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Nancy Snow

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Syracuse China and the Forgotten City

Posted: 01/23/09 09:45 PM ET

Last semester I took a position at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. It is located at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. Syracuse is part of the Finger Lakes Region and not too far from the Adirondack Mountains. In certain seasons it is quite glorious. Lately it's been a bit too cold and snowy for much socializing but today it was a balmy 38 degrees and I left my winter jacket unbuttoned.

We are a month into winter and have already become the frontrunner in the New York State Golden Snowball Award Contest with record-snowfall of over 109 inches, or nearly 50 inches more than this time last season (http://www.goldensnowball.com/). The winner receives a trophy, not condolences. Actually if you love winter sports, this is a Winter Wonderland. I haven't yet bought my cross-country skis or my snowshoes yet, but there are still two months to go before I see spring so I still have time to shop.

All of this is just an informational aside to a city that is not just being dumped on by snow but also by missed economic opportunities.

My 1910 American craftsman, which I love like a person, is located just a few blocks from Erie Boulevard. Erie is the picture of a boulevard of broken dreams. It is a depressing layout of empty storefronts and fast food joints with a plaque in the middle of the devastation that says at one time this was the actual location of the Erie Canal, that significant waterway that connected downstate to the Great Lakes. There are still bits and pieces of the Erie Canal around but nothing to compare with a San Antonio Riverfront tourist destination that would have done this city some good. The canal was covered over decades ago to serve as a metaphor for a city that once was vibrant with economic activity and trade.

Which brings me now to the Syracuse China Company, a metaphor for the Forgotten City. When my brother Steve heard that I was moving to Syracuse, he hunted around some thrift stores and found some Syracuse China to commemorate my new hometown. He told me the story of how Syracuse China was still used the world over and was the last remaining American manufacturer of ceramic flatware. At one point one could turn over a plate at many points in the world and see the Syracuse China name underneath. That was in those bygone days.

Syracuse China will soon close its doors.

Steve also gave me a funky book about New York State that he bought for 50 cents somewhere. It had a publication date of 1968. It was designed for a kid in fifth grade and I turned to the index for the mentions of Syracuse. To my astonishment, four decades ago Syracuse was home to over 400 manufacturing companies. I doubt one could count on one hand the number of major companies left here today. This is an American manufacturing ghost town.

All of this sounds hopeless but it isn't. If we had the will and resources to turn this region around, we could. Yes, there are four seasons, and one especially brutal one known as winter, but it makes people quite resilient. A lot of people work very hard for the fruits of their labor. The housing is very affordable. The city is aiming to be a model of the green economy, an Emerald City (very Land of Oz) but that's still yet to come. Right now the university and the upstate hospital center and medical school are the largest employers.

This forgotten city of Syracuse is America, which has its own mass of forgotten men and women. Will our new president be able to stimulate the economy enough to make us memorable again?


 
 
 

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