Category Archives: Yet Another Plan

Lake stinks less

“Places consist of everything that has ever happened in them. And to feel good in those places is to feel the reality of those things.” — Adam Nicolson

Sean Kirst brings up the Onondaga Lake aroma in a blog post related to his interview of Upstate Freshwater Institute’s Steve Leffler. Being from the 690 side of the lake, I can report that the smell we got riding by was definitely not only sewage. It was a sharp, choking smell that seemed to be equal parts chemical and crap. Not quite as sulfurous as a skunk spray — and while very unpleasant, it didn’t seem noxious. In the morning, it was an excellent indicator of how hot a summer’s day was going to get. The lake always seemed to know first.

I say “was” because the lake really does stink less now. Not just physically, but morally and politically — yesterday’s announcement of a new push for local control of the lake cleanup is very welcome news, especially the detail that the Onondaga Nation gets the equal seat at the table that it deserves.

I do have to agree with Jim Walsh’s concerns about the towns around the lake — Camillus, Geddes and Salina — needing to be involved as well in some way. Some people in Camillus, who live around the portentiously named Wastebed 13, still think everything stinks. While the community outreach over the Onondaga land rights action has been heartening to see since 2005, I sometimes have felt that it has been very oriented toward the city of Syracuse and the University, with less emphasis on the other lakeside communities. In unraveling the past history of the lake’s pollution and bad/illegal deals made, we have to remember that the communities along the lake (which later became Solvay and Liverpool) were planted here before the city of Syracuse was even a mirage in the swamp. Just because they are now filled with short-sighted suburbanites of a particular political persuasion, doesn’t mean they’re not part of the puzzle.

(Yes, this post’s subject is a tribute to my all-time favorite newspaper headline, from the Post-Standard: Bills Stink Less.)

Urban Blight Simulator

I’m sorry, that was a dishonest post title. I don’t have an urban blight simulator nor do I know where you can get one. But, having spent up to 15 slack-jawed minutes at a time watching this Zombie Outbreak Simulator, I really think someone ought to build one. (Turn your sound down before you click on that.)

The Zombie Outbreak Simulator represents a new leap forward in zombie attack prediction in that it superimposes the action on a Google satellite photo/map of a real Washington, D.C. suburb. You can observe the progress of zombie infections in the area and see which streets and neighborhoods get taken over first. And also where specific buildings, physical barriers, or armed civilians and cops are having an effect. (Er, not a whole lot of effect, actually.)

If someone can do this with zombies, why can’t we plug in all sorts of data and factors having to do with decline of Rust Belt cities, flip the switch and see what happens? I’m serious. Obviously we wouldn’t be tracking zombies, but would be tracking the comings and goings (well, mostly goings) of various demographics and businesses, as well as local and national economic and political developments and initiatives — then waiting to see which houses’ lights go dark and which historical landmark buildings go “poof.” We would get a reasonable prediction of exactly where the changes would take place decades in the future. And it would take a lot less time and effort than actually sitting around and waiting for it to unfold.

Then, once you’ve got the algorithm going, you could program in new variables drawn from the strategies of your favorite urbanist thinkers or commentariat cranks. Would anything new and interesting happen? Well, that would be the suspense of the game.

It could be, however, that the Urban Blight Simulator would just leave you staring at it listlessly and obsessively for days or years on end, turning you into a meta-zombie (as the Zombie Outbreak Simulator has an odd tendency to do) with its strange fascination. I think that’s a risk we’ll have to take.

Who killed Name Brand Deals?

Name Brand Deals, the Oneida-owned enterprise that moved in to the spiritual space of the old Genesee Theater (I refuse to talk about Pep Boys any more), shut its doors recently. I’m not surprised. Even for a discount outlet, the place was a real dump. I went in there once and it made a barn sale look like Neiman Marcus.

Anyhow, I’m mentioning this partly to draw attention to a new comment I’ve received on the old Who killed the Genesee? thread. I’ve reprinted the comment below.

While researching for the Kallet Genesee page at Cinema Treasures, I came across a couple of bits of information not mentioned above that might interest you. The April 1, 1950, issue of Boxoffice Magazine published a rendering of the proposed Genesee Theatre by its architect, Michael J. DeAngelis. Construction began later that year. Albanese Brothers built the building, and it was operated under lease by Kallet Theatres.

I’ve been unable to find the exact opening date for the Genesee, but the March 14 issue of Boxoffice said that the theater had recently opened.

Michael DeAngelis was a Rochester architect who designed many theaters from the 1920s into the 1950s, some as far away as Florida, though I’ve been able to track down the names of only a few. His page at Cinema Treasures currently lists a mere dozen.

I’ve been unable to find out anything about Albanese Brothers, but it’s likely that they were a local firm of builders and developers in Syracuse.

Scans of Boxoffice Magazine and its predecessors are currently available at, and there are many articles and brief items about upstate New York theaters, some going back to the mid-1920s. If you’re interested in the subject this is a good place to search for information about it. I’ve found it easier to search through Google than through Issuu’s own search box, though.

–Joe Vogel

If I was leader of the free universe and had a zillion dollars, I would buy the Genesee Theater space, rebuild the theater and show nothing but quality sci-fi from all film eras, starting with Forbidden Planet, maybe doing it Alamo Drafthouse style.

3 questions for reasonable New Yorkers

Oops, they did it again. Five GOP state senators have introduced a bill calling for a statewide referendum on separating.

Some Democrats are outraged, pointing out (rightly) how cynically Republicans have grandstanded in the past with such fantasy talk, often dragging out the false old “NYC Welfare Queens” canard. However, downstate and national Democrats including Peter Vallone and Leon Panetta have talked the same smack and nobody on our side was batting an eyelash.

You cannot take these noises seriously, and yet for all their surface ridiculousness, they seem expressive of something. In the past, they may have been hoary cynical grandstanding ploys, but today the divide is not just cultural, it is economic (as we have been saying for years now). What if there’s something there for reasonable people to consider? If there isn’t anything, then the idea should go away until another attention-seeking pol rediscovers it. If there is something…

My own evolving thoughts on separation can be traced in past posts such as:

Who Ya Gonna Call? in which I extended the “bad marriage” metaphor maybe to the breaking point;

3 Upstate Conversation Killers, which looked at ways that we talk ourselves out of talking amongst ourselves;

and more recently, Splitter! in which I wondered about who would run (wreck?) a post-separation New York.

But, not to get too far ahead of things, or even to take them so seriously at face value, I think we could at least identify three core starter questions in response to this “motion”:

1) Does One New York really exist? (and if so, why does the concept remain such a hard sell?)

2) Is Upstate politically and economically ready for prime time, ready to control its own affairs without undue outside influence? (my feeling is “no”)

3) Even if it’s wrong to instigate it, should we think about preparing for eventual separation? (After all, if downstate politicians — louder and endowed with bigger media organs — wanted to start a downstate secession movement, they could probably get people lathered up about it pretty easily. And then wouldn’t Upstaters have to face the same questions about independence anyway…?)

Would reasonable people try to answer these questions?

The things we tell ourselves

James Howard Kunstler (yeah! I got his name right!) has a feature on his website called “Eyesores.” He’s a little too harsh on the vintage kitsch, but this particular entry took me aback. Here’s the official description of the Paragon Prairie Tower:

“Located in the Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area, the Paragon Prairie Tower was designed to represent the Midwestern work ethic of saving and harnessing our abundant natural resources. It will combine state-of-the- art technology with old world materials and craftsmanship. A colorful shimmering scene will be created on top of panels of pre-cast concrete using hundreds of thousands of individual fragments of glass. The glass mosaic will depict the Iowa prairie with a field of wildflowers, including Coneflowers, Black-Eyed Susans, Daisies and Clover amidst bluestem grass. When complete, the scene on Paragon Prairie Tower will be approximately 5,000 square feet, which to date will be the largest known mosaic glass tile mural in the U.S.”

Say, wait a minute… saving and harnessing our abundant natural resources is our unique Central New York ethic! What about our Jolly Green Hotel? But I guess we’re not even the first ones to enshrine that ethic by constructing a huge phallic totem made of colored glass. So how many other depressed regions around the country are telling themselves the exact same things? It’s like we’ve all been visited in turn by the same Elmer Gantry.

And… Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area? (“No other region shares our rich agricultural legacy…”) Hey, whatever you need to tell yourselves, folks. At least we have the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor… although on Onondaga Road, it’s now called the Erie Analway National Heritage Corridor, thanks to Beavis and Butthead and some brown spray paint. (Yeah, the same kids we’re desperate to keep here in CNY.)