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SyracuseA commission of community leaders in Syracuse and Onondaga County say it’s time to discuss metropolitan government. It released a report detailing how a merger could save $20 million immediately and taxpayers could save $200 each a year.

The commission wasn’t shy. While it stopped short of making recommendations, it discussed consolidating police, fire, EMS, public works, courts, clerks, code enforcement and governments as a whole. It says $100 million is being spent on duplicated services. The report does make the situation look ridiculous.

The commission avoided the third rail topic of schools, believing there’s no public will on that front.

The commission will now solicit feedback from the community. If Syracuse and Onondaga County were to merge, there would be just under 500,000 residents. Syracuse would be the state’s largest city outside New York City. The commission notes there are advantages beyond cost savings to residents, such as shared planning and elevation in stature.

It will be interesting to see how this discussion plays out in the Syracuse area. Past discussions on metro government in the Rochester area have been met with fierce resistance. Former mayor Bill Johnson loved to talk about metro government, even metro schools. Maggie Brooks used his support for the idea to trounce him in 2003 in the race for county executive. The GOP’s infamous Pac-Man ad showed the city gobbling up all the towns. Needless to say, people like their towns and villages. Many want no part of the city.

Governor Andrew Cuomo loves to talk government consolidation, but I don’t see the will anywhere in this community to even have a discussion. Maybe our friends in Central New York will show us a path.

 

Links of the Day:

 

Syracuse was named one of 20 finalists in Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge contest. The group recognizes ideas that make cities more efficient and improve customer service, as well as address social and economic problems. More than 300 cities submitted applications to compete for a $5 million grand prize.

Syracuse wants to capitalize on its immigrant population. A press release issued by Mayor Stephanie Miner described the proposed project:

Syracuse was selected based on its innovative idea to create The Syracuse International Village: a one-of-a-kind International Village and World Market in the city of Syracuse that links refugee resettlement services and creates pathways to economic opportunity for refugees and new Americans. By linking and unifying various refugee and immigrant support services, and creating a world marketplace for small business training and incubation for these populations, Syracuse will foster one of the most robust and creative communities for new Americans in our nation.

Syracuse now joins other cities capitalizing on their immigrant populations. They’re wooing immigrants because they can help reverse population decline. Studies show an influx of immigrants to a community can raise property values and decrease crime. They can also strengthen economies.

Monroe County has more than 60,000 foreign-born residents – 8.4 percent of the population.

Here are the other ideas to improve cities, taken from the Bloomberg Philanthropies press release:

Boston, MA: Accelerating student achievement by empowering parents to manage and share information more easily with educators and entrepreneurs, spurring the creation of the next generation of educational tools

Chicago, IL: Building the first open-source analytics platform that identifies real-time patterns for city agencies—allowing decision makers to anticipate problems and craft solutions

Cincinnati, OH: Reducing infant deaths through an intervention that reaches 100% of new mothers

Durham, NC: Creating entrepreneurship hubs in three distressed neighborhoods to generate new solutions and partnerships to strengthen communities

High Point, NC: Adapting evidence-based CeaseFire approach to gang violence to domestic violence reduction

Hillsboro, OR: Integrating public and private suburban transportation options to provide greater choice and access and create a more sustainable community

Houston, TX: Tapping game-changing technology for new “one bin for all” plan that makes recycling easier and captures 75% of all waste

Indianapolis, IN: Ensuring access to a research-based, top-tier education for every child in the city, by creating 30,000 high-quality seats through charter and district partnerships

Knoxville, TN: Eliminating food deserts through a comprehensive local food system that addresses land, farming jobs, processing, transit, sale, and composting

Lafayette, LA: Encouraging community-wide gaming for social good

Lexington, KY: Building a new citizen engagement platform focused on civic problem solving

Milwaukee, WI: Transforming foreclosed properties into community assets that improve public health and spark economic opportunity

Philadelphia, PA: Reimagining the RFP process to better enable civic entrepreneurs to solve city problems

Phoenix, AZ: Customizing smart-energy districts in 15 urban neighborhoods in Phoenix to become “smartest energy city in the world”

Providence, RI: Closing word deficit of children born into low-income households through home visitations and increased vocabulary exposure

Saint Paul, MN: Streamlining online permitting process for residents, developers, and businesses inspired by personal tax preparation software

San Francisco, CA: Promoting workforce development and experience-based training through opportunities to volunteer on city projects

Santa Monica, CA: Becoming first U.S. city to establish a wellbeing index to spur improvements for the entire city

Springfield, OR: Revolutionizing EMS through mobile primary care delivery units

Syracuse is contemplating removing the elevated portion of Interstate 81 that runs straight through the city for much the same reasons Rochester wants to get rid of the Inner Loop. The Post-Standard reports the highway divides the city and creates barriers to development:

The 1.4 miles of I-81 that splits Syracuse’s downtown from the University Hill will reach the end of its useful life in 2017.

(snip)

The ideas include leaving it alone, rebuilding it in its current state, burying the lanes in a tunnel, or creating a boulevard running through the city.

In the 1920s, former governor Horace White, who had Syracuse roots, warned against building elevated railroads, a system that eventually led to the construction of an elevated I-81:

“In my humble opinion, the proposed elevated plan … would mean the infliction of another monstrosity upon our home for a time beyond calculation. Of course, … elevation … would doubtless be the cheapest, the most expeditious, the easiest in the matter of engineering work for the railroads, but it would be like ripping a savage septic wound across a human face — likely to infect the whole body, sure to ruin its appearance.

“It would mean that the city would be divided into sections, property would be seriously damaged, the environs would be marred and disfigured, the public health and comfort would be endangered and our taxes would be increased by depreciated assessments.

City of Rochester Communications Bureau

He could also have been talking about the Inner Loop, for which Rochester razed buildings and rearranged neighborhoods. The sunken highway is now considered a noose around the neck of downtown. Nowhere is the strangulation more evident than the East/Union corridor, where the flow of the East End is interrupted and surface parking lots and backs of buildings line the highway.

Rochester’s mayor submitted legislation to City Council this month to further study the economic impact of filling in the eastern portion of the Inner Loop. Preliminary estimates show nine acres of land would be available for development than could result in more than $120 million of private investment. Getting more finely-tuned information about the impact of raising the highway is important.

Links of the Day:

The state is laying out plans to revamp the 390/490 Interchange.

– This is sure to go over well. Not. New York State lawmakers are scheming for a pay raise.

– Rochester City Hall is planning a big crackdown on convenience stores, which have proliferated in recent years.

– The Buffalo Bills are being urged to see the light on blackouts.

– Niagara Falls desperately needs the money the Senecas are withholding from the city because of a dispute with the state over racetrack video slots.

– Here are some tips to keep your kid safe this summer. Very, very safe.

syracuse.edu

– Rochester’s city residents have suffered through the closure of Wegmans at Midtown, Mt. Hope and Driving Park. We mourned the loss of our smaller, neighborhood stores. Those stores belonged to us. They were a refuge from the massive, suburban boxes with their chaotic parking lots. They were home.

As much as it hurt to say goodbye and despite the pangs of betrayal, there was no community angst the likes of which we are now seeing in Syracuse.

Wegmans announced recently it is closing the smallest store in its chain on Pond Street on the North Side. The Post-Standard reports:

…the Pond Street Wegmans is the primary source of food for a significant number of people in a high poverty area, and in a quarter-mile radius of the store, almost a quarter of the population has no vehicle…

(snip)

Richard Zalewski, a North Sider since the 1970s, has a vehicle, and two days after the Pond Street news broke, he drove to the chain’s corporate headquarters in Rochester to hand-deliver a letter of protest. He is especially worried about his neighbors without transportation.

“I really was upset enough to want to make a dramatic statement,” said Zalewski…

Zalewski, like some others interviewed for this story, does not buy the reason Wegmans is giving for shuttering Pond Street. He thinks the real issue is that the store, with is lower-income clientele, doesn’t fit the Wegmans corporate image. Zalewski says he will no longer shop at any Wegmans.

There have been endless news stories and letters to the editor and even a proposed law requiring the site to stay a grocery store. A Syracuse council member wrote an open letter to Wegmans:

Is denying immigrants, the elderly and the impoverished reasonable access to fresh foods the sort of difference you want to make in the community?

These are moral questions about your business culture.

Ouch!

Perhaps Rochesterians have more goodwill for our hometown grocer, so we’re more accepting when Wegmans abandons its city stores. Perhaps Rochesterians are more accepting of the suburbanization of our community. Perhaps Rochesterians are used to being disappointed by big business.

Syracuse will eventually learn there is life without Wegmans. PriceRite, Aldi and Tops have filled the void and are doing very well. And as Wegmans has often pointed out, the chain has a plethora of stores near the city…just over the border.

Update – Wegmans wrote a letter to the editor acknowledging the backlash.

– Tops is remodeling stores and adding gas stations. The company has a decidely different strategy than Wegmans.

– School #50 principal Tim Mains is up for the Albany superintendent job. Mains ran for mayor in 2005 and lost to Bob Duffy. We know how that story ended. He was a finalist for RCSD superintendent along with Jean-Claude Brizard. We know how that story ended. How would things in Rochester have been different if Mains ascended to either of those positions?

– New York’s dairy farmers are being left behind in the Greek yogurt boom. Chobani is forced to expand its operation in Idaho because it can’t get enough milk from New York farms.

– Rochester’s mayor has had a very quotable week. First, he complained MCC is treated the Damon Campus like it’s Afghanistan. Then he called his deputy mayor a “big boy.” His discussion of the Bug Jar in City Newspaper takes the cake and started a brief Twitter meme:

“There’s nothing wrong with being funky. There’s nothing wrong with being hip hop. It’s just, you can’t shoot each other.”

Created by: @bryanjball

Created by @dragonflyeye

 

The Syracuse University athletics department did a parody of the LMFAO hit song “Sexy and I Know It.” It’s performed by student Jason Adams and features cameos from Jim Boeheim and others. The Post-Standard wrote up the video:

Scenes were shot at various campus landmarks like the Carrier Dome, the steps in front of the Hall of Languages and Hendricks Chapel, as well as student shopping favorites like Marshall Street and the Carousel Center (soon to be Destiny USA). The actors flex, strut and dance while reaction shots add to the silliness of it all.

Maybe the U of R could learn a thing or two?

(Update: Just learned Roberts Wesleyan has its own parody. “Study and You Know It.” Oh dear.)

City of Rochester Communications Bureau

More Links of the Day:

Although a recent study found America is less racially segregated than ever before, there are places where it persists. In some of those places, there is a significant “opportunity gap.”

The Urban Land Institute ranked 100 metropolitan areas based on black-white equality. The study measured residential segregation, income, employment, school test scores and home ownership.

Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse ranked in the bottom ten.

Here’s Rochester’s report card:

Overall: F | 92nd

Residential Segregation: D

Neighborhood Income Gap: F

School Test Score Gap: D

Employment Gap: F

Home ownership Gap: D

The Atlantic points out the study doesn’t take into account the different sizes and lifestyles of each metro area.

But I’m glad this study went a little further than the Manhattan Institute study that looked at residential segregation. That study proclaimed our country is less segregated than ever. As I blogged recently, the data showed only slightly more integration in Rochester. It certainly feels segregated here. This study shows it is – and points out possible consequences.

– What’s up with Syracuse’s school superintendent? She proposed a budget with a 12 percent increase – unheard of in these tough fiscal times. If that’s not shocking enough, her budget has a $35 million hole and she has no idea how to fill it.

– Kodak has a big bankruptcy hearing next Wednesday. The court filings show everyone is lining up to get their piece of the pie. They also suggest Kodak could be having a hard time with vendors right now.

– Rochester’s ShotSpotter program has a shockingly low return on investment. More than 3,000 activations led to only six arrests.

– Save the Crows! Here’s my story on the Facebook group protesting the city’s crow removal. My favorite line: “They’re birds. Let birds be birds.”

Links of the Day:

– News Flash! A first grade boy from the Syracuse area “escaped” from school and walked a half-mile home without getting abducted or run over by a car.

Little Nathan left school because he doesn’t like sloppy joes. His mother made a huge stink – and the Syracuse Post-Standard bit. She blamed the loss of cafeteria aides for not keeping an eye on her kid. The mother, who says she drives her kids to school every day, feels this is a horrible outrage, because something bad could have happened:

“He said he kept saying to himself, ‘there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home,’” she said. “What if that had been his last thought before he was run over?”

Of course, kids shouldn’t be allowed to leave school whenever they want. But my takeaway from this story wasn’t that little Nathan could have been killed. It was that little Nathan is a mischievous and independent boy who is capable of walking .66 miles by himself.

The kids in Maplewood, including myself, walked to #7 School alone when we were Nathan’s age. Crime stats indicate Rochester was far more dangerous back then. It’s not the times that have changed – it’s the cultural norms.

My colleague, Evan Dawson, wrote about becoming a father and fearing his child won’t have the same freedom we had as children. I told him to start reading the Free Range Kids blog. Lenore Skenazy’s message is that society cannot eliminate all risk and in the process of trying, creates real harm.

– Cuomo has an “Indian problem,” writes City & State. Native Americans have been excluded from the table, the column says.

– Cuomo’s “transparency website” is anything but, Innovation Trail discovered in a thorough takedown of the effort.

– A bunch of doctors have diagnosed the LeRoy teens with conversion disorder. At what point should the media stop calling it a “mystery?” It is very common with conversion disorder for families to reject the diagnosis and doctor shop.

– Rochester was once home to the “Waldorf of Western New York.”

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Links of the Day:

– State legislatures across the country, including in New York, are expected to take up bills offering online poker. A recent Justice Department ruling paved the way. Cash-hungry New York would most certainly jump at the chance to expand gaming. The governor is already trying to expand bricks and mortar casinos.

– There’s a call to get Monroe County to pick an aviation director with experience in the field. That would likely mean a national search. The Democrat and Chronicle talked to experts in running airports:

“I happen to think that anybody who doesn’t put an airport person into a position like that is making a major mistake,” said William Fife, a private consultant who formerly managed aviation and planning for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and led John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. “There are some places you can get away with putting the mayor’s brother in charge, but you need someone who knows what they’re doing at an airport.”

– The city of Syracuse looks underwhelming from any approach, but a Post-Standard columnist points out Carrier Circle is pretty bad:

…hundreds of thousands of visitors to Syracuse exit the New York State Thruway at Exit 35 each year and get deposited into a centrifugal force of blight.

– Speaking of Syracuse, Bob Lonsberry is preparing to broadcast a new daily talk show from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. He will continue to broadcast from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Rochester. He tells Syracuse listeners he knows he’ll be the new kid making “rookie mistakes.”

– New York’s attorney general will meet with Time Warner Cable and MSG in a bid to end the impasse.

Communications Bureau, City of Rochester

Links of the Day:

Governor Andrew Cuomo tells the Buffalo News he understands other regions are going to be upset over his $1 billion pledge to Buffalo. Spurned cities will just have to deal, he says:

“You look at newspapers today, and you’ll see I’m criticized by other parts of the state for focusing on Buffalo,” the governor responded.

“I say, ‘You’re right. I’m focusing on Buffalo because I believe Buffalo has a great need and I believe Buffalo’s needs have been ignored for a long time,” the governor added. “If this is unique attention for Buffalo, it’s because Buffalo has unique needs.”

Buffalo’s needs may not be so unique or even more dire. I pointed out Buffalo and Rochester’s urban problems are very similar. The Syracuse Post-Standard reports poverty rates are actually higher in Rochester and Syracuse:

In fact, estimates from the U.S. Census suggest that both Syracuse and Rochester have higher poverty rates than Buffalo.

The estimates, which combine three years of data from 2008 to 2010, show Buffalo’s poverty rate at 30.4 percent, Syracuse’s at 32.2 percent, and Rochester’s at 31.3 percent.

A less precise one-year snapshot of the cities taken by the Census in 2010 shows the same ranking — Syracuse first at 34 percent, Rochester second at 33.8 percent and Buffalo third at 30.2 percent.

District Attorney Sandra Doorley hired a staffer from the Democratic Party office – and her campaign manager – to be an administrator in her office. That looks a lot like patronage has arrived in the DA’s office. The hiring of Adam Bello comes after Doorley canned five prosecutors, saying she needed people who were “loyal” to her.

A city official is in hot water over his derelict properties, the Democrat and Chronicle reports. The city is figuring out what sort of disciplinary action to take. City Spokesman Gary Walker:

“Is it legal? Yes, because it happens all the time. Is it ethical? Not for a city employee.”

Remember during the fast ferry days when people said Canadians would never want to come to Rochester?

They’re flocking in droves to Buffalo and Syracuse – to spend money.

Sales tax receipts in Erie and Niagara counties are surging. Local officials credit Canadians. From the Buffalo News:

So what’s fueling the growth?

“There’s a one-word answer I can give you right now: Canadians,” said Gary D. Keith, an economist with M&T Bank. “They have been helping our retail sector significantly throughout 2011, and, in fact, the nice growth we’re seeing in Erie County has been topped by what’s happening in Niagara County.”

The Syracuse Post Standard reports Canadians are coming by the busload to Carousel Center, Wegmans and the Waterloo Premium Outlets:

The two currencies are about par right now. A big reason Canadian shoppers are coming to the U.S., and Syracuse in particular, is for the wide variety of stores and variety of goods they cannot purchase in Canada. And to escape goods and services taxes and other sales taxes, which are, they say, much higher in their homeland.

Rochester may not be as convenient as Syracuse and Buffalo, but I’d be willing to bet we’re getting at least some of that traffic. We have the unique attractions of The Strong and George Eastman House, but the shopping opportunities are no different. Maybe it’s time to figure out another kind of attraction to capture the Canadians!