Why Syracuse, New York is the right place to weather the coming oil shortages
By Steve Balogh
Could lowly Syracuse, New York turn out to be one of the top cities in the nation to weather the coming oil shortages? I believe that a number of converging factors ultimately point to YES. Despite our cold snowy winters, and current lack of a strong industrial base, Syracuse has begun to position itself as a top place to settle for those worried about our foreign dependence on oil and coming price spikes and shortages.
Syracuse in the 1800's was a central hub in the trade that flowed along the Erie Canal. The city experienced strong growth in the late 1800's to the early 1900's. The Erie Canal flowed through downtown, along what is now Erie Boulevard.
There were various industries located downtown including candle makers, beer brewers, steel producers and manufacturers of furniture, caskets, bicycles and cars that helped the city to flourish. 
Brewing local beer was one of the larger industries in Syracuse. In 1896, Syracuse breweries produced about 300,000 barrels of beer and employed about 400 workers. Up to that time, people mostly drank locally brewed beers, since it took a lot of time and money for a brewery to transport beer. 
The status quo ended dramatically in the years following World War II.
The city's population declined as the move to the suburbs began in earnest. New school systems and shopping centers drew from the city's base. Movie houses closed and television took over. Urban renewal resulted in demolition of dozens of downtown blocks. Both good and bad old landmarks, unprotected by law, were victims of the wrecking ball. New buildings arose, including the twin towers of MONY Center, the War Memorial, Civic Center and I.M. Pei's Everson Museum of Art. All added significantly to the area, as did new government buildings, and numbers of high rises dedicated to modern banking, financing, and core city apartment dwelling. 
The downtown center of Syracuse remains a shell of it's former self in the 21st century, but has the infrastructure in place to be revived to it's former status. Breweries have again began to produce local beers, although on a much smaller scale. No longer does the canal flow through the streets, but there is momentum behind a revitalization of the downtown area by a Syracuse University expansion into the area, and renewed development of the Clinton, Hanover, and Armory Square areas. The Destiny USA project, both loved and hated by local residents, promises future growth of green technology and the addition of much needed high tech jobs, as well as building and development work. There are strong communities throughout the city and surrounding areas, and an excellent schools.
But why Syracuse in the face of the coming oil crisis?
Central Location - served by rail and canal
Close to supply of nuclear and hydro power
Biodiesel/Ethanol plant to open in Fulton, NY
Community supported agriculture and surrounding farmlands
Existing public transportation system, and revivable light rail/street car system
Destiny Research Park to promote non-fossil fuel building/heating and alternative energy sources
Proximity to wine country, beer produced locally
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The Central New York area, including Syracuse and the surrounding towns and villages form a web of tight communities, usually centered around the local school district. Most are walkable. Those further out into the country, including many of the newer developments do not have walkable streets and are too far out from grocery stores, places of business and workplaces, and will not be considered in this article. However with prices that reach into the $300-400K range for housing, they will be occupied by those that will possibly be able to afford high gas and oil prices for longer than those in the middle income and low income levels. I do not consider this a long-term sustainable situation, but on the short term I see less of an effect in these areas. For the sustainability of the region that I am speaking of, I will be focused on the smaller tight-knit communities ringing the city of Syracuse, and the local towns and villages that surround a town square or main street.
The city lies in the heart of New York State, close to Lake Ontario, Oneida Lake, the Finger Lake Region. It is 5 hours to the city of New York, and to the harbors in Boston. 3 hours will get you to Toronto, Canada, or 2 1/2 hours to Niagara Falls/Buffalo. All of these times are by car, but public transportation by bus and train is comparable. The city, as previously mentioned, continues to lie on the functioning Erie Canal system, as well as existing rail lines served by Amtrak and CSX (freight).
Close Supply of Nuclear and Hydro Power
Niagara Mohawk, a National Grid Company, provides Central New York with electricity and natural gas delivery. Nine Mile Point Nuclear Reactors are located in Oswego, NY 1 hour away from Syracuse. Niagara Falls produces 4.4 gigawatts of power, enough to power 1.7 million homes (in Canada and US). Nine Mile 1&2, by comparison, produce 12.8 gigawatts of power/year, providing an abundance of power for local businesses and homes.
While not typically thought of as a "green" technology, due to issues with the storage of nuclear waste, and the energy used to mine and refine the uranium used in the reactor, nuclear power has no CO2 emmission.
Hydropower is a renewable source of electrical energy, and smaller generating stations used to line the area’s rivers and streams, providing a source of power to individual communities. These facilities still exist, and while many are off-line currently, they possess the ability to be reactivated if the need arises.
Ethanol/Biodiesel Plant to open in Fulton, NY
The former Miller Brewery in Fulton, NY will be converted to an ethanol and biodiesel producing plant, capable of producing up to 100 million gallons of ethanol per year.
The company will be using a new technology that was developed at Clarkson University. The technology reduces the costs of building and operating a biofuel plant by more than half and is expected to accelerate the growth of the biodiesel industry.
“This will be a pilot project to test the new technology,” Treadwell explained. “If the technology proves to be as successful as expected, it will be able to produce biodiesel and bio-heating fuel much more efficiently and cost competitively.”
Although, currently, the production of ethanol requires more energy in than energy out, advances in technology are narrowing the gap, and by products of food production and other processes show promise in the production of ethanol. Biodiesel can be made from soybean oil and recycled cooking grease.
Both of these fuels will help to supply some of the area’s transportation fuel needs during the transition from cheap foreign oil. Destiny USA has proposed to use biodiesel bulldozers and construction equipment in the future expansion of the current mall and in the Destiny projects. Perhaps this plant in Fulton will provide the supply of biodiesel that Mr. Congel is looking for.
Community Supported Agriculture and Surrounding Farmlands
Statistics from NYS Agriculture Statistics Service:
Number of Farms in Onondaga County = 720 Total Acreage = 156,000
Number of Farms in Oneida County = 1,080 Total Acreage = 220,200
Number of Farms in Oswego County = 675 Total Acreage = 103,100
Total farms in Central New York = 2,475 Total Acreage = 479,300
Population statistics from Census.gov (Est. 2004 levels)
Pop of Onondaga County = 459,805
Pop of Oneida County = 234,962
Pop of Oswego County = 123,776
Total Population = 818,543
So statistics equate to approximately ½ acre of farmland per person in these three counties.
There are 14 Community Supported Agriculture farms listed in central NY. For more information on CSA click here.
Why buy local?
Most produce in the US is picked 4 to 7 days before being placed on supermarket shelves, and is shipped for an average of 1500 miles before being sold.
But why wait until we're forced by circumstance to abandon our destructive patterns of consumption? We can start now by buying locally grown food whenever possible. By doing so you'll be helping preserve the environment, and you'll be strengthening your community by investing your food dollar close to home. Only 18 cents of every dollar, when buying at a large supermarket, go to the grower. 82 cents go to various unnecessary middlemen. Cut them out of the picture and buy your food directly from your local farmer.
Community Supported Agriculture is designed to weather any changes in the amount of cheap oil or government subsidized farming. It is grown organically and with sustainable methods. This will be very important as we go forwards, and need to supply food to the local population. Support these farms now.
Local Farmer’s Markets, listed here
Yes, unbelievably, I think that Syracuse’s climate is a positive feature, despite the cold and snowy winters.
The Home Depot’s Garden Club provides valuable information on local climate. The Central New York area is defined in the “5A” Hardiness zone. Here are selected parts of the regions description:
The Mid-Atlantic region has weather influences dictated by the Atlantic Ocean, Great Lakes and Midwest. [snip] Colder zone 5 winters affect portions of Ohio, New York State and Pennsylvania, often with reliable snow cover. The Great Lakes serve to moderate temperatures somewhat in northern New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, but they add lake effect snow, too
Spring and fall feature mild, pleasant weather great for planting and harvesting punctuated by the occasional late winter snowstorms in April or early frost in September. Just about the only constant across the region is generous precipitation, usually between about 35 and 40 inches evenly distributed throughout the year.
We have a balance of all 4 seasons, with an adequate growing season, capped by snowy winters that help to replenish ground and fresh water supplies. This water keeps fields moist and irrigated, there are fertile river valleys throughout the state. Our summers, while occasionally oppressive, do not require air conditioning to remain ‘livable.’ Our weak spot is our winter heating season, which can extend from early October through the end of April into May. Indeed resources would need to be allocated for the winter months to ensure that we all can stay warm in the winter months. Current methods of building, which include so-called “transitional” style homes, do not lend themselves to our climate. Cathedral ceilings, great rooms, and open air spaces through multiple levels of the home are not energy efficient. Older homes, may need updated insulation and windows to reduce heating costs. These issues, without a doubt, will need to be addressed as the cost of heating oil, and natural gas continue to rise each year.
Existing public transportation system, and revivable light rail/street car system
Syracuse’s public transportation is currently operated by Centro. Centro provides bus service throughout the city of Syracuse and to and from many outlying and regional destinations daily. Statistics posted by CNYRTA show that current ridership is approximately 6% of the population that is served by busses. I actually expected a smaller percentage of riders, given the mostly empty busses that ride past my home, and the suburb mentality of upstate NY where every destination is somewhere to drive to. This obviously leaves plenty of room for improvement and expansion.
Spikes in the cost of gasoline will “drive” more people to use public transportation. I believe that as the number of riders increases, and the area served expands, people will begin to see the benefits of public transportation. I personally loved getting on the subway or bus in the morning with my cup of coffee and the Daily News – a read through the paper, a sip of coffee, my thoughts are cleared and I am ready to start my day.
Syracuse University is looking to expand a bus and walking loop from downtown to SU hill. I believe that this is a positive first step in the future development of Syracuse public transportation.
Two other factors must be taken into consideration if Centro is going to grow in the number of riders and service area. The first is increasing the ease of navigating the bus routes. Bus stop signs at a minimum should have route and expected arrival time information posted. Bus schedules should have increased landmarks and timetables to make it easier which route and time you are best served by. The website needs an immediate upgrade to allow users to punch in a starting point and destination, and be told which routes are available to take. NYC Transit and NJ Transit currently have this technology and have a good demonstration of its use. The second factor is the company must start to take advantage of the higher gas prices in it’s marketing campaign, and start to encourage younger riders that public transportation is a socially and environmentally responsible way to travel. I think that the younger generation of Syracusans has never even stepped on a bus before. They must be encouraged to do so, and that by not taking the car to work they are saving not only money in their pocket, but also reducing effects on the environment and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.
Streetcars and light rail are other alternatives. A light rail system that connects various hubs on existing rail lines, including along the Rte 81 and Rte 690 corridors would be a progressive idea. Thousands of cars travel daily from the North Country, Baldwinsville and points west and the eastern burbs. NIMBY is an obstacle, but perhaps expensive travel and commuting will encourage the development of this type of system – the tracks are already there.
Destiny Research and Development Park
I realize that I could spend pages upon pages debating my feelings to the Syracuse community regarding the Destiny USA project. However, since I am presenting Syracuse as an area to consider relocating to, I will focus on the aspect which I believe will most strongly enhance the viability of Syracuse economically as we head in to a future with diminishing oil supplies. That aspect is the R&D Park for alternative energy and green building techniques and materials. I have serious doubts that the mall or resort of Destiny USA will ever come to fruition. I think that we will see commodity prices and raw materials become increasingly expensive prohibiting the physical completion of the building, and the public will have less and less disposable income which will limit the viability of a giant shopping mall resort complex in the region. (This is aside from whether I believe that that amount of resources should be dedicated to such a project.)
But, (and this is a key but) I do believe that the future of Syracuse lies in the creation of new jobs and new technologies in sustainable energy and sustainable development, which the Destiny project will foster. I believe that this will be more important than the building of the mall itself: attracting bright minds, and preventing the brain drain from the area colleges and universities, encouraging relocation and expansion of businesses, and future production by local factories based on new technologies. These will all provide Syracuse with well paying jobs, exports, and the ability to utilize what is developed and showcase it to the world.
Proximity to Wine Country / Beer produced locally
Given the possibility of gas shortages, sky rocketing prices, and economic recession, it becomes abundantly clear that having a wine-producing region nearby, especially one that produces such great wines as the vineyards of the Finger Lakes, is a huge bonus.
I’d trade a days labor for a case of cabernet sauvignon, any day.
For those of you who prefer the suds, who knows, maybe Syracuse will return to having the breweries it had in its heyday.
I feel a strong attachment to Syracuse, NY, and the central NY region because I grew up here. There are plenty of other reasons why I love Syracuse, including beautiful State Parks and scenery all around – boating, fishing and camping – apple orchards – music, art and food festivals – great nightlife – affordable housing – just to name a few. I wanted to provide some concrete reasons why I believe that Syracuse, and upstate NY in general is a place to consider moving to, especially in the face of peak oil.
Your comments are welcome: baloghblog [at] yahoo.com
My weblog: http://baloghblog.blogspot.com/
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