To be viewed as welcoming, well groomed and worth visiting, a community has to invest in flora, both flowers and trees, and in a big way. My current city of Saratoga Springs is an award winner in that department, and it is something other communities are beginning to note. The way a community welcomes visitors and displays itself does indeed matter, and Oswego, with it's beautiful waterfront vistas still needs to invest in a seasonal display of natural color and beauty.
Our Main Street, Bridge Street, particularly on the west side, has been denuded of trees, and has been short in the flower department for many, many years. Indeed, ever since the Bridge Street bricks were paved over and the street widened in the 70's, it has grown less and less inviting, and become more and more ugly. The decrepitude of the housing stock on the main drag adds to the negative image.
So a plan is being devised, and given state funding to restore the street’s former glory. It's about time! In fact, it is decades overdue.
When I took office as Mayor in 1988, I found our flower budget to be grossly underfunded. If memory serves, it was just $8,000 and I moved quickly to quadruple it, and devise some new beautification strategies. George McGrath was the one man beautification department when I took office, and he did a great job, but was woefully underfunded and had no staff.
So, I decided to create the CBC (Community Beautification Corps) and I hired the head of the Oswego Garden Club, Lois Jackim, as the CBC Coordinator. I was greatly criticized for that move, but it worked. For the paltry sum of $3,500, Lois came on board and energized the committee with volunteer regional park coordinators. The remnants of that program still exist, and the parks are still the better for it.
We decided to hang flowering baskets of petunias from the light poles along Bridge Street, and we solved the problem of watering the flowers by enlisting the Fire Department pumpers for that purpose. The firemen caught a lot of good natured ribbing from the policemen when they went out to prune and water the "posies", as one Alderman put it. That same Alderman, (Earl Gardner) accused me of caring more about posies than roads and sewers . Truth be known, I cared about both, but Earl was far from a flower child when it came to supporting community beautification. There were lots of other Earls back in those days, and it was a challenge to find the funding, but find it we did.
We planted tulip bulbs around City Hall. I think some of them still bloom. I wanted to build massive tulip mounds along the concretish West Side Linear Park. We were going to name them after George Scriba, from Holland, who first settled the Oswego County area. The Scriba Tulip Festival was what I envisioned. When I tried to explain my plan to my Executive Assistant, Eli Rapaport, I started out by saying "Scriba Tulips". He responded by saying "they were long green stem flowers with rounded multi-colored petals that bloomed in early spring." I said, "I don't want you to describe a tulip, I want to plant them." For some reason, the idea never took root.
We did plant lots and lots of trees along the Linear Park though, and those trees are now 20-25 feet high. The credit for those goes to City Arborist Andy Hillman. In the design of the Linear Park, they forgot the landscaping. It was designed by engineers, not landscape architects, so we had lots of sprucing up to do. And, we did!
I am encouraged by Oswego's new Mayor's awareness of the need for city beautification, and the active rosters of volunteers who are stepping up to the plate to gussy up my hometown. Colorful light displays on the bridge are helping as well, and there is a need for more colorful and themed banners on city light poles. All of this does make a difference. We can compare to Saratoga and Kingston, Ontario favorably, if we keep putting our best foot forward, and firmly planting the seeds that need nurturing. As the old biblical adage reminds us, "As you sow, so shall you reap!"