Today, I attended a public Board of Directors meeting of the Greater Syracuse Property Development Corp., more informally known as the Land Bank. The Land Bank is foreseen as a way for the city and county to jointly manage the increasing number of vacant and abandoned buildings in our neighborhoods. These vacant houses have created numerous problems for residents with crime, trash, decreased property values, arson etc. By creating a non-profit agency with the ability to foreclose on tax delinquent property, an agency that works full-time on only this issue, the area will be able to take back control of residential development from speculators and redevelop properties written off to abandonment.
At the meeting, a discussion ensued about a tour of Syracuse neighborhoods that the five Board members had taken with city officials from the Department of Neighborhood Development. At the Near West side stop, the Board members heard from officials of Home Headquarters, a housing non-profit that had rehabilitated properties in the neighborhood. The Board members also heard from some SUN neighborhood leaders, the community organization I work for as an organizer, describing the effect of vacant houses on their neighborhoods.
During the discussion, a Board member alluded to the fact that one of the city officials leading the tour had only lived in the area for four years, and that he himself had lived in the outer suburbs his entire life. The Board member was humbled that the official knew the city and its problems while he did not. The Board member then offered up a nugget of wisdom that was as profound as it was rare to hear–a clear and unambiguous assessment of the problems facing our region and its inability to integrate city and suburb:
“That’s our problem. We have 1-2 generations that have become so disconnected from the city that we don’t know our way around.”