Syracuse Creekwalk is a relatively new green trail, meant to re-purpose badly blighted urban spaces. It meanders you through postwar urban architectural crud, under the elevated highways bridges that slice up the guts of the city, past and into sites of new urbanism, through post industrial deleterious, into and out of the Syracuse inner harbor, past the mall, “Destiny USA,” which I neglected to photograph, and then finally out to beautiful Lake Onondoga, once (and still?) the most polluted lake in North America. It’s a two mile walk from downtown Armory Square out to the Lake . Eventually the walk will loop all around Onondoga Lake and connect up to the Eerie Canal Trailway, creating a corridor from Albany to Buffalo.
Liberal urban development projects, including green spaces, make capitalism bearable, almost. I like the rough wildness of these urban and urban-green spaces. Its roughness is emblematic of Syracuse as a whole. The Creekwalk is similar to the way the Highline in New York City got re-purposed as part of the new destination culture, a term I take from Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimblett. But the added plus is that in Syracuse it has not been overrun by rich art dealers, their minions, models, and tourists. There is a much more democratic feel to the place –old people, young people, families, “native born” and immigrant, middle class and working class. The place has been carefully designed, but lacks a certain design-preciousness that would be more common in larger and more prosperous metropolitan centers.
The creekwalk is a rough masterpiece of new urban planning. Its point is to stretch a green lung along the creek and through the city, and, in doing so, to heal the blight that has come to constitute downtown Syracuse over the last four decades or so. There’s that magical effect, generated by the green space. There’s a sense of surprise, excitement and possibility as you enter into and make your way forward into and through it. But on your walk back, you re-emerge back into city proper, confronted once again by the sad, hard face of desiccated downtown Syracuse. So the Creekwalk remains a curious amalgam of re-purposed green space and post-industrial blight. About the latter, I don’t think there’s only so much that can be done without demolition, starting with the elevated highways that deface the city and including any government and corporate building erected since, what, 1960?
Syracuse Creekwalk is a happy place wending through unhappy space. For all that, it reflects great charm and optimism, a bold initiative in the face of an inordinate social and urban challenge, a place worthy of genuine civic pride, it is still very much a work in progress, and up against enormous odds. Much like the City itself.