As a kid growing up in Syracuse a drive on Route 81 from Liverpool meant we were going to Grandma and Grandpa's house. She lived all the way past downtown on the south side of Syracuse. We picked up the highway off the Onondaga Lake Parkway as it passed the oil tanks along the grade level section of the interstate. Dad guided our Chrysler Plymouth or Chevy Impala to highway cruising speed. Mom sat in the front seat. John, Tim and I piled into the back. No one wore a seat belt.
As we passed the Clinton Street exit the road bent toward the south and elevated a couple of stories above the city streets. That section of highway turned what would have been a 35 minute stop and go ride from the northern suburbs into a 20 minute no stop ride to Midland Avenue.
It never occurred to me as a 5 or 6 year old that the road under our wheels was only about as old as me. It was a fairly new concept to have a major interstate bisecting downtown Syracuse. I now know that highway went up at the expense of something else coming down. It was progress for a community that still ranked in the top 50 markets in America.
Now fifty years after the first concrete footers were buried into the ground the end of the useful life of the highway is within sight. During the time the strength of the city which resided in the people who lived there has largely leaked out to suburban developments in every direction. The elevated highway is hardly to blame for the mass exodus. Too many other factors contributed like two car families, fresh new school systems and an elevated expectation of home and property ownership.
Now it's time to create new reasons for people to return to the city to work, play and live . Tearing down the unsightly concrete and steel divide is a good first step. It could be exciting to see what can grow in and around that renewed space once we can clearly see the view from downtown to University Hill and back again.
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