Monday, May 3, 2010

Westcott Nation No More

In the southeast quadrant of Syracuse lies a neighborhood filled with people of different cultural, socioeconomic, and educational backgrounds. It's a neighborhood that was once known for it's social activism and community involvement. It was once known as Westcott Nation.

Where did the name come from?

"[Larry Hoyt and his friends] were listening to an interview, Abbie Hoffman’s being grilled before congress or something like that," explains Jason Eaton, a local financial advisor and community activist who read Hoyt's book on the occurence. "And they asked him what his place of residence was and he said it was the Woodstock nation and apparently Larry Hoyt turned to his friend and said yeah we’re from the Westcott nation. So apparently it was fairly informal...but it stuck."

But it only stuck for so long. Many of the current student residents had no idea what Westcott Nation was or had even heard of it. Westcott Community Center Executive Director Steve Susman blames it on the business property owners for not being community minded.

"Mostly they're not community-minded and don't interact with the community groups which are trying to get them to form a business association or to pitch in to help beautify the street or be active or at least express their ideas. It's hard to get them even to talk to you," Susman said. He emphasized the effect the closing of the Westcott Cinema had in 2007, which is now the Westcott Theater, an 800-seat performing-arts venue that Susman says is too big for a tiny neighborhood.

"Two in the morning...600 people spilling out into this tiny neighborhood, most of whom have parked illegally cause there's not enough parking for that number and there are tour buses on the street and I've heard a couple of the other business owners complain bitterly that their customers couldn't get on the street and they lost business because of the Westcott Theater."

Another issue that's been bringing Westcott Nation down has been the "increasing number of absentee landlords here who don't keep up their properties," says Eaton. Dan Greenblatt, a junior at Syracuse University, has experienced this problem firsthand. His landlord for his old apartment at 816 Livingston Avenue lived in New York City.

"Every time we needed something fixed it never happened cause she's not even around," says Greenblatt. "We'd e-mail her and she'd call someone and they'd never show up. Just horrible organizational skills, just really horrible to deal with."

Both Susman and Eaton had solutions for this issue. Susman is among many pushing the Syracuse Common Council to follow Rochester's model, particularly when it came to shoveling snow.

"Rochester adds 14 dollars to every home owner's taxes and they do all the sidewalks in the entire city for that," says Susman.

Eaton wants to get the community members involved.

"I think that there should be a mechanism in place for the people who live here to see that a house is on the market, buy it before some absentee landlord does and then own and manage it well so that we can collect the rents from the income and provide a nice environment and a nice neighborhood for people," said Eaton.

People such as Susman and Eaton and organizations such as the Westcott Community Center may try to improve the neighborhood that is Westcott Nation. But while the physical area may improve, the mentality of Westcott Nation has long faded away.

Click here to listen to the story.

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