Envisioning the Future Day 2019

By Cindy Woods, Executive Director, Upstate Oasis and HealthLink programs

“As for the future, your task is not to foresee it but to enable it”

-Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Envisioning the Future Day has finally arrived!  After weeks of preparation, the design team welcomed the LGS Class of 2019 to the Syracuse University Warehouse, which houses the Syracuse University School of Design.  Following opening announcements by LGS Executive Director, Pam Brunet, we heard from SU Professor of Design and chair of the Meredith Professorship Committee and Interdisciplinary Design Spire, Don Carr, who welcomed us to the Warehouse and gave a brief history of the building and discussed how former chancellor, Nancy Cantor purchased the building with the intent to bring the arts “down to the city” via a connective corridor.  Her hope was that the community spaces in the building that hosted pop up events could connect the community to the University similar to what had been done in Philadelphia.  This laid the groundwork for our goal for the day which was to envision Syracuse as a place of opportunity for growth and embracing diversity.

Class day was sponsored by the CNY regional Planning and Development Board, and David Bottar filled us in on all the ways they are making CNY a better community-especially in the 5 counties covered by the organization.  His goal is to work with communities to envision the future and to work with citizens to implement their ideas.

Following the opening remarks, our day kicked off with the Syracuse mayor, Ben Walsh.  Ben is the 54th mayor of the city of Syracuse. He was elected in November 2017, making him the first independent mayor of Syracuse in more than 100 years. Since taking office, he’s focused on increasing the use of data in city decision-making and growing civic engagement, and has been recognized for bringing greater transparency to local government.  Ben’s presentation was “From Salt City to Smart City.”  Since the mayor was listed by many LGS’ers as someone they’d like to meet, everyone was excited to see him on the agenda and kicking off the day!  He described the Syracuse Surge project and his vision of how the project would help grow the city, embrace diversity and offer opportunity for all by delivering on 4 planned objectives.

The first objective is fiscal sustainability through the purchase of the street lamps fitted with “smart nodes” to create a low power binary network grid for the city.  This would lead to the second objective of delivering city services efficiently, effectively and equally to enhance things like trash removal, snow removal and bus schedules.  Being better connected would increase economic development in the area (the 3rd objective), and subsequently offer an opportunity for quality constituent engagement.  Ben ended his discussion recognizing that the most significant barrier to progress in the past has been the lack of alignment in county and city leadership.  He reassured us that he and county executive, Ryan McMahon, are lifelong friends and share their love of the area and want to see the Syracuse area thrive.

After the break, we welcomed a distinguished group of speakers for our panel discussion, “Welcome to Tomorrowland: Creative Growth in Syracuse”.  Our panel discussion was moderated by Michael Benny the local CBS 5 news anchor who posed several pre-determined questions to guide our guests.

Our panelists were Sam Edelstein, Chief Data Officer for the City of Syracuse.  Sam gathers and analyzes data, and makes data-driven recommendations to improve city services. He launched the City’s Open Data Portal, helped start and manage the City’s performance program, and has been a key project lead for the Syracuse Surge smart cities initiative.

Seth Mulligan, Director of Fulfillment for TCGPlayer. TCGplayer is an online marketplace for collectible gaming products. Seth helps lead the services that focus on fulfillment and logistics.

Juhanna Rogers, Director of Performance for the Economic Inclusion Division at CenterState CEO.   She is a Scholar-Artist and a Community Builder who creates events and experiences that educate and engage people of color in education and the community.  In her current role, Juhanna has found a professional home in Syracuse and she is answering a call to create spaces for young professionals to live and thrive.

Hasan Stephens, Founder and Executive Director for the Good Life Foundation.  A leading youth advocate, mentor, entrepreneur and educator, Hasan is the executive director and co-founder of The Good Life Philanthropic Youth Foundation in Syracuse.  The Good Life Foundation is dedicated to improving the quality of life for at-risk youth by providing a range of services and programs with the purpose of encouraging successful and productive careers and life strategies.  He connects at risk youth to services through the use of hip hop culture.

When asked what diversity looked like at each person’s perspective worksite, Seth noted diversity in pay scale at TCGPlayer indicating a wide range of salaries for all levels of employment.  Juhanna noted that we need to make it our “job” to put more diversity at the table of our boards and to think about the ways we educate our youth.  She said that we tend to educate to “fills the gaps” but then we hire looking for thinkers and problem solvers, so many people are left unemployable with that model.  Seth reminded us that there are people behind the numbers that he uses for his data analysis.  And Hasan passionately commented that diversity is more than race; there is diversity in experience, and we need to understand the “why” for others in order to make changes.

The second question posed by Mr. Benny was what each person saw as the biggest threat to our future.  Seth stated is was the poor graduation rate in the SCSD.   Sam felt the civil service requirements are limiting and need updating in order to find the correct person for the correct positon and salary.  Hasan challenged us to first understand the history of a population in order to address the threats.  We needed to acclimate to the expectations of troubled youth in order to understand the perspective of that group before we can be in a position of helping them.  And Juhanna urged us to connect with existing programs to impact the future rather than to create yet another 501c3 to help solve the problems facing our city. We need to be better about connecting people and to leverage the resources we already have in place.

Each of the panelist felt that hope for our future was in the collaboration of groups like LGS and in having intentional conversations to develop strategic alignment.

Following a delicious lunch provided by Liehs and Steigerwald, we carpooled to the Syracuse Glass company for a factory tour.   At the conclusion of the tour John Dwyer, President and CEO of Syracuse Glass Company and Peg Kelly, Vice President of the Syracuse Glass Company led a discussion entitled “A Window into the Future”.

John and Peg shared with us the history of the company itself as well as how their Human Resource department had to evolve over time to accommodate the refugee population that they had hired.  Many times refugees needed life skills education that may not be provided at a place of employment, so they initiated a “lunch and learn” style program that helped new Americans learn to live in their new country.

Last but certainly not least, Maarten Jacobs spoke to us about “Coming Together for the Future”.  Maarten is the Director of Community Prosperity at the Allyn Family Foundation in Syracuse.  He shared the exciting new plans for the Salt City Market, a project funded by the Allyn Foundation to engage and revitalize the Syracuse and the Near West Side.  This structure would be a combined food hall and public market that would also include mixed income 1 and 2 bedroom apartments.  The Foundation would also share office space within the structure.  Plans include a Marketplace with 8 stalls that would be centered around cultural cuisine.  The Allyn Foundation would provide financial literacy education as well as a nontraditional loan process to help startups become successful to the point that they would hopefully outgrow their space and move to another location creating space for a new start up to begin.  Additionally there is a plan for a teaching/community kitchen for catering needs, culinary support and cooking classes.  The Salt City Market is slated to open in the Fall 2020.

Overall, Envisioning the Future Day provided us with thought provoking information about effective ways to engage to create growth, embrace diversity, and offer opportunities for all.  Looking forward to our next LGS day.  Special thanks to all of our presenters, classmates, hosts and sponsors.