For the love of God, stop talking and tear the thing down already

In 1989, the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants played in the World Series. It was called "The Battle of the Bay." It dragged on forever, not because of long games, but because there was an earthquake that halted play for a little while.

Take 12 minutes or so to watch what San Francisco did with the part of their freeway that collapsed in that earthquake.


Video courtesy of Streetfilms

Now, why aren't we tearing down Interstate 81?

Other cities have moved or removed freeways with great success.

There are a lot of naysayers; let's look at the arguments.

It's too expensive. Actually, the raised portion of I-81 has been up about 10 years longer than it was meant to last, and it's going to cost roughly the same to tear it down as it would to rebuild.

Syracuse can't handle 60,000 additional cars getting off the highway and moving along city streets. If you build a street-level boulevard, you're likely to put a punch of businesses there, and traffic lights every quarter mile or so. If you're looking to head through the city, you're more likely to drive seven miles on the I-481/I-690 spur, than to get off the highway and drive five miles in stop-and-go traffic.

If you put a street-level boulevard, you get more pollution. This is maybe a valid argument, but maybe not. The item just above points out that traffic moving through the city probably wouldn't use it. And if there are businesses along the boulevard, you trade the pollution for the revenue. Or, gasp, you improve your mass transit so people don't have to drive on it. Repeat: gasp.

It takes longer to get places. Sorry, but Syracuse shouldn't be in the business of making sure people can get out of the city quickly. And if it's people trying to get into the city from the suburbs, maybe they'll just move into the city so they don't have to worry about it.

You risk losing lives if people can't take the highway to the hospitals. I disagree. I think that most people who take the highway to get to the hospitals are either (a) living out in the middle of nowhere, when they could be moving into the city (see item above), or (b) not in danger of dying, if they're not taking an ambulance, which can do highway speeds on local roads. Also, figure if you take out the elevated portion of I-81 – not the whole thing through the city – you're getting off at the same exit if you're going to St. Joe's, or another exit a half-mile away from the current one if you're going to Upstate.

I can't think of any reason you'd leave the thing up, frankly.

Embracing the poison

There's a lot of poison in my body these days, although it's starting to leave, slowly.

It started when I was out at Chittenango Falls on Yom Kippur. I stepped on a wet rock, fell, and banged my left elbow.

I can now put weight on it via my hand and forearm, but I still can't lean directly on it. Worse, I keep banging it, even if just lightly, on my desk, on my car door, wherever. It's got one of those "holy crap! that's ugly!" bruises that doesn't hurt as bad as it looks, but it's still one of those injuries that sends bad blood through your veins.

The following Saturday – just over a week ago, now – I was stung multiple times by what I think was a yellow jacket. It somehow got entangled in my shirt, and it got me in the left shoulder and just below the navel, and probably dragged its venomous stinger under my skin for part of that journey. I'm not allergic to such stings, but as with any venom that gets put into your veins, the affected area was swollen. In fact, I'm going to estimate that more than 60 percent of my stomach and chest were swollen.

The swelling is definitely down (a little remains above my pants line, where my abdomen folding over a belt would get irritated), but I'm sure the poison's not out of my system. I'm a little paranoid, actually, of getting stung again, and if it happens soon, I'm going to the emergency room.

One thing Zach Phillips said at the 40 Below summit yesterday hit home with me. To create good art, he said, you have to embrace your pain, whether it's physical or emotional.

I've decided to go with that, and I'm starting to see art everywhere, even if I'm not capturing it. It's really uplifting.

40 Below Summit: Syracuse Exposed

I spent a good chunk of time Saturday at the fourth 40 Below summit. It was the second year I've gone.

The idea of this group is stop what's called brain drain – people either leave for college and don't come back, or they come here for college and leave.

If you can retain young people in the area and let them do great things, your area benefits. Dig?

Greg and Laura bounced around and saw a bit of everything, so if you want the overview, read the article.

I saw the opening film and panel, and then went to a panel on some of the projects going on downtown, and then saw some of the development.

The opening film, done by panelist Zach Phillips of Scherzi Studios, included a bunch of young Syracusans, including fellow panelist Suntrana Allen, who owns a North Side barber shop, and 40 Below chair Dominic Robinson.

The film's theme was essentially doing something good for your community, whether it be riding a bike instead of driving, taking care of people who need it, or recognizing that if you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of anything else.

After that, Phillips, Allen, Sharif Bey of Syracuse Kung Fu, 40 Below founding member Jessica Crawford of the Syracuse Research Center, and Alys Mann of the Near West Side Initiative.

They spoke about the challenges of deciding to be in Syracuse, whether they grew up here, left and returned, were transplants to the area, or if they'd been here their whole lives.

One thing struck me about all of them, because it's something I had to recognize in myself a few years ago: If we want this to be an amazing place, we have to make it that way. We can't sit and wait for others to do it.

I like the way Allen put it best: "If you want this to be your Atlanta, make it your Atlanta. If you want it to be New York, make it your New York."

The downtown development panel, moderated by my fellow 40 Under 40 winner Merike Treier, featured David Mankiewicz of the Downtown Committee, Andy Breuer of Adapt CNY, and Nick Ciotti of Syracuse 20/20.

Adapt CNY was created out of the first 40 Below summit, and their first project was to buy the Wilson Building. I helped clean out the building as part of last year's summit, and it's a gorgeous old building, built in 1898. Adapt, a non-profit, is renovating it for apartments and retail, and Breuer said they're close to signing with a preferred developer for the project.

Adapt CNY is beginning to look at other buildings.

The Downtown building has purchased three buildings adjacent to the Wilson building, and is going to work on those.

Ciotti's presentation was on a bit of a different subject. Syracuse 20/20's stated goal is "government modernization," which essentially means power concentrated in fewer places – rather than having lots of villages and towns in addition to the county and city, have just the local government, or just the county government.

Essentially, Ciotti focused on sprawl. He noted that between 1960 and 2000, the population of Onondaga County grew about 40,000 people – a little less than 10 percent. At the same time, the amount of land developed for homes – including roads, sewer lines, etc. – grew from about 60 square miles to just over 120 square miles.

So, you have a few more people living in twice the amount of space. He threw up a photo of a fire hydrant that had to placed in a particular spot due to regulations and sewer lines and everything, and there was no building within three miles. But because there was development in each direction passed it, it had to be placed there.

All the extra roads, utility cables, hydrants, sewer lines, this stuff costs money, and it's a reason taxes are so high.

Putting boundaries on future development and offering incentives to renovate vacant buildings – as Portland, Ore., has done since 1979 – are good ways to curb sprawl, Ciotti said.

I asked particularly Mankewiecz and Breuer a question that grew out of the CNY Speaks forums: will any of these apartments they're creating be affordable?

If we want the sort of people who work at non-profits and/or are at the early stages of their careers to move downtown to help revitalize the area, we can't expect they'll be able to pay $750 and up per month.

The answer is, sadly, mostly no. The former Masonic Temple will include both "market-rate" and affordable apartments, but they described most of the units being created downtown as "market-rate," which means they're going to price out people who aren't necessarily pulling in good money, and keep them only going downtown occasionally.

Which, frankly, I think is stupid. But I'm not a developer, and I don't necessarily understand market trends.

Overall, the self-guided (after the film and opening panel) format was, I thought, not-so-good. If you were already motivated and knew the city, you'd handle it pretty well, but if you're the sort of person 40 Below really needs – a potential convert, if you will, who didn't necessarily know the city and needed to be hand-held through some of it – it was really a hassle to get to the next place at the summit, without a guide to actually follow.

I'm looking forward to the 2009 version, and hope there's a return to action, like there was in 2007.

Reminder: College athletes are still kids

Syracuse University women's field hockey team
The 2008 Syracuse University field hockey team, courtesy of SUAthletics.com.

College sports are big business. Really big business. Athletics – football and basketball, really – can bring tens of millions of dollars to a college.

Athletes are supposed to behave like they're representing companies worth tens of millions of dollars.

Remember, those athletes are college students. Generally somewhere between 18 and 22.

There has been a lot of complaining going on about Daryl Gross, the athletic director at Syracuse University. His biggest profile hiring was football coach Greg Robinson, who has taken a storied program and won eight games in four years.

But lower-profile sports have thrived under Gross, and the field hockey team is ranked No. 1 in the country for the first time ever.

Waiting for Funk 'n' Waffles to open this morning, I popped into Bruegger's for a cup of coffee to shake the chill out of my bones, and the field hockey team walked in to start their day, ahead of a game against UConn this afternoon.

That photo above may make them look grown up, mean, competitive, but the group of young women in bright orange skirts at the bagel shop was nothing like big and mean. It was a bunch of kids having coffee, wondering how many cars they had among them to get where they needed to go, and in general talking about things like Friday night.

You wouldn't think, sitting there, there was an aggressive bone among them. But we know there is.

It just reminds me how much weight we put on such young people, still working on finding their way in the world.

I hope you remember that as you watch the football team play South Florida this afternoon. We might be looking at a 40-point loss for Syracuse, or they might surprise us, like they did against Louisville last year. But either way, they're a bunch of young kids, and it almost seems unfair that the hopes of an entire upstate region are riding on their shoulders.

Involvement Fair 2

Crocodile Purse
Keep reading to find out why this purse made out of a crocodile was at the Involvement Fair.

I spent about five hours Thursday afternoon and evening at the second incarnation of the Involvement Fair, which is a project of the Civic Engagement Task Force of 40 Below.

If you're familiar with the concept of a job fair, that's pretty close. At a job fair, you have maybe 50 or 100 employers at tables in a large hall, and a bunch of people looking for jobs walking around, handing out resumes, and meeting their potential employers.

The difference here? You have a bunch of service organizations sitting at tables, and a bunch of people looking for volunteer opportunities walking around meeting representatives from the service organizations.

I handed out instruction sheets for using the Helping Out Blog, and also finding both new members and new organizational partners for CNY SPaRC.

There were 40-ish organizations there. Here are a look at some of them.

United Way of Central New York – If you're not familiar with United Way, you should be. In pretty much every decent sized market, UW sponsors a lot of small organizations that otherwise would struggle for funding and visibility. They also do work with larger, mainstream organizations.

Eastwood Neighbor Association – I don't live in Eastwood, but I do live pretty close (about a 15-minute walk). I'm excited to be getting involved in one of their projects: getting a multi-use skate park together. Some kids have been very involved with this project for a long time, and it's a unique idea – it will be a tri-level park in the woods, and it will be able to be used beyond just skateboarding and freestyle bicycling. I'm in the extremely early stages of being involved, so read often, as I'll be mentioning it frequently.

Center for Community Alternatives – Spend a lot of time learning about this organization from their Web site. Two of their programs that struck me were taking people who have done their time and working with them to find housing, employment and peer support; and getting to children as young as middle school whose parents have been "in front of a judge" (as they put it) to mentor them both with their schoolwork, and keeping them on the right path to make sure they don't wind up "in front of a judge."

The Rosamond Gifford Zoo – Next to the SPaRC table, a woman wearing a name badge identifying her as Ellen set up an elephant molar, a tiger-fur throw, a python skin, a crocodile purse (that's the photo above), and other stuff that you're not supposed to have. It turns out that when the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service confiscates banned items at entry locations on borders, at ports and in airports, it tags them, then sends them to schools and zoos for educational purposes.

On Point For College – The gentleman behind the table for On Point (one of those organizations the United Way helps out) was living proof the program works. He had dropped out of high school and gone back for a GED, and then On Point helped walk him through the scholarship, financial aid and application processes. He went to the University of Buffalo and Cornell. They work with some fairly hard-luck kids, and do good work.

There were a host of other organizations, including Meals on Wheels, Girl Scouts, and some others you've heard of – and still others you haven't heard of. If you're looking for a little extra fulfillment in your life, there are plenty of ways to donate your time and expertise around here.

Want to get hooked up? Maybe we'll see you at a 40 Below Civic Engagement Task Force meeting. We meet the first Monday every month from 5:30 to 6:30 in the 18th floor conference room in the State Tower building. Regardless of the name, we don't require you to be under 40 years of age.

Book review: Gather Together in My Name by Tracy Price-Thompson

Tracy Price-Thompson writes like it comes from experience, and for those of us who will never know or directly understand that experience, it's beyond good, bordering on amazing.

Gather Together in My Name by Tracy Price-ThompsonAlvin C. Romer actually does a really good job summing up the novel, so I won't rehash his work.

What I do want to say about this book is that Price-Thompson writes amazing characters: characters with very human flaws, but super-human strength.

Maybe it's a common strength in the projects in Brooklyn, I don't know. Like I hinted above, I will never understand that experience directly (or, at least, it's highly unlikely).

This is a quick, astounding, plot-twist-driven read. It will be back at the library Friday around lunch time, if you'd like to go grab (and I recommend that you do).

Poverty isn’t just someone else’s problem

Today is Blog Action Day, a day when bloggers band together to hit on one topic. This year: poverty.

I'm going to focus on poverty in the U.S., because, well, I can't begin to imagine what it looks like in other countries. Countries that might be considered "underdeveloped," "developing" or, God help them, "poor."

We don't eliminate poverty in the U.S. until these three things happen:

(1) People recognize the sources and cycles of poverty
(2) People who aren't suffering realize poverty is their problem, too
(3) The federal government grows a brain about realistic guidelines

Let's look at item #3 first.

Federal minimum wage is $6.55 an hour, and goes up to $7.25 an hour next July.

If you work 40 hours per week, 52.5 weeks per year, at minimum wage, right now you're pulling in $13,755 now, and you'll be pulling down $15,225 next year.

According to this year's poverty level guidelines (PDF), right now you'd be below the poverty line for a family of two; next year you'd be above that, but below the line for a family of three.

Let's assume that someone making minimum wage pays no taxes. None.

Let's take John McCain's word that $5,000 will cover your health insurance.

Let's say you pay $500 in rent.

Let's say you drive a used car that you're paying $150 a month for.

Let's say you fill your gas tank once a week for $25 per week, and you skimped on the auto insurance so you're paying $50 a month.

Let's figure your heat and stove are electric, so you're averaging about $50 in utility bills all year round.

Everybody get $15,300? Have you eaten yet? Put down a co-pay on a doctor's bill or a prescription? Bought any clothes?

OK, maybe the car is a luxury, so let's knock of the $3,000 in car-related expenses.

But let's add $40 a month in bus fare and $10 a week in cab fare, since you can't load all your groceries onto the bus.

OK, so now we're at $13,300 in expenses for one person – again, we haven't eaten yet, we haven't been to the doctor, and we're still naked (not to mention sleeping on the floor).

The federal government's poverty guidelines says one person needs to make $10,400 a year to live. We've just racked up nearly $3,000 more than that, and we haven't even done some basics.

And if you're a single parent raising a kid? Forget about it.

Yes, there are social programs available, but they're getting cut left and right, and things are going to continue that way.

Minimum wage jobs tend not to have paid sick days, personal days or vacation. So, people working them are putting excess stress on their immune systems and are encouraged not to have any sort of family life. And if you're not emotionally strong enough to handle that? Too bad.

So people working minimum wage jobs tend to have little job security, and they bounce from minimum wage job to minimum wage job.

They see others around them – friends, parents, neighbors – doing the same thing, and don't learn how to break out of that rhythm or cycle.

#2 is a big one, too. People who don't consider themselves victims of poverty, have to lose the "I'm doing OK, why can't they?" attitude.

Everything from accidents of birth to circumstance to bigotry helps to keep a cycle of poverty going, and if you can't see that, maybe you need to spend a week actually walking in someone else's shoes.

Walk 6 miles to work one day because you spent the $2 bus fair on a can of beans and a pound of rice so you could eat for three days. Heck, keep your other comforts and consume only a can of beans and a pound of rice for three days – drink only tap water, give up the morning coffee and forget happy hour.

Figure out how you'd live if had to choose between paying your electric bill and your doctor bill, and when you've made that choice understand that your resulting bad credit keeps you from getting a checking account, so you have to carry around whatever cash you earn. Do your best not to get robbed, when everyone else around you could really use a sandwich.

You might complain about your taxes taking away your ability to live comfortably, but without taxes, governments can't provide services. No services means more poverty, especially if we're not going to regulate the industries everyone needs – insurance, pharmaceutical, etc.

Poverty is everybody's problem – yours, mine, the CEO of your company's, and yes (as the general election approaches), government's as well.

Wise up.

The sound of everything


A 15-second look at Chittenango Falls

I began reading The Sound of Language by Amulya Malladi on Thursday.

It's a semi-autobiographical novel about an Afghan woman whose husband is killed by the Taliban. She moves to Denmark, where she must learn a new language – a language that, to her, sounds like bees buzzing.

That I began reading it on Thursday is significant. It was Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is the Jewish day of atonement, a day when we connect with God to apologize for our sins over the past year. It is tradition to fast (food and liquid) from sundown to sundown. My take: food deprivation is an altered state that brings you closer to God.

Chittenango FallsIf you've never done such a fast, here is a brief timeline of some physical consequences of a 24-hour fast (I can only speak from my experiences; some of you might have others you'd like to share in comments).

• Dehydration headaches
• General fatigue
• General difficulty focusing
• A sharp hunger pang about 16 hours in, that subsides quickly
• Euphoria
• A return of all senses to normal

Take that last one with a grain of salt because, while it feels like you're running on normal, you are dehydrated and without nutrients, which means your body doesn't work quite the way you expect it to.

It's really the euphoria part that makes Yom Kippur my favorite holiday.

Everything sounds really loud – a bird flushed from the bushes sounds like a motorcycle. A fly buzzing around your table sounds like you have your head in a beehive.

Everything seems bigger and brighter. Visual depth doesn't matter. The autumn colors are vivid, and in very sharp contrast to the sky, be it blue or gray.

After services, I went to Chittenango Falls for the first time. I took five rolls of film; the four rolls of color are brilliant, and it will be a while before the black and whites come back.

I spent about five hours out there. It was a beautiful day, and the colors were at peak, so there were a lot of people viewing the falls.

I also went out on the Chips trail, which is an easy 0.85-mile hike, and didn't see another human for three hours.

It was amazing, from the miles of colors, to the sound of leaves underfoot, to the power of the water. I'm also looking forward to getting back out there sometime in winter, to see the ice buildup at the bottom.

Crunch open the 2008-09 season against Amerks


The Syracuse Crunch paid tribute to the late Paul Newman before their home opener against Rochester Saturday night.

Paul Newman played an aging brawler in the 1977 film Slapshot. Part of the film was shot at the Onondaga County War Memorial, where the Syracuse Crunch beat the Rochester Americans 6-1 Saturday in their home opener, a night after opening the 2008-09 season with a 4-3 win in Rochester's building.

There was a really good crowd on hand, both large and loud.

This year's Crunch team needs more time together on the ice – they looked pretty sloppy, despite having netted 10 goals in their first two games &dnash; but I think it's going to be a good year.

The goaltending is looking pretty good, and they're going to rack up plenty of penalty minutes, I'm sure. Jon Mirasty took down Rochester's Neil Clark, who's at least a head taller than the Crunch enforcer, and both Mirasty and Tom Sestito (who scored a goal and added two assists) were sent to the locker room early for their parts in a bench fight.

See you at the War Memorial.

http://photos.syracuse.com/mt-static/plugins/AdvancePhoto/embedSlideshow.swf

CNY Speaks: Third forum

I've written about the first two CNY Speaks forums, but wanted to add a few thoughts about the third, and (for now) final forum, which took place Tuesday.

Post-Standard Civic Engagement Editor Greg Munno gives a quick overview of what was discussed during the forums in today's paper, but there are some more notes that you should know about.

• Mayor Matt Driscoll and members of the Syracuse Common Council and Onondaga County Legislator were invited to participate as citizens (as opposed to elected officials – they would be asked to listen and comment and stick to the forum format, rather than speak to the audience or campaign, for those who are running in 2009). Not one of them showed up to any of the three forums.

• I spoke with Munno before the forum, and one of the things we talked about was getting people involved who wouldn't come downtown to participate in the forums, because they were downtown. After all, it's their input we need most – everybody who came was at least already somewhat invested in downtown. There's a possibility we could see future forums in DeWitt, Camillus and Liverpool.

• The next step is to have the student moderators code responses and run some statistics on feedback to present to candidates for mayor, common council and county legislature next spring.

While I do think some congratulations are in order for getting the discussion started, I believe the more important step is getting some action items taken care of.

I also think it's important to note that some journalists – who too often take the viewpoint that their job is to tell people about what change is going on, not to help drive change – attended as citizens. For fear of leaving out people I didn't meet or recognize, I won't name anyone, but you know who you are. Thanks for showing up.