To the Editor:
In the last six months, I have had the pleasure to speak with many residents at their door. The beauty of these interactions is that I get to explain my thinking face to face. Most people end up understanding my logic. A recent article about this primary election left a few of my friends and supporters confused on two issues: housing and the aquarium (”Election 2023: Rudd, Brown vow to bring Syracuse interests to county legislature. Here’s how they differ,” June 15, 2023).
On housing, I believe the best path to equitable development is to cultivate density in our urban core.
The city of Syracuse has 80,000 fewer people than we used to. The remaining residents carry the burden of our legacy infrastructure. Additionally, Syracuse disproportionately carries the weight of poverty. Thirty percent of city residents live in poverty (more than 2.5 times the nation average of 12%). The math seems clear; the city needs more people, especially people who are middle- and upper-middle income. “More” in this statement means we need to keep the residents we already have and ideally the new arrivals will create economic opportunities for current residents.
With this Micron moment, our region is going to gain new residents.
My fear is that we will sprawl into the outer reaches of Onondaga County. This will increase our infrastructure burden, negatively impact commute times and perceived quality of life, while failing to address the concentration of poverty in Syracuse.
My dream is that new residents will choose to live in Syracuse because we all benefit from density. To achieve density, we need thousands and thousands of new housing units in Syracuse, especially downtown, in the Connective Corridor, in the Inner Harbor, and along primary business/transit corridors.
Our region struggles with poverty because the size of our regional economy is too small. We must grow our economy by adding more residents and having all residents earn more money.
Allowing private bank credit to build new market rate housing downtown is part of an equitable development strategy and this approach is anti-displacement and anti-poverty.
Our region is poor because for the last 50 years we haven’t had enough of this type of private investment. None of this activity requires local government operating dollars, the way many current local housing initiatives do. And as these new dollars are spent locally by construction workers, our regional economy will grow.
Again, our region is about to grow. If we do not let market forces build new housing units, we will force new people into existing units which inherently puts pressure on current residents and in the end the poorest among us will be pushed out. Building new units alleviates that pressure. If we let these units be built in the outskirts, we will have sprawl and its negative consequences. Building new units in Syracuse reduces the burden of maintaining existing infrastructure on current residents and proximity to economic activity creates economic opportunities for city residents. This should help families earn more money which will help them better maintain and improve their own housing.
We all benefit from increased economic activity and density.
Which brings me to the aquarium. “What do I think of the aquarium?” I think I will never vote on it because all the money has been approved. The county is going to spend $85 million on an aquarium. As a legislator in an exclusively city district, I prefer this investment to be in the city and I believe it will help attract other investment and more residents to the Inner Harbor. I hope the aquarium is much more than a giant fish tank; I imagine a Museum of Water Science that tells the authentic story of our lake.
The writer is a primary candidate in the Onondaga County Legislature’s 15th District.