The landscapes of both downtown and suburban Syracuse were changing on a daily basis, with both seemingly fighting to control the destiny (no pun intended) of the city. The April 12, 1967 Syracuse Herald-Journal featured a half-page photo of the Onondaga Interchange under construction, titled—no joke—"Can of Worms":

The giant "can of worms," as it is called by construction workers, is rapidly changing from engineers' drawings into functional, fast-moving, complex highway system. Looking west from Syracuse's Catherine Street-Erie Boulevard West area, road at bottom of picture is Route 81 northbound. It will hook up with Route 690 eastbound. Directly above that span is Route 690 ramp connecting with Route 81 southbound. Curved steel at upper left is hookup from Route 81 to Route 690, and span going across top of picture is Route 690 east and west. All spans are part of the Onondaga Interchange.

Syracuse had no idea where these roads led to in 1967, and forty-two years later, we are still trying to escape the maze. Just as the remnants of the US Pavilion at Expo '67 are still visible in Montreal, with the framework of the geodesic dome serving as a environmental sciences museum called Biosphère, the remnants of Syracuse '67 can be seen in a focus group formed to critique a draft agenda created by another focus group formed to discuss downtown revitalization. Although we missed an opportunity to promote Syracuse at Expo '67, let's not miss an opportunity to use Expo '67 when figuring out how to promote Syracuse:

While attending Expo '67 and upon my return, I keep hearing remarks from people who attended the Expo to the effect that the United States exhibit was a big disappoinment and in the next breath praised the Russian exhibit to the high heavens.

The United States' building is beautiful in its structure and in the simplicity of the exhibit. We presented our folklore and our way of life with the displays of Indian lore, cowboy lore, political campaigns, Raggedy Anne dolls and so forth.

When you stop to analyze it, most everything that Russia displayed is something that most every nation has. They have tried to impress the world with the preponderance of their exhibit whereas the United States exhibit has gone to the lighter side and has tried desperately to present and follow the way of life in America.

This, to me, is the real purpose of the World's Fair, and I just could not sit back without voicing an opinion.

Needless to say, I am proud of our exhibit and whoever planned it should be congratulated.

(letter to the editor, sent to both Syracuse Herald-Journal, August 7, 1967 and Post-Standard, August 8, 1967)

While I appreciate the idea behind CNY Speaks, the reality is that focus groups on how to fix Syracuse will always result in a list of opinions as random and distracting as the city's website. Is Syracuse white collar or blue collar? High tech or manufacturing? Town or gown? The current Syracuse promotional videos apparently want to avoid any of these conflicts, and therefore present a city with "something for everyone" (or, as the city website states, a "city for all seasons"). Problem is, by presenting itself as a city with all things for all people, Syracuse has lost focus on what makes it unique.

In four years, Montreal built artificial islands to serve as the Expo site, constructed 850 pavilions and buildings, and completed the Metro system (as well as the Expo Express, the first fully-automated rapid transit system in North America, and the monorail that ran within the Expo site's parameters). In four decades, Syracuse has built endless wish lists, such as build a permanent bus transfer station:

"The Central New York Regional Transporation Authority and the Urban Development Corps (UDC) are ironing out details for a study of a proposed transportation center in downtown Syracuse... The Authority and UDC currently are firming up an agreement to begin the study, according to an attorney for the authority. Each will kick in $15,000 to pay for it...Frank said the study will update a previous one done by the City-County Planning Commission two years ago...Exactly what the proposed center would include is not yet known. It could be a Greyhound or Trailways station, a downtown or suburban Centro center or a high-speed center to areas such as Syracuse University or Hancock Airport..." (Syracuse Herald Journal, September 16, 1974)

A city center teeming with arts and culture will help attract new businesses and visitors

"A $3 million development of the pavilion area in the Community Plaza concept, coupled with similar development of Near East Side urban renewal project Sites 1-a and 1-b, yesterday was disclosed by Mayor Walsh...Included in the proposal for the plaza pavilion..are two restaurant facilities, while a theater-restaurant and a movie theater are planned for Sites 1-a and 1-b, immediately south of the plaza...[Commissioner of Urban Improvement George B.] Schuster said I.M. Pei, architect who designed the new Everson Museum of Art that is to be built at State and Harrison Streets adjacent to the plaza pavilion, is to be engaged as design consultant for the dual restaurant center....Schuster said Pei also will be engaged as design consultant for a prestige movie theater and theater-restaurant in Sites 1-a and 1-b of the urban renewal area under the revised plans. This would assure a continuity of design within the general area......first rights for the operation of the theater portion of the site redevelopment [will be offered] to RKO Keith's and ABC-Paramount. Both of these theaters on South Salina Street are to be removed to make way for Sibley's Department Store..." (Post-Standard, April 18, 1965)

Find strategies that would make other forms of public transportation feasible in Syracuse:

"Could the 96,000 people who commute into downtown Syracuse each day use a modern, comfortable and air conditioned monorail train? The monorail at the [New York] World's Fair is for sale at a bargain $1.1 million. It is estimated it would cost another million or more to install the train here. But the train cost $5.5 million when built. Total cost for a modern 21-mile-long mass transit system for Greater Syracuse: Perhaps $2.1 million." (Syracuse Herald-Journal, September 15, 1965)

Perhaps it is time for Syracuse to focus on projects that will have an immediate and tangible impact on revitalizing Syracuse. For example:

Beautiful weather. Kids out of school. Parents looking for something to keep them busy close to home...They all came together last week in Central New York, creating a crush at local parks...The parking lot was full every day at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo at Burnet Park. But that didn't stop people...Some parked on the street and made the long walk. [emphasis added]...The Beaver Lake Nature Center had to use its overflow parking lot, said Bruce Stebbins, the park director...At Onondaga Lake Park, kids were lining up for turns in the skate park to bike, inline skate or skateboard, said Dale Grinolds, the park superintendent. (Post-Standard, April 20, 2009)

Did anyone think to take some pictures and post them on the city's website?


Ryan Parkhurst said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

the city does an awful job of promoting itself. the website is a disgrace. Where is the info on the vibrant city neighborhoods and great historic architecture?

Jim said...

I moved to the Syracuse area in 1966 following the death of my father. My mother grew up in Syracuse and her family operated a granite business for nearly a century on Grant Boulevard so Syracuse was home to her. I often visited family in Syracuse in the years prior to our move there and grew to love the city and its environs. For one year, I attended CBA (and later graduated from FM). In 1967, I visited Expo 67 on its opening weekend on a class trip from CBA and have wonderful memories of that experience. Your comments about the lessons Syracuse should have learned about that time period are well made. Of course, Montreal is far larger but the dynamics that allowed it to recreate itself and become the host to the world could work in Syracuse on a smaller scale. I greatly respect your efforts to help re-inspire Syracuse. I, too, have lived many other places but now live about 45 minutes south of Syracuse and often return for a variety of reasons. I still love that old city. I mourn what has been lost and the lack of a vision for a city that has all it needs to restore its greatness. It is merely struggling to survive and has no sense of where it wants to be in the next decade or even the next year. Even more problematic, it appears to have elected officials (city, county, towns, state) who have no sense of community beyond their own jurisdictions. There is no common vision for tomorrow and they fiddle as the city continues to burn. Shame on them and shame on us for allowing them to hold office. I suspect the revival of Syracuse will never come from city or state officials. NYS government is too corrupt and too broken to do anything but tax and drive people away. Revival must come from those who love that grand old city and who will help the city to find its destiny and importance in the 21st Century.