Saturday, February 20, 2010

February 20-28, 1955

Syracusans in 1999 will look back on the Syracuse of 1955 as a drab community with a superabundance of bars and television antennae in an era when a handful of citizens annoyed by the lack of it discussed the "need" for culture.—Post-Standard, February 20, 1955

Charles Walker says he sometimes sits around in South Florida, where he lives, and thinks about “the Syracuse that I grew up in...I can’t help feeling bad about the current sorry state of what was once one of the finest cities in the Northeast,” Charles writes. Then he savors his memories of Syracuse in the 1940s and 1950s in the Strathmore neighborhood where he lived.—Post-Standard, January 21, 2010 (and related, February 2, 2010 , February 18, 2010)

What continues to fascinate me is the continual praise for 1950s Syracuse by those who lived there at the time. Is this just childhood nostalgia? Or were the fifties that fabulous? If 1950's Syracuse was "one of the finest cities in the Northeast," then why the need for the complete overhaul by decade's end? Were city leaders simply attempting to improve upon a masterpiece? Did their projects go terribly awry due to the political, economic and social uncertainties of the turbulent sixties?

Or did everything go exactly as planned?


sean said...

while we can see now that a 60-year decline was well underway, the 1950s were still a time when the city was at or near peak population, downtown was only showing the first signs of malaise, and neigborhoods still existed in the children-playing-on-the-sandlot kind of way we remember today ... it was still a walkable city, with neighborhood 'downtowns' (westcott, eastwood, elmwood, south geddes street) and many working families that owned only one car (IF one car)apiece ... and many people were fleeing from qualities they would later recall with much regret. as for the bit about windowless walls ... my kids go to corcoran, circa mid-1960s, the eptome of that style. the architecture of that school building says it all.


Anonymous said...

About five years ago, American Heritage magazine offered an article on the top ten most significant political developments in the second half of the 20th Century. Number two was entitled "The Rise and Decline of New York State." Since New York and Syracuse, in particular, reached their population peaks in 1960, there has been a steady decline in almost every measureable sense. In 1960, NYS had 45 electoral votes. Following the 2010 census, NYS electoral votes (the state is likely to lose three more) will drop below 30. Population has stagnated on the state level at just under 20 million, but Upstate has lost
hundreds of thousands of people. That loss has been offset by population growth in the NYC area. Syracuse has dropped from nearly a quarter of a million people in 1960 to about 140,000 today and that number continues to fall. Young people, the best educated and talented, jobs--all continue to flee the state. A typical New Yorker could easily give himself or herself a significant raise in salary simply by relocating to any state with lower taxes (especially income and sales taxes) and valid job opportunities. This is a disgraceful situation but the fault does not belong to just the incompetent and self-serving elected officials in Albany or on the local level. It belongs to complacent voters who return tax raising, pork spending incumbents to office year after year. Now, these elected "leaders" want to close state parks in an effort to balance a nine billion dollar budget gap. During a recession, closing parks is about as cruel as it gets. People who cannot afford vacations need those parks more than ever. NYS has the highest paid legislature in the nation and the most stunningly corrupt. My guess is that the wizards who predicted the state of Syracuse in 1955 looking toward 1999 had about as much vision and creativity as the crowd running Albany today. I don't know what the solution might be, but I do believe it must start with a massive political house cleaning and the removal of career politicians who try to win votes via irresponsible pork spending in their respective districts. We cannot change the tragic mistakes and lack of vision Syracuse leaders had in 1955, but it is long past time we demand better government and a viable vision for the future of Syracuse and all of New York State. If we do not do this, the so-called Empire State will continue its stunning and historic decline.