Connective corridor faces economic, ideological challenges
I once overheard a Centro bus driver tell a student, ‘If you get lost in the city, just keep walking towards the tall buildings.’ The remark was meant to be darkly jocular, but it betrayed a painful truth. The stereotypical college student in Syracuse has little use for the downtown area. The occasional emergency run to Wegman’s or change in the bar scene may drive us out, but only briefly.
Enter Chancellor Cantor’s celebrated Connective Corridor. Such a well-funded and planned design will undoubtedly be a pleasant addition to the city landscape and beneficial to future students and residents. The Connective Corridor is held back by the incredible burden of high expectations and faces potentially serious problems.
Coaxing students into exploring the ‘Soul of Syracuse’ has always been a tough sell for obvious reasons. Violent crime has become disturbingly common on and near campus, a trend the Department of Public Safety has proven unable to curtail.
In addition, many of the physical realities the project faces can’t be fully addressed. Interstate 81 and the notoriously sadistic Syracuse winters aren’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future. Once the novelty wears off, there will have to be compelling reasons to travel downtown or the project could be confronted with irrelevance.
The upside of the corridor would have to outweigh the convenience of Marshall Street, said sophomore political science major Alex Pabst.
‘I haven’t been back downtown since freshman orientation last year,’ he said. ‘I’d probably take a bus if I had a reason to go (downtown). But so far I don’t.’
The ‘economic development’ plans could prove even more difficult. The presupposition is that Syracuse University students will pump money into downtown businesses if only given the ability to easily do so. The Connective Corridor Web site imagines a ‘mixed-use plaza with areas for shopping, food and entertainment.’
Such a scenario is certainly promising for Connective Corridor businesses, but it could put others at risk. If downtown fails to get the students to spend beyond what they currently do, the result could be a zero-sum nightmare for the rival businesses outside the corridor that currently depend on student capital for survival. It’s like closing one’s hand around the bottom of a balloon to make the top expand. If the recent turnovers like the relocation of Fajita Grill are any indication, a successful Connective Corridor could ring the death knell for a few Marshall Street establishments.
Before the foil is peeled off the bottles of celebratory champagne, it’s time we see the Connective Corridor for what it is-a baby step on a long and difficult journey, rather than a destination itself. There is a chance that the project will inspire immediate citywide change and rediscover Syracuse’s long lost mojo. In either case, it is well worth noting both the courage in setting out this daunting task and the many obstacles that threaten to derail it.
If a touch-screen kiosk falls in the city and there is nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound? Nancy Cantor’s legacy might ride on that question.
David Medeiros is a contributing columnist for The Daily Orange. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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