syracuse’s vacant building problem

“Her 5-year-old son accidentally started the fire at 426 Rich St., Syracuse, with a lighter as Baker watched helplessly from a neighbor’s yard. Her 13-year-old son tried to douse the fire with a bucket of water, but it spread too quickly, according to a fire department report. Both boys made it out safely.

The house didn’t fare as well. It instantly joined a list of more than 1,600 vacant structures in Syracuse.

The city’s demolition inspector said there’s no one reason a house becomes vacant. “Every house has a story,” Ted Koagel said.

Some are abandoned after fires, broken dreams or bad investments. Others have owners who died with no one left to take over. Some languish after being neglected by absentee owners.

The city spends about $1 million — all in city taxpayer money — to raze about 80 homes a year like 426 Rich St. Non-profits and private homeowners also do about 20 to 30 demolitions, Koagel said.

But demolition can take years and countless hours by lawyers, city workers, a Supreme Court judge and private contractors. A vacant house must undergo checks for ownership, asbestos and historic significance, among other hurdles.

Nearly $500,000 in federal stimulus money has also paid for 23 demolitions in the past year. About $100,000 of that went toward tearing down a North State Street building this spring that crumbled onto Interstate 81, closing the highway and frustrating 50,000 commuters for weeks. The state eventually picked up most of the $467,000 tab.

See a list of all demolitions budgeted in the past year in Syracuse. (Note: Some dollar figures are estimates. The last category includes stimulus money given to non-profits, such as Home Headquarters Inc., for demolitions.)

Homeowners are charged for the demolition, but less than 10 percent ever pay, officials said. Some of the bills are sent to homeowners who have since died or to corporations that no longer exist.”

excerpt taken from an article written by Douglass Dowty who writes for the Post Standard, pub. july 14, 2010

read the full article here.

Syracuse has a growing vacant building syndrome- with each new abandoned building providing a new story into how owners can allow such beautiful homes to sit there as if freezing them in time. Some landlords just don’t understand that houses are like anything in life, if you don’t properly maintain them, they will slowly deteriorate and decay- physically and fiscally.

Over 1,600 homes (and counting according to this article) lie abandoned, vacant, and in a state of decay.  Now take a minute to think how many forests, factories, energy, time, labor, and money that originally went into making these homes that were, at one point in time, brand new fully viable shelters for a family(ies) to live in. Now visualize all of the money (from taxpayers like you), time, labor, and energy it will require to demolish these built structures just to see the material end up as C&D waste on its way to any number of C&D landfills. Let’s not even mention the newly voided lots primed for yet another cycle/round of manufacturing, energy & resource use! This is just criminal- it’s a crime to humanity, it’s a crime against nature, and it’s a crime to those who could use this C&D material to revitalize their own property saving it from the place where these 1,600 homes will soon end up (the landfill).

What if we harvested and reused only a small fraction of these homes’ building material to patch the rest of the homes to save them from their current destined resting place (C&D landfills), and save the tax payers money and create a few jobs in the mean time?


The Patchwork Collective was pretty happy to see this article published on the front page of the Post Standard- giving the issue a fair amount of focus. We were especially happy to see this urban blight story framed in a “glass half-empty or glass half-full” perspective. This problem we see in Syracuse is characteristic of what we can see happening in many post-industrial, rustbelt cities now. It requires decisive, responsible, and reactive thinking on our policy-makers parts, as well as a can-do attitude to implement and execute thoughtful urban renewal strategies. It requires a solution that is derived from outside the box thinking. It requires connecting the constellation of dots that aren’t yet connected.

These homes/buildings that are being demolished/deconstructed are only inflating our waste disposal capacities, leaving behind them vacant spaces within the fabric of our city. Lets minimize this problem by sustainably, and efficiently creating a strategic deconstruction plan so that the material coming from these abandoned structures can be reinvested back into our communities to the fullest effect. Let’s try our best to avoid giving Syracuse a smile with missing teeth.

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