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Fountain Controversy Opens Dialog

28 May 2010

(By Nick Lisi / Courtesy The Post-Standard)

The city’s decision to crack down on people wading, playing and swimming in the Clinton Square fountain has led to a flood of comments on news sites, Facebook and elsewhere.

This article from The Post-Standard has garnered the most comments so far — over 121 — and gives a good overview of the issue, which is essentially that large crowds have been gathering at the Square on hot days and frolicking in the fountain to cool off.

The city, meanwhile, has heard complaints from business folk who don’t like the spectacle. Moreover, the city says it is worried about safety, noting that the fountain, although designed to encourage wading, is not chlorinated, surrounded by busy streets, and has other limitations that make widespread use of it potentially dangerous.

Other sources of information and commentary on the issue can be found on WSYR, on’s original posting on the controversy, in this article on the fountain resuming operation after 9 p.m., and in today’s Post-Standard editorial.

Within those comments are many from trollers, flamers and others who are incapable of contributing to constructive debate. But there are also many — both for and against the city’s action — that show genuine concern for the community, for public health and safety, and for sensible policies that protect the public without dampening public enthusiasm for joyous utilization of our public spaces.

The paper’s editorial staff, for instance, struck a nice balance when they wrote in this morning’s paper: “Some downtown workers have complained about noise and lack of decorum in the middle of a business district. We disagree. Over the past few years, large crowds have gathered only on the very hottest days, and they have generally been happy and well-behaved. That’s a positive development in a downtown that should belong to everyone. Unfortunately, the city cannot ignore health and safety issues.”

I think it is fair to say that the safety issues can been addressed without criminalizing wading. However, as I dig into other people’s comments on this, the larger issue seems to be this — how, as a community, do we want our public spaces Downtown utilized, and how do we design, staff, and program those spaces to encourage and enable that utilization?

Clearly we do not want a sterile, empty Clinton Square. During the CNYSpeaks forums on Downtown, the one thing people were absolutely unanimous about was their desire for a vibrant Downtown, which was defined as a Downtown full of people, stores, events and activities.

So what do we want the Square to be, and how to we encourage that use? Is it simply a matter of addressing some safety concerns so that the current design of the Square, which makes wading virtually irresistible, can be embraced? Or, are there reasons why wading in the fountain really is undesirable for Downtown, and, if so, what type of amenities and programing would you develop to create a different draw to the Square?

We’d love to hear from you on this. Please comment below this post, or on our fledgling Web forum (look under “All Topics”), or on the CNYSpeaks’ Facebook page. You can also email comments directly to

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Ralph Jones permalink
    28 May 2010 12:44 pm

    If Clinton square can be made legally viable for winter skating,why can’t it be made as viable for what it was designed to be,a wading pool. I find it too difficult to believe that the city cannot find through its partnerships with SU and other organizations a fix for all the health and safety concerns they speak about in opposition to the use of CS for wading. The traffic issus is the same as it would be for winter skating…a way has been found for the skating,why not for the pool? Weren’t the sanitation and health issues contemplated during the design stage…are we in Syracuse at the cutting edge? have no other communities around the state effectively dealt with the same issues?

    I am not an Health professional or engineer,I don’t have concrete suggestions on how to make it happen….but I employ these professions with my taxes,and they work for the city.
    The city makes it happen for winter activities,….make it happen for summer activities!

  2. 28 May 2010 2:26 pm

    Great comment Ralph.

    You’ll get a kick out of this link:

    It’s the visitors welcome page for the organization that promotes Downtown Boulder, and celebrates the play that happens around a water feature built into the center of Boulder’s beautiful pedestrian mall.

    • Kevin permalink
      7 June 2010 1:23 pm

      Boston has that too, it the ideal way to promote. I like the fountain, but maybe Syracuse can find a sprinkler location somewhere?

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