Nice story in the Post-Standard about Fairmount being ranked No. 27 on “Best Places to Raise Your Children.” (A shame that the online story at BusinessWeek.com incorrectly identifies Fairmount as being a suburb of Rochester. Between this and the recent NYT story about Indian manhole covers, do major publications just not do fact-checking any more?) Upstate New York made out pretty well on this survey, which emphasized modest costs of living — three or four western NY locales made it in, as did St. Johnsville in the Mohawk Valley. All too often, “Best Places to Live” lists turn out to be all about the places with the wealthiest demographics, biggest homes and greenest lawns, the ones farthest away from a city. Yawn. This BusinessWeek survey pointedly avoided the places where big money gets thrown around. Most of the locations in the ranking were in the Northeast, Midwest or Appalachia; although it goes without saying that the list avoided urban neighborhoods entirely, which I’m sure some people are going to take exception to.
I don’t think the ranking takes into account that these places are all probably very different, though. Fairmount is not exactly small-town America, but it is suburbia on a somewhat more human scale. You have choices on how to get to work: you can take 690, or you can drive through downtown (for my money, no less convenient than the freeway), or you can take public transportation, depending on how you feel that day. As for crime, it’s not a place where you should leave your door unlocked at night, but what place is? (Some people apparently feel they can still leave their cars unlocked around here, but that’s probably not a good idea either.) You can walk to the mall — on sidewalks. And it is a place people come back to.
It was nice to see the PS article mention Fairmount Library, a truly neighborhood library (it sits back in a residential area, which is why some people don’t know it exists); they also could have pointed to Shove Park, with its ice rink, multiple ballfields and unofficial nature trail. (BTW, I think most people accept that Terry Road is what separates Fairmount from Westvale – not that the two communities are all that different.) Something the story doesn’t really touch on is the fact that Fairmount does have an older demographic… and you can’t really have a secure community for kids unless you’ve got older residents who are looking out for them.
As local suburbs go, Fairmount may be fairly “white” (though not as white as some others), but it is socioeconomically diverse, with strong blue-collar roots. Clustered around or near Fairmount Corners are different types of housing: 3 1/2 apartment complexes (with two more not far away just outside “Fairmount limits”), tiny bungalows in Old Fairmount (the hodgepodge of delightfully bitty older houses there is worth its own blog post), and as you go further up into Fairmount Hills you will encounter progressively larger and more modern suburban dream castles – really, in this little locality you can discover the entire history of suburban architecture of the 20th century during a half-hour stroll. (Want to see the 1940’s? Old Fairmount. 1950’s? Lower Fairmount Hills or Sherwood Knolls. 1960’s? Terrytown. 1970’s and ’80s? Hidden Knolls.) The only thing it doesn’t have is McMansions, unless you count the big house looming on top of Fairmount Hill. If you want a McMansion, Fairmount is not for you.
My point: I think over the next 10-20 years, places like Fairmount (which is representative of other areas around Syracuse, particularly in the west) will be seen as more desirable places to live, not to mention more affordable, for a wider variety of people. Not being cut off from the city by the highway system, Fairmount is also probably destined to become more diverse demographically. However, I don’t see the pace of change picking up very dramatically. Things never move too quickly around here.
I could go on, and this article may inspire me to continue with the Compleat History of Fairmount I started last year. It’s gratifying to see an inner-ring suburb held up for praise in some fashion (even if it’s just one magazine survey based on a handful of factors), as I believe they are going to be key places in the future of knitting city and suburb back together. In the 19th century, Fairmount was considered a national model community (for its showplace farms); how ironic that, despite its near-total transformation, in the 21st century it’s been hat-tipped again. I think George Geddes could be proud.