Looking back

The history of the 15th Ward

The historic 15th Ward was home to a close-knit, working class, Black community. As Syracuse’s African-American population increased during the late 1900s, widespread discrimination led to an almost exclusive concentration of Black families in this neighborhood . By 1950, almost 90% of African- Americans in Syracuse lived in the 15th Ward. As a result of the construction of the I-81 elevated highway, running straight through the heart of the neighborhood, this community was decimated and approximately 1,300 residents were displaced.

Historic landscape shot of 15th ward in 1941
Neighborhood resident-Black female holding up a sign saying Save Our Lungs

the division

The impact of I-81

Today, the neighborhood faces challenges resulting from a combination of urban renewal discrimination, environmental justice violations, and adverse public policy. A significant portion of the 15th Ward’s housing stock is public housing — some of the oldest in the country — where most of the neighborhood’s approximately 3,000 residents live below the poverty line and endure poor health conditions. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has decreased its support for public housing over the past two decades, which has led to an increase in deferred maintenance and repairs (totaling $70 million for SHA properties). As a result, residents are subject to deteriorating conditions that exacerbate mental and physical health disparities.