ESF Projects Aim to Revitalize American Cities

European cities thrive for centuries, reinventing and rebuilding themselves as times and people change.  In contrast, American cities grow, boom and often decline as people move out to the suburbs.  In an effort to turn the tide and make U.S. communities as sustainable as their European counterparts, the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry’s Faculty of Landscape Architecture has embarked on a number of projects designed to preserve the American community.

The college's Council for Community Design Research (the research and public service arm of landscape architecture) in partnership with New York State, is assisting three Lake Ontario communities in designing and planning future development.  Under the guidance of Associate Professor Cheryl S. Doble, the ESF team worked with the Towns of Sodus, Fair Haven, and Sandy Creek, taking interested community members and officials through the visioning process during a series of workshops.

Based on the ideas generated at these sessions, a summer design institute created plans for these towns to use in future development.  In addition the Council is working with other SUNY institutions to develop a SUNY-wide network to help New York communities advance effective revitalization efforts.  In related works, the Landscape Architecture faculty is involved in an ongoing study with the School of Forest Engineering at Polytechnic University of Madrid.  By studying Vitoria, Spain, and Syracuse, N.Y., the researchers aim to determine what makes Vitoria a thriving city and what practices Syracuse can emulate to achieve the same success.  "We're trying to find out what kind of things happen in sustainable cities that we can do here, and how can we gradually do more of them," said

said Emanuel J. Carter, Jr., associate professor of landscape architecture.

For example, cities need to restructure vacant space and some existing built space for developers that want to do environmentally sound development.  They also need to treat each neighborhood as a series of villages that interlock instead of one large entity.  By placing community facilities in the neighborhoods, goods and services become easily accessible eliminating the need to drive to the outlying areas.  When people have easy access to services, they will stay in the area thereby ensuring the community’s future.

While population density is a major contributor to sustainability, the study is examining how to maximize density without creating pollution problems.  For mid-sized American cities, the importance of sustainability is growing as the national demographic trend shows more people retiring to cities.  "The post-war work population was the first generation to commute their entire lives," said Carter.  With the kids grown and out of the house, these people now want to live in areas where they can walk to various attractions.  Of particular popularity are cities that house universities such as Syracuse.  Now, Syracuse needs to develop the services people want to live near to attract this older population.

Because Syracuse is so typical of the American mid-sized city, the conclusions drawn can be applied across the country making not only Syracuse prosperous, but other mid-sized cities as well.

For more information, contact Emmanuel J. Carter, Jr., Associate Professor, Faculty of Landscape Architecture, (315) 470-6665, ejcarter@esf.edu.