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Competition hopes to elevate historic Erie Canal path

Ellen Abbott

Before the Erie Canal was dug almost 200 years ago, Syracuse was a swampy village of 250 people. Once that canal opened up commerce between the Hudson River and Lake Erie, the city grew dramatically. It’s this history that the Syracuse and the town of DeWitt want to reclaim, by revitalizing the 14-mile gap in the original canal path, which currently exists between DeWitt and Camillus.

DeWitt planning director Sam Gordon says the most challenging portion of that gap is Erie Boulevard East, the original pathway of the canal before it was filled in a century ago. It has now become a commercial strip, featuring everything from car dealerships to restaurants.

“It’s not a place that people who live here are proud of. We want to make it a place that people are proud of, that we can celebrate," said Gordon.

Enter Elevating Erie, an idea competition meant to cull thoughts from designers around the world about how to revitalize that stretch of the canal corridor. Gordon says this could be as simple as creating a walkway or bike lane. All ideas will be welcome, and he says this is more than just celebrating an important piece of history -- it reflects the way cities across the country are redefining transportation.

"For many, many decades, we’ve been focused on how to get someone in their car, from point A to point B as quickly as possible. But now people want more from their cities. They want to be able to get out on their bike and go to work, or go to shop, or walk in a similar way, or take public transit. This is what we’re trying to figure out how to do with this corridor."

The deadline for ideas is December 22.