The University has made great efforts in recent years to connect SU with surrounding areas. The Connective Corridor project (http://connectivecorridor.syr.edu) is designed to connect the SU campus with downtown Syracuse. There are several very nice areas downtown, including Armory Square, a thriving district of restaurants, culture, and retail. Additionally, SU has strong ties with area employers. Each year, more than 100 local companies come to campus to recruit SU students for internship opportunities in the Central New York region. For students looking to gain some hands-on work experience while studying at SU, there are plenty of opportunities in the surrounding area!
As the sister of a Syracuse alumna, I spent a decent amount of time there. The city of Syracuse is part of the "rust belt" so the urban center declined in the 80's and 90's. Unfortunately some of the decay crept right up to one border of campus. But the state, the city and the university have been supporting community building and improvements over the past 10-15 years. Things have improved and the surrounding area is home to some major industry (eg. Carrier, BigPharma, etc...). One major business is entertaining college students so there's always places for you to go. If you're looking for a small city (urban feel that's manageable) then Syracuse is a good fit.
The place is beautiful in the summer, which lasts about eight weeks and is the time most of the pictures are taken for the school catalogs. Otherwise, the weather from the North Pole seemingly has nothing in the way as it hits the hilltop where the university is.