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Syracuse Southside Services

Syracuse Southside Services

Continuing Livable CNY’s series of neighborhood reviews, we look now to Syracuse’s South Side neighborhood. It is a community rich in history and diversity. Still, the less-than-ideal economic conditions contribute to some of the challenges that current residents face.

Neighborhood activism from residents and Syracuse nonprofit organizations use community service to help mitigate some of the disadvantages in the area.

Syracuse ranks as one of the worst cities in the nation for concentrated poverty among blacks and Latinos. Nearly two-thirds live under the federal poverty threshold of $25,100 for a family of four. Data shows that this trend has only been getting worse over the past decade. Syracuse has one of the worst economic disparities in the nation among black and white income earners.

The Southside’s Story

Understanding contemporary economic realities for the residents of the South Side starts with knowing the area’s history. Syracuse became an attractive city for potential black residents following the end of World War II. Black southerners came north looking for economic opportunities.

Most black migrants moved to an area of the city known as the 15th Ward. The 1956 Federal Highway Act prompted New York state to approve a massive $500 million project bond that would raze the 15th Ward to create an interstate highway, which current residents would recognize as I-81.

An abandoned building on the corner of S. Salina St. and Beard Ave. The South Side has one of the highest concentrations of vacant homes in the city.

Black residents moved to the South Side after I-81 was constructed. This caused white residents to flee to the suburbs. From 1950 to 1970, the black population of the South Side grew by 1000 percent while the white population fell by 20 percent.

Street Sign on Salina Street in Syracuse's Southside

South Salina Street is the Southside’s main economic vein. It also hosts some of Syracuse’s oldest historic buildings.

Over the past 48 years, the white population has decreased by half.

Revitalizing the neighborhood, both economically and socially, is a goal of many neighborhood activists. Volunteer opportunities can take many different forms.

Down on the South Side’s South Salina Street lies the main economic vein of the community. There is a  year-round youth program that works on growing the neighborhood with the next generation.

Syracuse Southside services the youth

The South Side Communication Center Youth Program offers recreation, games, tutoring, speaker panels and a safe place for neighborhood kids who often face bleak circumstances at home.

Site coordinator Rachielle Scrivens told Syracuse University News reporters last summer that her goal is to help neighborhood children see a world of possibility.

“I want to help them expand their horizons and open their minds to different things — let them know they have choices and the ability to do and be anything they want,” Scrivens said.

Those who need it most can feel Scriven’s impact. Tyrone Dixon has worked at the Elmcrest Children’s Center in Syracuse and has ties to the South Side area.

“Ms. Rachielle is exactly what our community needs,” Dixon said in a statement.

Community Center on the Southside of Syracuse

South Salina Street is the Southside’s main economic vein. It also hosts some of Syracuse’s oldest historic buildings.

The youth program grew out of a 2011 partnership with the Southside Community Coalition. They strive to partner with residents, agencies, organizations and Syracuse University with the goal of restoring, rejuvenating and revitalizing the South Side.

Part of that process also includes bringing healthy food options to the area, as it has historically been known as a “food desert,” or neighborhood in which residents don’t live within a reasonable distance to a full grocery store.

A food cooperative known as Eat to Live operates on South Salina Street, offering affordable groceries and fresh produce onto neighborhood tables.

Shop on Syracuse's Southside

A dormant Eat to Live Co-op on the corner of S. Salina and McKinley Ave on Syracuse’s South Side.

The idea began back in 2006, when the South Side Community Coalition promoted it. Eat to Live closed briefly earlier this year. It was unable to generate enough business to sustain keeping the doors open.

Looking to the future

A newly elected board of directors held listening sessions with members to gather their feedback on how to move forward with implementing a new, sustainable business model.

Despite the occasional setbacks, the future for Syracuse’s South Side seems bright. The one resource the area has no shortage of is potential. Many generational residents feel very deeply for the community, and while the South Side may be perceived as one of the bad neighborhoods in Syracuse, it’s one of the best places to volunteer.

About The Author


This site celebrates the people places, and culture that make Central New York one of the most vibrant and livable regions in the country. From Auburn to Utica, from Syracuse, to Ithaca, this is LivableCNY.

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