"Austerity Urbanism" Comes to Syracuse

 The Common Council’s recent decision to defund the Greater Syracuse Land Bank from the city budget sacrifices long-term financial and community wellness for short-term budget crisis management.

In a recent report titled “Austerity Urbanism” (produced by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung New York City), University of British Columbia Geography Professor Jamie Peck found that “facing tax cuts and other revenue-slashing measures, these [municipal] governments have increasingly turned to austerity policies. This has translated into ….. less investment in the city, particularly in affordable housing.”

Common understanding of austerity practices is that it leads to an increasing gap in income inequality and “yet more marked forms of uneven socio-spatial development” - meaning our poor neighborhoods like the NWS, the southside and SW, get poorer, while our richer neighborhoods get richer.

How would more money for more police instead of Land Bank demolitions create such an outcome here? I could imagine that some developers and financiers would be more comfortable with more policing and the resulting influx of higher paying lease-holders and the extrication of poorer residents. In reality, we have enough police as the data indicates, over twice as many per 10,000 capita as other cities our general size; but doesn’t it look bad to those investors with the money that our police force is smaller by 100 officers than we were a decade ago.  

This redistributive politics is taking our right for self-determination out of the hands of the people and into the hands of the police, and setting the precedent for future austerity measures that could lead to further privatization, and price hikes, of social services.  This is not the recipe for A SYRACUSE THAT WORKS.

What we save in the short term will end up costing us much more (unless what we want is to become the next Detroit), as flaking lead from housing in disrepair continues to enter our environment, drugs continue to be sold out of derelict structures whom no one takes responsibility for, and our police force continues to expand into a larger and larger militarized force bent on strength in numbers rather than strength in deed.

This morning I took a short walk over to Central Ave, only a block from my house.  This short dead-end street has 4 Land Bank properties (out of a total of 10 houses), one of which is vacant, one of which has long-time residents still living in it, and two that are slated for demolition.  I talked to three residents on the street.  Kenny and Sandy have been working hard over the past couple years to renovate their property (we've actually watched the progress on each others gardens and yards "over the fence" as our backyards butt up against each other), they have replaced the roof, painted the exterior, and completed many landscaping projects.  Across the street Andy lives with his children and his wife who is a Minister and has a dance and ministry program at their house.  

Yet both of these families tell me that the vacant and deteriorating houses lead to illegal dumping from contractors, illegal drug use and sales, and an overwhelming number of rodents in the vicinity.  Andy would like nothing more than for the house to come down so that he can acquire the vacant lot for his children to play and the ministry to continue on.

As we were standing and talking, we witnessed a drug deal take place through a window of a home that is flanked by two Land Bank properties.  We all agreed, let's work as fast as possible to put people back into these properties so that they are being used, but also so we have "more eyes on the street" - as we know - community and neighbors are the first line in crime deterrence.

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