Off Campus: Stumble upon Syracuse

Kalia Zell-Barrow

By Kalia Zell-Barrow SYRACUSE (Off Campus) - We’re really starting to stand out.  Some of our less exciting reputations as a cold, cloudy city are being far overthrown by new reputations, Syracuse is transitioning. Yes, the cold days are here to stay but the streets are on a momentous path to a colorful and innovative future.

(Off Campus is a social experiment of student writers paying it forward. Cusetonight and the Syracuse New Times are partnering on this project by asking local university and college students to write an article with one standing rule: “You can only write about off campus experiences.” Once we receive an article, we ask the student writer to pass the torch to another student to complete the next installment.) 

Excitement about Syracuse New York is circulating locally, nationally and internationally for Syracuse’s innovative opportunities as it arises as a center for business, technology, the arts and culture.

Despite this excitement, I myself was out of the loop until recently.  The loop that I didn’t really realise existed.  As a student at Syracuse University and a local of Central New York I’ve had the opportunity to an awesome exposure to two communities.  However, these communities have in the past seemed very separate to me- the connection was not clear.

Read Heather Rounds’ Off Campus article: “Chipotle Value Calculator”

It seems I had seen it but not really noticed and I definitely did not understand.  Luckily, one day I did notice something, something that proved to be a catalyst in piecing the loop together.  It was almost too simple- I saw a picture on Facebook that caught my eye, a photograph of an unusual, abstract, black and white mural a friend had uploaded from her phone.  A week or so later it caught my eye again- this time when I was surprised to see that same mural as I drove through downtown Syracuse.  After quite serendipitously finding a parking spot, I decided to take a closer look.

Now I could see that the mural was composed of hundreds of square, barcode-like images.  These were QR codes.  “QR” codes- aka quick response codes are like barcodes but cooler.  The machine that reads these isn’t that of a grocery store scanner but a smart phone app!  All that’s needed to evolve this painting into a portal of free information is a free QR code scanner app and a camera on your smartphone.  Each QR code image, when scanned, links to a Syracuse art or cultural organization!

I, having made use of this technology for the first time at this moment- started an excited scanning frenzy that brought on a simultaneous frenzy of excitement about these organizations- some I’d known about and many I hadn’t.

Next I stepped back and took a picture of the whole mural and – plot twist- the mural just revealed another layer of awesome to me!  I realized all four stories of the high-tech QR codes fall into place to build an image of the Erie Canal running through Syracuse.  A simple but intricate scene paying reverence to Syracuse’s grand industrial past.

So, in a matter of minutes I got a technology lesson, an art lesson and a history lesson!  Not to mention they all worked together and not to mention this whole experience occurred outside on a beautiful day in downtown Syracuse!  Talk about a backyard discovery.

I went on to do some internet searching on the mural and my findings.  I found that the artist behind the mural is a former faculty of SU’s architecture school- Brett Snyder.  Between his vision, funding through the Connective Corridor, state research grants, student interns and of course, several enthusiastic to participate local organizations, the mural came to life this past summer.

Through this searching I also found out exciting news- my city, my university and the entire central New York community are in on a huge collaboration- The Connective Corridor.  The Connective Corridor is of course set out to connect- with focus on connecting University Hill with Downtown Syracuse.  This project is the largest public works project in Syracuse in over thirty years!  With works to improve transportation means, local business opportunity, urban aesthetics, digital presence for Syracuse and seemingly everything and anything else that needs a makeover, the Connective Corridor is an exciting, interdisciplinary project.

From this point on I started really noticing detail in the artistically, culturally, technologically and historically interesting city around me.  All of this noticing got my wheels turning.  What would I like to improve?  How do I make that happen?

The community in Syracuse has an incredibly impressive and diverse network.  Organizations such as the Connective Corridor, The City of Syracuse and Syracuse University really want anyone and everyone in the community to get involved!  Not to mention, there’s not one local business or organization that I’ve come across that isn’t enthusiastic about moving forward in new and innovative ways.

My awareness of these happenings was fueled by noticing something on social media then noticing something more in my environment because of it.  When I took a closer look took I was taken down the rabbit hole to a whole new exciting perspective of Syracuse New York.  I’ve since been inspired to inspire in similar ways and I know I have support from multiple sects of the Syracuse community.

Everyone here has the ability and opportunity to create positive change.  No idea is too big or too eccentric.  We seem to be in the right place at the right time and we have the right talent, here in Syracuse, New York.

Kalia is 19 years old, a student at SU and also locally raised in Syracuse.  She studies a mix of entrepreneurship, media marketing and design.  She is passionate about the vast opportunity Syracuse has to offer and loves to participate in its growth to new greatness.  In the long run, she says she’s working toward making music, building bands and becoming a rockstar.