In 2019, Microsoft designated Syracuse as the location of its third “Smart Cities Technology” hub, a sign that a new wave of technology jobs in the city may soon arrive. In a recent Syracuse University panel discussing the significance of the designation for marginalized communities in the city, Syracuse Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens described that while jobs in Syracuse boomed during the Second Industrial Revolution, the city failed to anticipate the next boom and to prepare digital technology workforces during the Third Industrial Revolution.
As experts herald the coming of a Fourth Industrial Revolution around connectivity, the “Internet of Things,” and other smart technologies, Owens and other panelists said the city must prioritize providing community members of all skill levels with the training to take on the new work.
Looking for ways to bridge the gap in Syracuse will be crucial to the ability of upcoming urban development plans to begin healing one of Syracuse’s deepest scars. As new attention and development comes to the city’s supposed new “front door,” community activists and leaders are pushing to see new development on the city’s South Side and other locations that are now home to descendants of 15th Ward residents.
Some community members worry that both direct and indirect consequences of I-81 will go on unaddressed or forgotten. A few blocks south of SU’s Carrier Dome, where the community grid will end and the existing I-81 will remain, once-connected streets on the city’s South Side now abut into the raised embankment where the highway sits.
Looking symbolically to these dead ends and the immovable wall that devalues their neighborhood, city residents hope that other community connections won’t come to the same fate.
And the connections that community members hope the city and state will address are not just in infrastructure. While the center-city viaduct coming down is a step toward connectivity in the city, the cure will come from resources invested in community-based centers, programs, and jobs. Former residents of the 15th Ward like Eloise Currie recalled their experiences growing up at the Dunbar Center, formerly at 950 Townsend St. and today on South State Street, which offered after-school enrichment, classes, and social events.
The Dunbar was well-known for its work connecting community members with resources to succeed, including Manny Breland, who grew up in the 15th Ward. Breland credits his mentor at the Dunbar for his graduation from the prestigious Central High School and his scholarship as one of the first African-American basketball players at Syracuse University.