A glimpse of the future in Lawrence

Syracuse University architecture students recently presented their ideas for the redevelopment of the Brunswick Pike area.

By: Jenni Blythe
   Brunswick Pike is a rich landscape with the potential to become a pedestrian-friendly town center for residents and visitors, according to architecture students who spent the last semester developing schemes to revitalize the area.
   Eight Syracuse University School of Architecture students recently unveiled their proposal for redevelopment between the Brunswick Traffic Circle and the jughandle at Whitehead Road.
   They made their presentation at a special meeting of the Route 1 Business District Redevelopment Committee on May 8.
   Their suggestions included slowing traffic, limiting access points for vehicles, installing crosswalks and sidewalks, enhancing the commercial district and creating community parks.
   Those in attendance included township officials, members of the township Growth and Redevelopment Committee, and residents and business owners from the redevelopment area. They were joined by representatives from the state Department of Transportation and Vollmer Associates — the planners hired by the state to help Lawrence with the redevelopment project.
   Traffic that tends to speed up coming off the circle heading north could be slowed by reducing the number of lanes from four to two in the redevelopment area, the students said.
   They said the lane modification could occur between the traffic circle and Haveson Street.
   The students recommended using the space from the excised traffic lanes to build a low-speed residential drive that would run parallel to Route 1 Business on the northbound side of the roadway. It would provide a buffer for the homes fronting Brunswick Pike from Haveson Street to Valley Forge Avenue.
   The residential lane would "be used for safely pulling out, backing out, from any house along the way," said student Paul Herbert.
   It would give vehicles access to Route 1 at controlled points, making the road safer for drivers. Mr. Herbert added that the residential lane’s role could be multipurpose, providing a protected recreation space for pedestrians and neighborhood children.
   Student Linnaea Stuart proposed installing a number of crosswalks linking the Slackwood and Colonial Heights communities.
   Despite the fact that Brunswick Pike is a six-lane road at times, the crosswalks are still fairly far apart, she said.
   Adding sidewalks to streets on either side of Brunswick Pike would also strengthen the residential area, she said.
   "As we got further away from Route 1B (Business), the sidewalks started to deteriorate," making foot traffic more difficult within the communities, Ms. Stuart said.
   The stretch of road from Valley Forge Avenue to Whitehead Road was envisioned by the students as a commercial and civic institutional zone, with a youth center and senior housing flanking the Slackwood Presbyterian Church.
   Businesses in the area would get a boost from the addition of parking and landscaped greenery, they said.
   Several locations within the redevelopment area could be turned into community park space, said Wesley Schwartz. The student described an urban park "that could have a basketball court, a place where you could have a farmers’ market in the summer and there could be an outdoor screen for movies.
   "We’re really trying to emphasize the multi-use to bring more people in," he said.
   Councilman Gregory Puliti, co-chairman of the redevelopment committee, said the students were asked to present "a smorgasbord of ideas" to stimulate creative thought about redevelopment.
   He praised the students’ efforts, calling their concept a starting point.
   "From this point now, the committee will take back and digest this document, and give the Department of Transportation an idea of where we want to go, along with Vollmer Associates."
   John Conroy, a member of the Growth and Redevelopment Committee, agreed.
   "I think this is a great springboard to start discussions with the Route 1 Committee, the Growth and Redevelopment Committee, as well as the neighborhoods. I think this is a great stepping stone for the area."
   Mr. Conroy spearheaded the plan to bring the Syracuse students to Lawrence Township.
   "If anything is going to be ‘outside the box,’ a young person’s vision will be," said Kathy Saretzky, who has been a resident of the Colonial Heights neighborhood for 15 years. The neighborhood lies just beyond the northern end of the redevelopment zone.
   While she questioned the practicality of some of the students’ suggestions, Mrs. Saretzky praised their resourcefulness.
   Working together, the township and the DOT will develop the students’ proposal into something that is both "innovative and practical," she predicted.
   Safety and practicality are the most important factors in any redevelopment scheme, according to Ali Kaplan, owner of the Crystal Diner.
   Mr. Kaplan said the financial cost of redevelopment must be weighed against its benefit to the community. He commended the "many hours of work" that went into the students’ presentation.
   The presentation was the culmination of a semester-long course under the tutelage of Professor Andrew Klamon.
   Professor Klamon’s participation stemmed from his interest in the challenges of improving the suburban landscape.
   When he heard about the Route 1 Business project he was intrigued by the learning opportunities it offered his students.
   Student Lauren Wong said she signed up for the class when she heard it offered "real-world experience, which is pretty rare."
   Ms. Wong said she and the other architecture students have a variety of specialized interests that were applied to Brunswick Pike. One student prefers landscape architecture and urban design. Another was interested in the cultural and social aspects of the job — how the church might interrelate with a senior center, for instance.
   Mr. Herbert said his peers worked together "like a firm." He called the design "cooperative, a group project every step of the way."
   The students said their presentation before the committee was the first time any of them had made a public presentation of their work.
   "It was an incredible experience," Mr. Herbert said.
   Lawrence Township presented Syracuse University with a $1,000 award in appreciation of the students’ contribution.
   The township is preparing a pamphlet with the students’ findings and recommendations. The information will be available at the Department of Community Development, said Andy Link, township business advocate.
   Mr. Puliti said the redevelopment of Route 1 Business will be an involved process taking up to 10 years to complete. But he added that several "quick fixes" are already in the works, including a request to the DOT to lower the speed limit from 40 to 35 mph.
   "The speed reduction won’t be great, but it will be enough to make things workable on Route 1," he said.
   Mr. Puliti also mentioned adding crosswalks and trees, and building senior citizen housing at the present site of the Trent Motel, which is next door to Slackwood Presbyterian Church.
   As a state road, Brunswick Pike falls under the jurisdiction of the DOT, which must approve any modifications to the road.
   "We will make an effort to be flexible in our design criteria and work with you with something that helps revitalize this area," said John Jennings of the DOT Bureau of Mobility Strategies.
   For more information about the forthcoming pamphlet based upon the work of the architecture students, contact Andy Link. His office can be reached at 844-7071.