The Near Westside Initiative, comprised of neighborhood residents and local organizations, is restoring a vibrant urban neighborhood in Syracuse, New York dubbed: the SALT District (stemming from a long history of salt mining in the area). Within the SALT (Syracuse, Art, Literacy, Technology) District, a small neighborhood adjacent to downtown, they are testing the premise that art and culture can unite to create a revitalized community that is not only aesthetically pleasing, but true to the social and cultural values of its residents. Most recently, in partnership with ArtPlace, they have started a new effort called SALTQuarters which will consist of a renovated, formerly abandoned restaurant in the heart of the district into four affordable living quarters for artists, along with three artist studios and a wonderful gallery. As part of the project, two artists in residence will be provided one of the apartments, one of the studio spaces, and a stipend to support their work. These artists, one local, and one national, will spend one year developing professionally and using their craft as a strategy for placemaking in the neighborhood.
ArtPlace recently spoke with Maarten Jacobs, Director of the Near Westside Initiative, about their new project, SALTQuarters, and what is most critical to the success of the project.
ARTPLACE: Are you seeing your creative placemaking initiative spur on other creative placemaking opportunities in your community?
JACOBS: Absolutely. As with so many things in this type of work, one initiative tends to be a catalytic spark for more and more projects and opportunities. Since partnering with ArtPlace on SALTQuarters and getting both local and national attention for it, we have been given several other opportunities to engage in more creative placemaking work in the SALT District on the Near Westside of Syracuse, New York. The most recent and exciting of those opportunities has been to receive funding from the Education Foundation of America to host a design competition to bring our neighborhood’s main street back to life.
The project, MOVEMENT ON MAIN seeks to elaborate on the street’s role as an agent of social and recreational life. This unique and innovative street redesign will create a new public gathering place that encourages the community to engage in their neighborhood’s emergent creative life through a variety of movement, including, but not limited to: strolling, running, dancing, and bicycling. The site for this competition is Wyoming Street, the main commercial arterial running through the neighborhood, and a selection of adjoining parcels. Competitors will be asked to build on the green infrastructure work already planned for Wyoming Street, and explore new technologies that activate and engage, such as kinetic energy applications, sensor driven musical pavers, movement activated lighting, and public “exergames.” The successful and implementable design will knit together recent development efforts in the area, improve public safety, and provide public education focused on personal and environmental health. When complete, the redesign and reconstruction of Wyoming Street into a central thoroughfare will invite and inspire movement for SALT District residents and visitors of all ages and backgrounds in all four seasons and in many types of weather.
MOVEMENT ON MAIN will tie together the rapidly developing five blocks of Wyoming Street. At its northernmost corner, an abandoned warehouse is being converted into the headquarters for Central New York’s public broadcasting station, WCNY Connected, and the newly opened headquarters for ProLiteracy, the largest international literacy organization in the world. Also here is the Delavan Center, an artist community which houses artist studios and workspaces. At mid-block is the newly renovated Lincoln Supply Building that houses artist live/work lofts, a Latino cultural center, and the headquarters for SAY YES, a district-wide school transformation effort. SALT Quarters new artist in residency building funded by ArtPlace is also mid-block. At the southern terminus of Wyoming Street an innovative new development is being constructed that expands and joins a neighborhood health clinic with a revitalized full service neighborhood grocery store.
MOVEMENT ON MAIN will bring all of these exciting pieces together with high design standards and advanced technology to develop a healthy street that will catalyze movement and the continual improvement of the neighborhood.
Without the initial catalyst of ArtPlace, the Education Foundation of America would likely never have heard of the work we were doing here in Syracuse, New York. Thanks to our SALTQuarters project, and our partnership with ArtPlace, the SALT District is attracting more and more people and organizations to take a look at what we’re doing and to partner with us in revitalizing the Near Westside.