Urban Design and Neighborhood Planning

The Northside Freedom Garden

Syracuse, New York

Topic Areas: Urban design and neighborhood planning, participatory methods, partnership building
Project scale: Site design
Accomplished by: Community design thematic studio – Faculty: Cheryl Doble
CCDR staff; student interns and graduate assistants
: Franciscan Collaborative Ministries; Home Headquarters; Syracuse Department of Community Development; Syracuse Neighborhood Initiative; Appel Osborne Landscape Architects

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Questions explored:

How can non-English speaking residents be engaged in a participatory design process?

What is necessary for an academic community based design-build project to be sustained and grown over several years?

Project Description:

Syracuse’s North Side neighborhood has a long history of settlement by immigrants. Initially home to Irish, followed by Germans and then Italians, the population today includes numerous cultures in addition to Caucasian and African Americans, such as Sudanese, Bosnian, Hispanic and Southeast Asians. While serving as a landing place and home for many people and still retaining a dense urban form and intact historic buildings, churches and other cultural institutions, the North Side faces numerous challenges and exhibits the neglect associated with many poor urban neighborhoods. The Franciscan religious community has been present in the neighborhood for 150 years. In 1998 they made a recommitment to use their resources “for enacting change and restoring peace and reconciliation to the North Side of Syracuse” (Franciscan Collaborative Ministries).

  • The Northside Freedom Garden

  • The Northside Freedom Garden

  • The Northside Freedom Garden

  • The Northside Freedom Garden

  • The Northside Freedom Garden

  • The Northside Freedom Garden

  • The Northside Freedom Garden

The Franciscans initially contacted the CCDR in 2006 for help with the design of a garden space that they hoped would help unite the neighborhood. The ensuing project turned out to be one that involved many partners and required significant effort and resources, but the first phase of the garden was constructed and dedicated in fall 2009.

The site of the garden is located on a small triangular site adjacent to the Franciscans property. The two buildings that occupied the site were in poor condition and the site of illegal activities; at the urging of neighborhood and the Franciscans, they were removed. During the garden design process, landscape architecture students worked primarily with members of the Vietnamese community. Through a workshop process that relied heavily on images and was conducted in Vietnamese and English, the students came to understand community values, activity patterns and interests and neighborhood resources and concerns. They worked together to define the meaning of freedom and the characteristics necessary to create a safe and inviting urban neighborhood space. The students illustrated alternatives design ideas through the use of models to promote shared understanding and facilitate review by community members. Analysis of the review comments yielded desired characteristics around which a final schematic design was prepared and approved by the various organizations involved. This design process and outcomes are documented on a series of posters available through the following link [link to posters].

The Franciscans and the CCDR recognized the importance for the neighborhood residents to see this garden constructed once the design study was completed. Typically the CCDR does not taken design studies into construction documents but encourages community clients to work with licensed landscape architects for that work. However, early in the Freedom Garden process Professor Cheryl Doble contacted the local American Society of Landscape Architecture chapter and made a connection with the firm of Appel Osborne that agreed to observe and advise in the design process and for a nominal fee complete construction documents for the project.

The preparation of the construction documents and the construction of this small green space involved numerous individuals and organizations, and a significant expenditure of time and effort to accomplish. A committee composed of neighborhood residents, representatives from the city Department of Community Development, Home Headquarters, the Franciscan Ministries, CCDR and several other organizations met on a regular basis for over a year to plan fund raising and expand the interest within the neighborhood to assist with the long term care and maintenance of the site. Construction of the first phase, which was completed in October 2009, was funded primarily through the Department of Community Development and the Syracuse Neighborhood Initiative with smaller grants from the Home Depot foundation and _______


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