Five blocks on Syracuse’s Near Westside neighborhood is undergoing a public space makeover to help rebrand and promote activity in the historically low-income area. On April 15, Boston-based Stoss Landscape Urbanism, working with Höweler + Yoon Architecture, was named winner of the Movement on Main: Designing the Healthy Main Street competition for their playful approach to promoting an active public realm.
“There has been some revitalization in the Near Westside neighborhood, but it still feels like it has been left out,” said Marc Norman, a jury member and director of UPSTATE: Center for Design, Research and Real Estate at the Syracuse University School of Architecture. He made reference to a previous competition for the area in 2009, which led to the completion of three sustainably designed houses, one by COOKFOX, one by Della Valle Bernheimer, and one by Onion Flats. That competition helped lay the groundwork for the collaborative approach taken with Movement on Main.
Stoss’ concept—called “Light Play!”—uses readily available and inexpensive off-the-shelf products to create a playful streetscape designed around a series of outdoor rooms and “activity mounds.” Along the Wyoming Street corridor, faceted shards of earth rise from the sidewalk to form gathering areas and impromptu playgrounds. There are also small plazas in vacant lots along the route. Vibrant colors provide a sense of energy while helping to offset the gloom of upstate New York’s long winters.
“Initially, the strong point of Stoss’ project is its degree of pragmatism and that it realistically responded to the budget,” said Richard Weller, jury chair and chair of Landscape Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. Realizing the limitations of a $1.5 million budget, Stoss chose to redesign only the side of the street closest to residences. “The challenge is, can you deliver a cost-effective streetscape to act as a catalyst for improving the sociology of an area, to get people out on their feet?” said Weller.
Weller applauded Stoss’ attention to the street’s nightscape, which uses light to create a sense of activity. Reflective and glow-in-the-dark tape and paint catch light from passing cars and passing pedestrians trigger motion-controlled LEDs of varying intensities. “Stoss’ design made what’s normally a banal issue of security into a sort of art project,” said Weller.
Besides the new streetscape, the design introduces traffic-calming elements such as chicanes—jogs in the road that force cars to slow down as they pass—and rain gardens that catch runoff from the street and sidewalks.
“The design doesn’t really conform to known typologies. It’s not a pattern book approach,” Weller said, noting that Stoss delivered a new streetscape, linear park, and piazza in one. “It’s a hybridization of all three typologies yet it manages to look bold and new and remain interesting.”
This summer, Stoss will meet with the neighborhood residents and city officials to further develop the design, but Norman said no construction timeline has been set. When the streetscape is complete, Norman said he hopes to see not only increased numbers of people on the street, but also improved health statistics in an area known for high rates of chronic asthma and diabetes.