IRA FLATOW, host:
From NPR News in Syracuse, New York, this is TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.
Once upon a time, salt and the Erie Canal built Syracuse, New York. Later, television and air conditioner manufacturing fueled its economy, and now a much smaller Syracuse is largely supported by higher education and the aerospace business. Cities change. Coming up we'll talk about how cities can be designed, planned, and helped to change for the better with an eye on the environment and sustainability.
From planting trees to reclaiming abused waterways, how can towns like Syracuse remake themselves? How can cities revitalize themselves without losing the things that make them unique. Green urban planning to remake a city, all coming up after this break. Stay with us.
(Soundbite of the news)
FLATOW: This is TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.
This week in Syracuse, New York, developers and government officials announced plans to finally move ahead with a project that's been under discussion for years here, a mega-mall that would rival the Mall of America in Minnesota.
The local government hopes that the Syracuse mall, called Destiny USA, with its shopping/entertainment facilities, thousand-room hotel and more, will bring tourists dollars and jobs and breathe new life into the region.
Cities change over time, and Syracuse is certainly a good example. In the earliest days, Syracuse was closely tied to the production of salt. Later, the Erie Canal and the barrages on it were essential in the growth of the city. After the Civil War, as salt production here declined, the manufacture of various electrical devices and soda ash kept the city going.
Even more recently, General Electric made televisions. Carrier made air conditioning equipment here. And now they're gone, too, and the largest source of employment in the town is higher education, with schools such as Syracuse University, the SUNY Upstate Medical University, the SUNY College of Environmental, just to name a few.
Lockheed Martin has replaced GE, and a small number of hi-tech firms call Syracuse home, but the city is thirsting for more. Well, the developers of the new mall have promised that it will not only be big but it will be green, dependent entirely on renewable energy sources. But not everyone here is convinced that a green mega-mall is the best way to remake Syracuse.
This hour, we're broadcasting from the campus of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. We'll be talking about designing sustainable cities and planning development in an ecologically conscious way.
We'll also be taking a look at the projects in works to help revitalize Syracuse and the surrounding area, including efforts to breathe new life into Onondaga Creek, which runs through the city here and which raises the questions, can you make the city greener, literally, and make it lead to a better environment?
We're gonna talk about that, so we'd like to have you join us in a conversation here in the auditorium or at home on your, or on your cell phone, 1-800-989-8255, and of course, you're always invited to surf over to our website at sciencefriday.com.
Let me introduce my guests. Emanuel Carter is an associate professor in the faculty of landscape architecture here at the State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Welcome to the program, Professor.
Professor EMANUEL CARTER (State University of New York): Thank you.
FLATOW: Anne Mosher is an associate professor of geography at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. Welcome, Professor Mosher.
Professor ANNE MOSHER (Maxwell School of Syracuse University): Thank you.
FLATOW: Richard Smardon is a professor and chair of the environmental studies faculty here at SUNY-ESF, and he is involved in the creek revitalization plan. Welcome to the program.
Professor RICHARD SMARDON (SUNY College of Environment Science and Forestry): Good to be here.
FLATOW: And David Nowak is a project leader with the USDA Forest Service, an expert on urban forestry, also based in Syracuse. Thank you for being with us here today.
Mr. DAVID NOWAK (USDA Forest Service): Thank you, Ira.
FLATOW: Let me begin with you, Professor Carter. When we talk about environmental and, or environmental city, an ecologically sound city and a city that has a sustainability, is there such a thing? Are these all, are they compatible or totally incompatible when you think about a city?
Prof. CARTER: Well, I think it's fair to say that a city cannot in and of itself be sustainable. What a city can do is contribute to the sustainability of a region because the city's footprint, in fact, extends into the region. Traditionally, cities did eat off the hinterland around them and were able to find fresh water and find a place to put their waste without fouling the land in such a way as they, as forcing people to leave.
We now have much larger footprints in our urban situations, and at the same time, we have state, federal, and sometimes local policies which are also encouraging sprawl, and so our urban footprint becomes broad indeed. But it is possible for cities to regain their strength as urban entities and at the same time have a much more positive impact in the region's ecology.
FLATOW: Hmm. The trend has always been in the United States, you know, that people move into a city, they stay there awhile, they get richer, and they move out to some other place. Is that still going on that way? Is that an American concept? Does that happen like that all over the world?
Prof. CARTER: It's probably mostly a peculiarly American situation. We live in an epoch of suburbanization. It was government-induced, largely, although at the time that the nation was founded there was a classic discussion between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson about, you know, should the new nation been an agrarian nation or an industrial nation?
Hamilton was quite correct in suggesting we needed to be an industrial nation, which meant we had to be an urban nation. We would have the empire we have at this moment if we were not an urban nation.
FLATOW: Mm hmm.
Prof. CARTER: On the other hand, in the 1930s, the federal government under the leadership of Franklin Roosevelt began to turn the country into a nation of homeowners and in doing so, restructured how the mortgage works, and in doing that also had to decide where and how and under what circumstances the federal government would back the new 20, 25 and 30-year mortgages.
In deciding that they could not say yes to everybody in every situation, they created a series of maps which made it impossible to reinvest in much of our cityscapes, and as a result created the idea that cities might be inherently unsound.
FLATOW: Hmm. And that's just hung on, then basically...
Prof. CARTER: Yes, it's...
FLATOW: ...since World War II.
Prof. CARTER: Yeah, and as was discussed by the previous panel, the availability of cheap energy has made it possible for that to remain the case.
FLATOW: Mm hmm. That's interesting because that's a good segue way to Ann Mosher. You help create maps to find out what people think about their towns. Is it surprising what you find out what people think about their towns?
Prof. MOSHER: Oh, absolutely. A lot of the things that we expect people to be telling us, we don't hear, and then they tell us other things and...
FLATOW: For example.
Prof. MOSHER: Well, for example, I'm involved in a project over in Rome, New York, which is about 45 miles away from here, which is a community that had a large air force base that was decommissioned by the federal government in 1995.
And we went over in 2001, an architect from Syracuse University named Anne Munly and myself and a couple of graduate students, and we started interviewing people there and asking them what they thought about the community, and we got them to map the community.
And what we were expecting to hear about were stories about, you know, downtown and how the shops had all moved out and how the urban landscape just wasn't what it was. And it turned out that they were more interested in telling us about Griffiss and the impact that it had had on the community. And as outsiders we should have done more research, I think, going in to it.
FLATOW: Explain that to a national audience that doesn't, that doesn't understand this whole idea of what you were trying to do.
Prof. MOSHER: What we were trying to do was get a sense of how a community viewed its environment.
Prof. MOSHER: So in many ways, the way in which we see the environment, or he way we're looking at it, is somewhat different from how many of your other panelists are looking at it...
Prof. MOSHER: ...in terms of ecosystems. We're thinking about it...
FLATOW: So you give them a pencil and a piece of paper...
Prof. MOSHER: Yeah.
FLATOW: ...and say draw a map.
Prof. MOSHER: Draw a map, and you have five minutes to do it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Prof. MOSHER: And then...
FLATOW: Speed map.
Prof. MOSHER: A speed map. And people are very uncomfortable doing that.
Prof. MOSHER: But it's also very telling because they'll put the things on the map that are the absolute most important to them. And what we discovered then in asking them about their maps and querying them was that what they were trying to do was work through this trauma of Griffiths Air Force Base being closed down, and the fact that the restaurants they used to like to go to were now closed. The friends that they used to go and visit at their houses were no longer there. And some of the stories that people told us after they were-after they had finished their maps, and they were describing them to us, were really quite poignant.
Prof. MOSHER: And indicated to us that this community had been through trauma. So later on, we brought this technique to Syracuse and found out that Syracuse had been equally traumatized. But it was more of a long-term, insidious kind of traumatization instead of the federal government coming in and closing down an Air Force base, so it was different.
FLATOW: So what did they say that traumatized them? What kind of things?
Prof. MOSHER: In Syracuse or in...
FLATOW: In Syracuse.
Prof. MOSHER: In Syracuse I think there were a couple of things. The project that we did here involved 50 residents, from all walks of life, different racialized groups, different age groups. And the things that kept coming up again and again were questions about the benefits of urban renewal...
FLATOW: Mm hmm.
Prof. MOSHER: ...and also about the building of interstate highways through the community. And these were things that happened back in the 1960s and 1970's, but yet still have very concrete - that's literal and figural - influences or impacts on people's lives today. And it's really interesting, the mental maps that everybody in Syracuse carries around in their heads, really...
FLATOW: Mm hmm.
Prof. MOSHER: ...it has a lot, they've put a lot of stress on highways.
Prof. MOSHER: And...
FLATOW: So they didn't talk about the lake.
Prof. MOSHER: No.
FLATOW: They didn't talk about the creek. It was like it was off their radar screen.
Prof. MOSHER: It was off their radar screen. And that also surprised us because we thought that since the Onondaga Creek cleanup, and Onondaga Lake cleanup we're so much in the public eye...
Prof. MOSHER: ...that people would be talking about this. They didn't talk about that. They didn't care about the Erie Canal. They didn't really care about deindustrialization. The things that they were more interested in talking about were things about better integration between the university and the rest of the community, or more jobs. And...
FLATOW: These were really local issues.
Prof. MOSHER: Very.
FLATOW: I mean, they're so local that they weren't even touching outside of their community.
Prof. MOSHER: That's right, exactly. I mean there were some people, especially in the Rome case, because it's a smaller community, it's about 35,000 people, where they seemed to talk more regionally about where they lived. Whereas in Syracuse, it very, it was very much a local issue, which I think has big planning implications. Because right now I think one of the things people are trying to do in Syracuse is to start to think regionally.
Prof. MOSHER: And so I think there's a lot of education that's going to need to go on, and some psychological adjustments in people's mental maps.
FLATOW: But that would make that, wouldn't that apply to any other city also?
Prof. MOSHER: Absolutely.
FLATOW: The thinking is really block by block, you know, really.
Prof. MOSHER: I think so. I mean I think that in order for these new policies to be put into place on, you know, and thinking more bio-regionally, you're going to have to get people to adjust their mental image of what the region is, and to think more broadly. And so I think that part of the battle is not just physical, but it's also psychological.
FLATOW: Mm hmm. And to get them to think about - okay, this is interesting.
We're going to pick up and talk more with our other guests, so stay with us. We'll be right back, talking with Emanuel Carter, Anne Mosher, Richard Smardon, and David Nowak. And your calls and questions from the audience on the mics here. So stay with us, we'll be right back.
(Soundbite of music)
FLATOW: I'm Ira Flatow. This is TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
FLATOW: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.
We're talking this hour about planning sustainable cities. We're here in Syracuse, New York, which is a major city in New York-and has lessons for the rest of the country, I think, with my guests, Anne Mosher, David Nowak, and Emanuel Carter and Richard Smardon.
Our number, 1-800-989-8255. And I guess the genesis of every city, every - not even a major city, a minor city, there's water. There's a lot of water that brings commerce and recreation, drinking to a city that you need to have for a city. One of the unique features of this town is the water around it with the Great Lake right here, and also something called the Onondaga Creek, which we talked a little bit about with Anne Mosher.
I want to ask Richard Smardon to describe this creek. And is it a classical example of a waterway in a city and its development through the technology and industry?
Prof. SMARDON: Well, Ira, it is and it isn't. It's got quite a varied great history. In fact, if you go back to the Onondagas, who lived just south of here, it's part of their creation story. So this goes back centuries and centuries and centuries. And the early colonialization, the industrialization of the solvate process, which they used brine and pumped it up to Syracuse, and then through the center of the city, what was basically channelized, grated, straightened...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Prof. SMARDON: ...paved on the sides so they could get the water through the city as quickly as possible, and then it became a waste receptacle to get rid of the sewage in times of heavy storms...
FLATOW: Mm hmm.
Prof. SMARDON: ...through the city and into the lake.
FLATOW: Mm hmm.
Prof. SMARDON: So it's going through incredible changes over time. But yet it's also a kind of a historic heritage resource, if you think about all these different periods of history, and what it contributes to the different populations through the whole region.
FLATOW: Mm hmm. And where does it stand today, what is its status today?
Prof. SMARDON: Well, today it's got a number of problems. We have things called mud boils in Tully, which are very unique geological phenomena, upwellings of silt and brine which spill into one of the tributaries, which then go into the creek and cover the bottom with silt.
We have earthquakes and erosion happening, landslides in parts of Tully and Lafayette. It actually cleans up for a while and actually gets quite better. And then it gets into the city itself and then we have a number of combines to overflows, dumping directly into the creek in times of storm events, roughly about 30 to 50 times a year, where street drainage combines with raw sewage into the creek itself.
FLATOW: Mm hmm.
Prof. SMARDON: right now we're on schedule to have a number of regional treatment facilities located along the creek that will collect this storm flow, treat it and then pour it back into the creek again. So some of these projects are underway right now. So you assume that the water quality is going to improve, to some extent, but that brings us to sort of a critical time. Now may be the opportunity to actually revitalize and restore parts of the creek.
FLATOW: Is this health of this creek linked to the health of the lake?
Prof. SMARDON: Yes, because the - in the storm events we get coliform bacteria directly from the creek into the lake. And of course that's unhealthy for humans to have water contact.
FLATOW: Mm hmm.
Prof. SMARDON: So, yes, there's a direct connection.
FLATOW: So is this a constant battle that the city takes on, you know, when the rivers - the creek sort of acts up...
Prof. SMARDON: Well, it's...
FLATOW: ...or is it more of a continuing fight?
Prof. SMARDON: It's a continuing fight in terms of the water quality issue...
Prof. SMARDON: ...and also the flooding issue. Part of the reason it was channelized, because there were extreme floods, in 1907, 1910, 1912 and then that resulted in even more channelization and moving the water through more quickly.
FLATOW: Mm hmm. Does this suck up resources that would go other places in a city? Because there's just so much money in a city. You can spend it on an education, you can spend it on an environment, you can spend it on, you know, healthcare, you name it. When something happens, you know, natural disaster or something that's doing with nature, that requires resources to fight it.
Prof. SMARDON: Well, it does, but on the other hand, look at the benefits. Here you have a resource that's going through a number of communities, a number of neighborhoods, and just like Professor Mosher said, we've basically forgotten about our connection to the creek from a historic, from an aesthetic, from a recreational, from a habitat point of view.
So by virtue of improving the creek, then you create a multiple use resource that then can be used for recreation, for aesthetics, for educational purposes, as well as becoming a more vital part of the community.
FLATOW: What are some of the actions, could you create parks along it, you know, like some shorelines like people do in other cities?
Prof. SMARDON: Oh, there are already parks...
Prof. SMARDON: ...there're sort of forgotten parks along the edge of the creeks, and actually Professor Carter has done designs for some of those parks.
FLATOW: Mm hmm. River walks, things like that.
Prof. MOSHER: I saw a kid play T-ball right next to one the other night, in a park right next to it.
FLATOW: So Professor Carter, what keeps these things from happening, more development in these areas?
Prof. CARTER: Well, I guess there's several issues. One is that for so many decades we've always thought of Onondaga Creek as having that function of simply getting water quickly through the city and also serving, on some level, as sort of part of our sewer system. Revitalizing the creek corridor, in a broad sense also, as you just suggested, would cost a lot of money.
Prof. CARTER: You know, re-naturalizing it would also require us to examine the issues of allowing flooding to take place on certain aspects or certain locations of the corridor. And that's something that isn't always legally and politically - well, it's a legal and political risk...
Prof. CARTER: ...to allow that kind of thing.
Prof. CARTER: On the other hand, as Professor Smardon is saying, it's the opportunity to maybe use the creek as an aspect of redefining the quality of life in the city.
Prof. CARTER: It's an opportunity of series of parks and gardens and woodlands, public plazas. Maybe it's an opportunity to make each of our neighborhoods be more attractive to housing developers, and to residents.
FLATOW: Mm hmm. Whenever you talk about parks and gardens, neighborhoods like that, you talk about trees. Now I know, from doing a little bit of research, David Nowack, that there are, what, 900,000 trees in Syracuse. Is that right?
Mr. NOWACK: Yes, about...
FLATOW: That's a lot of trees. You don't think of that many big trees in a big city.
Mr. NOWACK: Most people don't because when they have your backyard you walk around the street, you don't see the density. But often, in many cities, there are forested stands. When you put it all together, it's quite a significant resource.
FLATOW: So there - so you would then call it an urban forest?
Mr. NOWACK: Yes we do, we call it an urban forest and that includes the forested tracks. But every tree within the city boundary is part of the forest.
FLATOW: Mm hmm. And what kind of challenge is it to take care of an urban - what kind of challenges in an urban forest do you face that you might not face, you know, in a nature preserve someplace?
Mr. NOWACK: It's mainly, the challenges are related to the number of people and the buildings and the cars that are all related, the concentration of - we put a lot of people and energy into one site and there's emissions and activity around the plants that make it a different type of challenge than in a natural forest setting.
FLATOW: Mm hmm.
Mr. NOWACK: In the natural forest setting you have competition for light and water. In an urban setting, not so much competition, but you have competition with people and cars and pollution.
FLATOW: And what - how does the tree affect, like a micro climate, do they create little micro climates where they grow?
Mr. NOWACK: Yes, they...
FLATOW: In effect, you know, the health and well-being, certainly seeing them makes you feel better. But...
Mr. NOWACK: Yes, there's the social and physiological aspect, but there's a physical aspect too, that around trees and around groups of trees you get - it can be a cool island. You get evaporative cooling that can cool the environment. And as the trees transpire gasses, they take up air pollution, they take up carbon, they intercept water. So there's a whole bunch of benefits that affect the local scale, but also have regional implications.
FLATOW: Can you actually study these trees and quantify them scientifically, how they affect the city?
Mr. NOWACK: Yes, that's what we're trying to do with the forest service, trying to understand what is the resource of trees in the cities and what are their impacts on the environment. And we measure water effects, air effects. We've -first of all, you have to understand how many trees there are and go out and sample the vegetation and then try to use modeling tools to understand what the impacts are.
And we're trying to get these tools out through a program called ITreeTools.org, where we're taking these tools and the science so that local people can do it in their communities and assess what their resource is and what the implications are for air and water quality.
FLATOW: Let's go to the phones, 1-800-989-8255. Rob in Syracuse is on the phone. Hi, Rob.
ROB (Caller): Hi, how are you today, Ira? Hello?
FLATOW: Hi there. Yes, go ahead.
ROB: Hi. Downtown Syracuse has been experiencing a bit of a renaissance, in terms of what they would call luxury apartments. I'm kind of wondering what this means for the city itself and whether or not it deserves to have government support of some sort to re-urbanize downtown.
FLATOW: Professor Carter, any comments?
Prof. CARTER: Well, I think it would be a good idea for the city to take advantage of as much government support as possible. We're talking about a city that has lost about 25 percent of its 1950 population, yet it still has the infrastructure to support that 1950 population. All that infrastructure is really available to support a much fuller community. And there are opportunities within the city that are being taken advantage of. Old warehouses are being converted into apartments and condominiums; brown fields are being examined; the vacant land resource is being examined for its potential.
And a lot of this is being done with local, state, and federal financial support. And it can lead to an opportunity to redefine what the city is about and how it works and how it can be attractive to a broad range of people.
FLATOW: So you want to bring people back into the city.
Prof. CARTER: Absolutely.
FLATOW: Because the population has been leaving.
Prof. CARTER: Right. And that means the tax space has been diminishing. And the people who have left are those who have money and options, to a certain extent. And so the population left are those who, in fact, actually need more and more government services, which creates an imbalance in how the city has to use its money.
FLATOW: Okay. Rob, did that answer your question?
ROB: I think so. I thank you very much.
FLATOW: Thank you. 1-800-989-8255 is our number. Let me ask you, Anne Mosher, do you then create - to attract people in a city, do you then create what we would standard, you know, think about attractions, art galleries, restaurants, things like that? Or do you get even more basic like better places to live, parks? What do you do first?
Prof. MOSHER: I think that you need to get more basic - I think you need to take sort of a two-prong attack. On the one hand, those cultural assets do matter. But on the other hand, I think the more sort of mundane every day things also matter...
Prof. MOSHER: ...a lot, as well. And I think part of the reason why is because many of those cultural attractions are targeted towards people who have money. And not everyone in the population has money.
And so you want to try to do things that will improve the quality of life for a broad portion of the population, and that means focusing on things that might enhance their quality of life, too.
So yes, cultural assets matter. But looking at culture in a more broad way, I think, is important, as well.
FLATOW: Let's go out here to the audience. Yes, sir?
Unidentified Man #1: Hello. Syracuse has a large number of former industrial sites, brown fields. What is being - what is the city doing to rehabilitate these brown fields both physically and culturally?
Prof. CARTER: Maybe I could answer that.
FLATOW: Dr. Carter, sure.
Prof. CARTER: Yes. At the moment, there's a team of us here at SUNY ESF that is working with the city to do a cataloging of all their brown - sorry, all their vacant land resources and to help the city decide how it can use those vacant land resources to revitalize neighborhoods, to bring people back into the community.
And one of the things that's interesting to note is that in most American metropolitan areas now, the greatest amount of acreage, even square mileage, of developable land is now back at the urban core.
So this is a tremendous resource that - particularly the vacant land that's in city ownership, because that allows the city to work with developers and offer the developers this land at a much lower cost than might be the case if it were on the market.
FLATOW: We're talking about urban revitalization this hour on TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News. I'm Ira Flatow here in Syracuse, going to Richard Smardon.
Prof. SMARDON: You've got two examples of reuse of brown field sites. One is the Center of Excellence structure that Ed Bogucz talked about earlier. That's built on top of - or will be built on top of a brown field site. And the second is the, quote, "Carousel Mall" to be, maybe, the destiny center.
That whole thing, believe me, is sitting on top of a brown field site.
FLATOW: How important is that to reaping what you need to here, I mean, to making it the whole area work? Is that mall going to be a key, the tax base, the revenue, people shopping, coming in from Buffalo or New York to go shopping at a super mall, the biggest in America?
Prof. SMARDON: Well, folks have a number of different theories about that.
(Soundbite of laughter)
FLATOW: What's your - well, give me a range of the theories, then.
Prof. SMARDON: Well, it could be - you have to look at what the jobs are created. And if you have an entertainment complex or retail center, those are going to be retail or service-type jobs, which are not going to be the highest paying jobs.
So the question is who's going to benefit from those types of jobs? And some of us feel that maybe a more diverse or different flow of economic activity might have more benefits across the whole urban population. So that's one issue.
The center could create a lot of other kinds of development. And I think probably the developers' probably best idea was to develop a park for developing new energy-efficient technology. I'm more excited about that than I am about destiny, period.
FLATOW: I see Anne Mosher shaking your head.
Prof. MOSHER: Yeah. I think one of the big concerns about the Destiny expansion is the impact that it's going to have on retail throughout the entire region. And the question remains whether or not Syracuse can actually support this much retail, if it has the infrastructure to do it, and what the implications will be for suburbs, which now, several of them have their own shopping malls.
And the question is, will the retail that is put into this expansion suck the life out of those other places. And there's been a lot invested in infrastructure in those peripheral locations.
So it's sort of an interesting problem, in that when we talk about this kind of development we're usually talking about the impact that suburbanization is going to have - the detrimental impact that suburbanization is going to have on the central city.
Now, we're talking about the detrimental impact that development in the central city may have on the suburbs. So it's kind of a flip-flop.
FLATOW: But what about the idea, then, it might attract big businesses...
Prof. MOSHER: It might.
FLATOW: ...that place their headquarters here and bring in more jobs, you know? And look at other kinds of jobs, the retail jobs, it's a great - hey, it's a great mall. We want to live near it. You know, it might be an interesting place.
The area is being revitalized and, you know, you might bring back the kind of GEs and the people who are no longer here. Yeah, that's one possibility, but no one believes it on this panel, I can see.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Prof. MOSHER: Well, I think one of Syracuse's big problems is we have an image issue. And part of our image issue has to do with the weather. And every year, the media makes such a big deal about the fact that we win the Golden SnowBall Award.
And that's something that, you know, we can all joke about it and laugh about it. But it really does have serious implications when you're trying to sell a place to a corporation and convince their employees that they want to come and live here.
This is an absolutely glorious place to be from about now until the beginning of November. From November until May 15th...
FLATOW: If you're snow-challenged, you have a problem.
Prof. MOSHER: ...if you - you have a problem, yeah.
FLATOW: Right. Right. But you have the Orangemen here.
1-800-989-8255. We have to take a quick break. We're going to talk more about this. Because Syracuse, you know, it is a gorgeous city. And it's a place that, having myself spent a lot of time in western New York, I, you know, I can understand why people are hesitant to move here.
But it would seem like it's a unique opportunity to revitalize the area. And, you know, to bring more jobs and a whole different - lots of different ways. So we'll talk more about that and get lots more of your opinions.
Are they Syracusans (unintelligible) in there? Wait, Syracusans in the audience. I thought so. So we'll get their opinions and be right back after this short break. Stay with us.
(Soundbite of music)
FLATOW: I'm Ira Flatow. This is TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
FLATOW: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.
We're talking this hour about sustainability of cities, keeping them green, how to best - how to best revitalize them, urban planning, a whole range of things that happen when you want to renovate a city and bring it up to date.
Cities change. They need to be thought about, and very carefully. And everybody has lots of opinions about them. We're going to get some of them. Our number 1-800-989-8255.
Our guests, Richard Smardon, Anne Mosher, David Nowak, and Emanuel Carter. Let's go the audience here. Yes, ma'am.
Unidentified Woman #1: Hi. I'm curious about what will happen to urban centers and the surrounding suburban areas for people that want to travel to the city, but can't because the cost of fuels may be prohibitively expensive, especially people who work in the urban areas. What do you think will happen?
FLATOW: Emanuel Carter, can you...
Prof. CARTER: Well, gee, it's hard to say. I think it's reasonable to expect that suburban communities, particularly if they are villages, will retain a small village-scale business district. And there are statewide and federally supported main street programs that help small communities revitalize their main streets.
And this is very desirable, so that you do have less driving and you can serve the population that cannot drive into any location where there might be a major mall.
FLATOW: You know, one of the things that - thank you for the question. One of the things that I noticed as a parent, and I have my kids. You think about moving. What's the first question a parent asks when they go to a new place?
Prof. CARTER: What's the quality school system? Yes.
FLATOW: Exactly. I mean, if you're going to bring families and the renewal back to the city, that's the question you have to ask yourself, right?
Prof. CARTER: Yes. It's probably more important than anything we've yet talked about, having watched my son's friends disappear after sixth grade because their families took their kids to the suburbs.
In fact, what's interesting is that many of the families are now moving back into the city. Those are the people that are going into the renovated warehouse buildings that are becoming condos downtown. The last kid is out of the school district and so the parents are going to come back and have an urban life.
FLATOW: So it has to be high on the list of what you have to - the quality has to be thought about.
Prof. CARTER: It's a very, very important issue, and maybe even the most important for a city like Syracuse.
FLATOW: Let's go to this side. Yes?
Unidentified Man #2: Hi. I believe the Syracuse Common Council recently considered the idea of demolishing the section of Interstate 81, which runs right by downtown. And I was hoping that one of our panelists could perform a short cost benefit analysis on this issue, you know, considering factors such as noise and traffic and also aesthetics and how that could contribute to urban renewal.
FLATOW: Dr. Mosher, can you - oh, you want to take that, Dr. Smardon?
Prof. MOSHER: Go ahead.
FLATOW: Go ahead.
Prof. SMARDON: What a tough question. Short cost benefit analysis, right? So who's going to benefit? Probably the local neighborhoods would benefit, basically, by not having the traffic go through, in terms of air pollution, noise, et cetera.
But then you have the cost to the commuters, right? And I've seen editorials in the paper basically saying that we don't want to take a detour to get to where we work.
So you have the sort of the in-city folks on one hand and you have the through-commuters on the other hand. Short cost benefit analysis.
FLATOW: And David Nowak, how do you - how do you make sure that when, you know, people talk about planning a city, they don't just start taking away, you know, the greenery and putting up the buildings they think they need?
Mr. NOWAK: They often do take away the greenery when they put up the buildings. And one of the things that research is trying to show through and educate is that if you actually retain the trees - often trees are taken out of the site, the buildings are put up, and trees are put in after the fact and the green infrastructure is always the second thought, is that retaining trees on sites actually increase the value of the property than if you would develop that site by taking the trees out in the first place, to show the developers that there's a benefit economically by retaining the trees, also besides the ecological benefit having the trees.
FLATOW: Should we be going out and planting more trees in cities?
Mr. NOWAK: We should in many places. In other places, particularly in the northeast where there's forested regions, we don't even have to replant. They will come in naturally. It will regenerate if we would allow the opportunity of the plants to come back in.
It may not be exactly what we want. But forests naturally regenerate themselves. But in certain cases, we can't. We have to, you know, in downtown areas you have to plant more trees, because that's where most of the people are and most of the benefits accrue.
FLATOW: So you're saying if we just don't mow the strips on the sides of the highways, those trees will come back.
Mr. NOWAK: In parts of the country, yes, many trees will come back in those areas.
FLATOW: But you'll get other stuff...
Mr. NOWAK: You may not get the species that you want, but the species will come and you'll get the pioneer species. You'll get buckthorn and box elders. You may not get the oaks and the hickories that you may want.
FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255. Which side am I up to? I'm up to this side. Yes, go ahead sir.
Unidentified Man #2: Yes, a lot of us here in Syracuse attribute, a few decades ago, New York State's lead in environmental laws and legislation for driving some of the factories out. Now, I'm very happy that we have the laws and we took the lead in this regard. Yet, one thing we're not addressing really, right now - especially just having had a panel on environment - is how do we get these brown spaces filled and bring these manufacturing industries back in, yet at the same time convince them and make it enticing to them, telling them that they can't pollute anything? I mean, how do we get the G's and the Carriers back and tell them not to pollute, and to not hurt our dream of making the urban kayaking of Onondaga Lake a reality?
FLATOW: How do you get the green, yeah, green companies? Or...
Mr. NOWAK: Well I think New York State has done a number of things, and one thing they did was the year before last, was they passed new legislation for brown field development. Sometimes you can get very inexpensive sites, you know, even considering cleanup, if you can reuse some of these former industrial areas for "new industrial or commercial development." So New York State has been thinking about that and how exactly to do that.
I think the other part of it is you have to look at your, sort of, regional infrastructure. If you look at the Syracuse area, you know, we've had 150 years worth of pollution, and now we're trying to fix it. If you want to move in new industry, you need to take care of your natural infrastructure; which includes your water quality, your soil, your vegetation. We can't move in new industry if we're still busy trying to deal with cleanup issues. So we've got to take care of our infrastructure capacity that way.
FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255. Let's go to the phones to Patrick, in Utica, very close by.
PATRICK (Caller): Hi.
FLATOW: Hi, Patrick. Welcome to Science Friday.
PATRICK: Thanks. Yeah, the idea of a green mall sounds interesting. You know, the Destiny USA. But there's been a lot of controversy I've been hearing about regarding putting an aquarium in the mall. And I have to say, it does definitely seem a little bit contradictory to, you know, promote it as a green mall and then go and take living things and put them in an artificial environment where you've got to, you know, expend more resources and energy to maintain them.
And also, to kind of go back to the tree issue, very quickly. In Utica, we've got a big problem with the heat island effect. And our common(ph) council, our parks department, and mostly our mayor, don't seem to understand any of this (unintelligible). Is there anything that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forestry Service - do they have anything, any kind of speakers or educational assistance so that we can try to educate our mayor and our parks department about, you know, the fact that trees are desirable?
FLATOW: Mm hmm. David Nowak, you're with the Forest Service. How do you answer that?
Mr. NOWAK: The heat island effect, basically, is that cities tend to be anywhere from one to five to ten degrees warmer than the rural environment, because of all the building infrastructures that they have. And then trees, because they evaporate water, tend to cool the heat island effect off.
And in terms of educational materials, there's a lot of either published papers or on the website. If you look under the forest service web page, particularly state and private forestry. There are materials out there to help cities have that type of educational materials to promote that, not only heat island reduction and heat island effects, but cleaner air, cleaner water, through smart vegetation designs in cities.
FLATOW: Let's go to the floor right here. Yes sir.
Unidentified Man #3: Hello, Ira. I live in the town of Ira, so I'd like to send our greetings to you.
FLATOW: I need a bumper sticker or something to take home with me.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Man #3: Perhaps we could make you an honorary resident of the town of Ira.
FLATOW: Ira from Ira. I'd be the only one there, I'm sure. Go ahead, sir.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Man #3: What I'd, I'd like to bring the conversation back to interstate 81, because it really is such a blight on the community. One of the ideas that my wife and I always throw around is that perhaps, maybe not eliminating interstate 81 - and it is due to be rebuilt - is to put it underground.
Now I understand that we don't have Edward Kennedy as our Senator, or somebody as powerful as he is. If it was done in Boston, let's try and do it in Syracuse and create green space, and aisles, and avenues for people to be able to cross from the university district, the east side of Syracuse, to the west side of Syracuse.
FLATOW: Anybody comment? Anne? Ann Mosher?
Prof. MOSHER: Yeah. One of the more interesting ideas that has been developed - I think most of he people in the room here know about this - for overcoming the I-81 corridor, is to actually put a gondola from Syracuse University down to the downtown. And this has raised a lot of eyebrows, but the person who put the idea forward has shown that it could actually be cost-effective.
But again, I think what this comes back to, is we need to be creative and think outside of the box. Because it is going to be very difficult to get the state to give up that property, and it's also going to be very difficult to convince the federal government to bury it, or at least sink it.
FLATOW: Well I would think creativity is something you have a lot here. You have, you know, Syracuse University, State University of New York; all these creative people can't come up with anything, you know? They should be able to come up with interesting ideas. Dr. Carter?
Prof. CARTER: Yes. We have, in some of our studios in the faculty of landscape architecture, actually looked at what would be - what taking down the I-81 corridor might imply. Our analysis is that it would be a good idea, in fact, to take it down, because it could allow the city to gain new tax base. A highway elevated like that, tends to devalue properties about two blocks in each direction. And then, if you look at the mileage of that elevated highway through the city, that's a lot of acreage that adds up to be land that is always in a devalued state.
FLATOW: What would you do with the transportation? Would you move it underground, or around, or just do away with it?
Prof. CARTER: Well, you know, there are other cities that have taken their highways down. I mean, San Francisco does not have elevated highways through its cityscape. The city of Montreal stopped the Autoroute Ville-Marie, right while it was in mid-construction. Boston is, of course, taking its highway down. So...
FLATOW: That was a huge expense, though.
Prof. CARTER. Yes. Well, yes. Yes. Yeah.
FLATOW: The Big Dig is still being talked about.
Prof. CARTER: That's true.
Mr. NOWAK: Ira? Ira, I worked on the Big Dig in 1972 to 1973. It's taken that long to do it.
FLATOW: Yeah, I know. So there's a large amount of money invested in that.
Prof. CARTER: Right. But what they've cities have done, is they've taken the attitude that the health of the core city is more important than the speed with which commuters from outside the city come in to work. And I think that many - in a community the size of Syracuse, you know, with the framework of Onondaga County, most people commuting to work might need five to eight extra minutes. Yeah. If they don't have an elevated route 81 through the city.
FLATOW: Just five to eight extra minutes?
Prof. CARTER: Yeah, the, transportation distances and times are very short here.
FLATOW: Yeah. We're talking about transportation, urban planning in Syracuse, New York, on TALK OF THE NATION Science Friday from NPR News. I'm Ira Flatow here in Syracuse.
Let's go to this gentleman and then this lady over here. Yes.
Unidentified Man #4: Hi, Ira. Getting back to the Destiny USA issue, one of the concerns I have with this is the potential loss of wetlands in the area. I know that the mall that's there now was built on a wetland that was previously filled in. And wetlands, they're known as the kinase of the hydrologic cycle, and I was wondering if people, someone could address the, like, functions and values of the wetlands and watershed, and the water quality in the area.
FLATOW: See, I told you there were smart people in this town.
(Soundbite of laughter)
FLATOW: Dr. Smardon?
Prof. SMARDON: The only problem is, we already lost the wetlands. Part of Syracuse is really on top of a wetland; about half the city is on top of it as well as the area the Pyramid Mall is in. This is one of the things that we're looking at in the whole Onondaga Creek corridor. So we're not just looking at the creek, we're looking at the whole watershed. And there are a number of wetlands in the upper part of the watershed that function...
Unidentified Man #4: Yes.
Prof. SMARDON: ...in terms of water storage, in terms of biochemical filtering, in terms of diversity of habitat. And that's one of the things that we're looking right now, in terms of revitalization of the Onondaga Creek corridor, is what role or function do those wetlands play and how can we keep them in place and functioning.
FLATOW: David Nowak, I would imagine the trees, or replanting, are, you know, holding the water there, the watershed.
Mr. NOWAK: Yeah, the trees have an effect on water flows and on water quality. More particularly, during the small storm events, than the big ones. Because if you get a lot of water going, the trees can't, they can only hold a certain amount of water before it starts filtering in. But having more vegetation allows greater infiltration into the soil by slowing that rate at which it reaches the soil.
FLATOW: Yes ma'am.
Unidentified Woman #2: I often urge my own students to think about the fact that we drink water from a lake 30 miles to our west, and care for it accordingly, yet live next door to one of the most polluted lakes in the country. And how do you begin to shift the mindset of a community, such that, when we do draw that mental map we include the lake and we include Onondaga Creek?
FLATOW: What do you do with Onondaga Lake? Do you know?
Prof. SMARDON: I think, you know, I was on the first citizen advisory committee, back in the early '90s, for Onondaga Lake, and we did do a public survey. And what was interesting was the number of people that commented that it was one of the top three issues for the whole community, the cleanup of the lake. But it's building the consciousness, like the questioner has said. And this is also what we're trying to do with the creek, is again, build the consciousness to the value and function of the creek in terms of the whole region.
FLATOW: Well, you know, in the old days, lakes were on fire. So you would see them on the news, and they would be, you know, brought, immediately brought to your conscious. Right?
Prof. MOSHER: Or waterfronts were places where you did work. And it's only been since a lot of those functions have been moved to other locations, through changes in the shipping industry, that those waterfront areas have been opened up again. I'm thinking about places like New Orleans, or Philadelphia, or New York City. And now they are becoming, you know, sites that are available for redevelopment. And in many instances it's leisure activities that end up going in there.
FLATOW: Is there a city - you mention these three - but is there a good model that you, here in Syracuse, could emulate?
Prof. SMARDON: In terms of a northeastern city, um - what's interesting is what's happening in, even in those Ohioan cities - you know, the places to the west, places like Toledo, Ohio are doing some very interesting things in terms of the whole climate control, greening types of propositions. There are some even in Buffalo, your hometown, right?
FLATOW: No, not quite my hometown.
Prof. SMARDON: Well, sort of...
FLATOW: It's my second, sort of my second hometown.
Prof. SMARDON: The Buffalo River...
Prof. SMARDON: ...is, was...
FLATOW: That was very famous, the Buffalo River.
Prof. SMARDON: Right. One of the real hot spots, right? Made the top 42 in the Great Lakes Region. They're actually installing parks there and cleaning up and dredging up the bottom of the Buffalo River. So even in the Northeast, we can find some good examples and positive things that are happening.
FLATOW: But you just need the money to do this stuff.
Prof. SMARDON: Right. Resources.
FLATOW: And you come back to that question that every city faces. If you, you know, you have this pot of money, you have to take it from some other place if you're going to do that, unless you can get some federal help or some other state help, someplace else.
Prof. SMARDON: Well, and it's, also for the Onondaga Creek thing, that's what we're trying to do is get enough momentum and consensus in exactly which direction we want to go in terms of the revitalization, that then you go to federal, state sources, because you have an agreement in terms of this is the way we want to go.
FLATOW: Professor Carter, are you hopeful?
Prof. CARTER: Hopeful, but no yet satisfied, I guess. And I think that what we've been talking about in the last few minutes brings forth some of the contradictions that cities have to deal with in a revitalization process.
Prof. CARTER: The city desperately needs an improved tax base. To do it, it has made a deal with a major mall developer, who on the one hand is going to also champion energy efficiency. On the other hand, in order for the mall to succeed, it needs tens of thousands of customer vehicles per week, which, at the moment, are (unintelligible).
FLATOW: Yeah. All right, I'm going to have to interrupt, because we've run out of time.
I'd like to thank all of you for joining us. Emanuel Carter, Anne Mosher, Richard Smardon, and David Nowak, thanks again for being with us.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.