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.

TwitterFacebookTumblrLinkedInRedditStumbleUponFriendFeedPinterestShare/Bookmark

CNY Speaks: Second forum

I wrote yesterday about the first CNY Speaks forum Thursday, and then I went off to the second incarnation Sunday afternoon.

I'm starting to see these forums as interesting, necessary evils.

Don't get me wrong – just like the first one, there were a lot of interesting people with tons of good ideas in the room, but the action plan on this is to have public forums with candidates for mayor, common council and county legislature in the spring, ahead of the 2009 local elections.

That feels like a long way off, and we need some change now.

Sunday's incarnation was smaller, with about 40 people in the crowd.

I sat at a table with a young artist and two retirees, one of whom is actively involved with (or leads, maybe?) the CNY Public Art Forum, which hopes to get a public art space open in downtown Syracuse.

As with Thursday, our two top issues were public perception of downtown and storefront development.

Moving the bus hub also came up, for the second time, as did cutting red tape for potential small business owners.

I still think I'm getting something out of going to these, even if, at least at my seat, we're talking about some of the same issues: it's different people, with different ideas and different desires.

Action items for me include writing letters to Centro, the development committee and the MOST to think about moving the bus hub up to the old trolley ramp behind the museum. I think the MOST will get on board because it gives them more visibility, and since it's already an existing structure, the city won't have to enforce its eminent domain taking of the Red Cross building.

Sean Kirst also showed up to this one; here is his take.

CNY Speaks

The local newspaper, The Post-Standard, several months ago appointed Greg Munno to the position of Civic Engagement editor.

His first task was to launch a blog called CNY Speaks.

His second task was to create a series of public forums to discover what people felt would help improve downtown.

The first of the three forums was Thursday evening. It drew about 90 people. The goal was to get them talking about the results of a survey (PDF) that outlined some of the issues people had with downtown.

We were distributed at registration into tables. I sat with two real estate agents, an employee at an architecture firm, owners of two downtown businesses, a reporter (there as a citizen), someone who has had trouble opening a downtown business, and a retiree who is an advocate for various causes.

Also in the crowd were other reporters-as-citizens, developers, at least one person from Adapt CNY, and a bunch of other people who had bright ideas about what we could do with downtown.

Not in the crowd: Mayor Matt Driscoll, any member of the Syracuse Common Council, or people with overarching negative ideas about downtown.

For me, while the large attendance was a big success, those absences were a big problem.

There's a second go at the forum today (Sunday) at 2 p.m., and a third Tuesday at 6 p.m. I'm going today, and if there's a significantly different crowd with different ideas today than there was Thursday, I'll also go Tuesday.

My concern, though, is that we're in danger of ending up with a lot of good ideas, a great series in the newspaper, and nothing in the way of implementation.

For me, what could vastly improve downtown is a change in public perception. Sure, there are vacant store fronts, and more businesses downtown would certainly bring people. So would affordable housing – I'm sorry, but $1,250-per-month lofts don't fly when you're trying to attract young professionals in a market where they're lucky to make $30,000 a year.

But let's face it. One of the things people are most concerned about is safety, because they read about a lot of crime. They don't read far enough into the story to understand that most of that crime happens when drunk people are wandering the streets between 1 and 4 a.m. I'm not exactly an imposing figure, and I walked from Armory Square to the Hotel Syracuse (10 blocks or so) with a laptop on my shoulder to get to the forum. I never questioned my safety.

Could downtown use more people? Absolutely. Can we do it without public officials and an action plan? Absolutely not.

Who will step up? They might have my vote in 2009 local races.