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University of Virginia data on Rochester, N.Y.

University of Virginia data on Rochester, N.Y.


Where is the sweet spot in the Rochester metro for wealth? Twelve miles out from the city center.

The University of Virginia did a study showing how inner ring suburbs in the nation’s cities are poorer than they were in 1990. The study also shows center cities are making a comeback.

In Rochester in 1990, per capita income peaked 9 miles from downtown. In 2012, it peaked 12 miles away. Five miles from the city center, per capita income dropped 12 percent during this time period. In fact, the only people who made more money in 2012 compared to 1990 were people living 12 to 16 miles away from downtown Rochester – and people living in downtown Rochester. The rest of us are worse off.

It appears the elderly, who typically live on lower incomes, are moving further out. In 1990, the greatest concentration of elderly lived 4 miles from downtown Rochester. In 2012, the greatest percentage lived 8 miles away.

Poverty is greater across all distances from downtown Rochester compared to 1990. The only distance where it stayed the same – 3 percent – was 12 miles out.

This won’t come as any surprise, but the data shows we’re sprawling out. In 1990, the greater number of people – 83,088 –  lived two miles from downtown Rochester. In 2012, the greatest number lives 3 miles away – 77,444.

Population density remains the highest in downtown Rochester, and declines with each mile away.

Why do we care about this data? Shifting demographics has consequences for real estate, schools, property taxes, services, planning, infrastructure costs and more.


5, 9, 12 mile radius lines.

5, 9, 12 mile radius lines.


Links of the Day:


– The New York Times details systemic problems at Attica Correctional Facility, on the eve of a trial of three officers for a brutal assault on an inmate.

– Although RG&E should be more responsive, I don’t see why the utility or its customers should have to pay for sprawl – especially sprawl with no population growth.

– Virginia has 750 private citizens authorized to be their own one-man police forces.

– The Democrat and Chronicle demands suburban teachers come up with a plan to fix the education system. Last I checked, suburban schools were doing just fine, pointing out a huge flaw in the governor’s war on teachers. But the D&C is clearly buying his rhetoric.

“One or two wrong answers can make or break a teacher’s rating.”


– Ripping apart some positive claims about charter schools.

– The L.A. Times obained access to a foster facility for teenagers. Heartbreaking read.

– What can be done to prevent suicides at the Monroe County Jail?

– The New York Times writes up Buffalo’s massive downtown ice rink. part of the revitalization of the canal system. Pay attention Rochester! We could do this with our aqueduct.

– ‘House of Cards’ music is composed by an Eastman School of Music graduate.

MAP- Monroe County


Rochester has the dubious distinction of being one of the most sprawling metropolitan areas in the country.

Smart Growth America released a 2014 sprawl index. Rochester was in the top 10 most sprawling large metro areas, places with more than 1 million people. Out of all 221 metro areas with at least 200,000 people, Rochester ranked 189th in terms of sprawl.

Rochester also ranked very poorly in 2002, the last time Smart Growth America did this study. We can’t compare scores, because the group changed some methodology. However, Rochester was ranked the 12th most sprawling metro of 83 studied.

In 2014, Rochester’s overall score was 74.5. An average score is 100, so a higher score means less sprawl and a lower score means more sprawl.  Researchers measured sprawl using four factors, each given equal weight:

1. Development Density: This looks at the concentration of homes and businesses, including the percentage of people who live in low-density suburban tracts and how much density there is around downtown.

Rochester scored a 96.2 on Development Density, just about average.

2. Land Use Mix: This looks at how far people are away from their jobs, the types of jobs and the number of jobs. Land use also looks at the walkability of each census tract.

Rochester scored a 103.86 on Land Use Mix. Again this is about average.

3. Activity Centering: This measures the proportion of people and businesses located near each other. How quickly does population density decline outside of downtown? How many jobs are located downtown?

Rochester scored 96.77. Another average score.

4. Street accessibility: This accounts for street connectivity, including average block size; number of intersections, number of four-way intersections.

Rochester scored 62. That’s where we messed up.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Rochester has many cul de sacs, wide roads, long non-rural roads without frequent intersections and mega-blocks.

Why do we care?

Smart Growth America found:

• People have greater economic opportunity in compact and connected metro areas.
• People spend less of their household income on the combined cost of housing and transportation in these areas.
• People have a greater number of transportation options available to them.
• And people in compact, connected metro areas tend to be safer, healthier and live longer than their peers in more sprawling metro areas. (They walk more and don’t get into as many car accidents.)

It’s worth noting that if you just look at Monroe County, we’re closer to average. The county’s sprawl score was 114.04, with street connectivity again being the lowest component (93.28). Surrounding counties do horribly on the sprawl index. Ontario was rated 84.03, Livingston was rated 77.11, Orleans got a 75.78 and Wayne scored 74.62. (The index does take an area’s rural nature into account when figuring out scores. There are other rural counties in New York that scored way better.)

The bottom line is the Rochester remains a Sprawl Queen, impacting us in various ways every day.




Skyline - featured 220X165We know Rochester has great commute times, but not all of us get to work in the average 20 minutes.

The U.S. Census came out with a report on mega-commuters, people who travel long distances to get to their jobs. The study showed 600,000 people take 90 minutes and travel 50 miles to get to work. Nearly 11 million people travel an hour each way. In the  Washington D.C. area, super long commutes are normal. (It sounds like a miserable existence.)

There are about 350,000 people living in Monroe County who have jobs. The vast majority  of those jobs are in Monroe County. But a sizable group crosses county lines to go to work. Here are the number of Monroe County residents who commute to the following counties:

Ontario County: 7,085 (12,428 Ontario County residents commute to Monroe County. 2,518 commute to Wayne County.)

Wayne County: 3,453 (15,257 Wayne County residents commute to Monroe County. 4,039 commute to Ontario County.)

Livingston County: 1,467

Genesee County: 1,208

Erie County: 1,025 (1,241 Erie County residents commute to Monroe County.)

Orleans County: 906

Onondaga County: 579

It’s clear Ontario County’s boom has shifted jobs east. It’s interesting to note that despite the close proximity of Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse, there aren’t a lot of people commuting among the cities. That’s probably because all offer affordable housing.

Links of the Day:

– Batavia was named a hotbed of expanding and relocating businesses.

– Syracuse residents, tired of waiting for the city, put up their own surveillance cameras. (I’d like to see a study done on the effectiveness of Rochester’s camera network. Does it deter crime? Are crimes often caught on tape? Do the cameras lead to arrests?)

Gunshot wounds drive up healthcare costs.

Is poker fading?

Turf FieldThere appears to be a developing trend in Upstate New York – mega indoor sports complexes.

In Victor, a developer proposed a 96-acre development off Route 96 called Pinnacle Athletic Campus. The Democrat and Chronicle reports it would be an 83,000 square foot facility with fields for soccer, softball and other sports.

In Walworth, a development group made up of parents has proposed a 147-acre complex on Route 441. YNN reports the Youth Sports Depot would have, “indoor soccer and lacrosse fields, basketball courts, martial arts academy, restaurant, and pre-school.” The developers drew a comparison with Total Sports Experience in Gates.

In Skaneateles, an orthopedic surgeon has proposed a 100-acre athletic complex that would also have medical facilities. The Post-Standard reports Victory Campus would have “four multi-use artificial turf fields the size of football fields, two multi-use natural grass fields (also the size of football fields) and six baseball- and softball-only fields.”

Is there are market for these giant facilities? In Upstate New York, winter prevents many sports from being played year round. We’ve managed to get by for centuries without playing soccer in winter. Are times changing?

Perhaps there’s something else going on here. Parents may prefer the more controlled atmosphere of indoor sports, along with amenities such as food and locker rooms.

Pinnacle Indoor Sports Consulting, based in Arizona, asks developers to consider 100 questions about their projects. The questions cover construction costs, market demand, operational costs, corporate sponsorships and marketing.

We’ve already seen one indoor sports facility in the Rochester area face financial struggles – the former ESL Sports Centre.

It’s important developers demonstrate they can maintain these facilities as we pave over green space to create indoor parks.

Links of the Day:

– A lot of dirt is being moved around the Montezuma Wildlife Refuge.

– We’ve had another mild winter. But is it a trend?

– New York state shows mural once considered offensive.

– New York has the highest teen abortion rate in the country.

– Dinosaur Bar-B-Que will soon be open in Brooklyn and Buffalo. The Brooklyn location will have ceiling art made of antique whiskey bottles.

STAMP site in Genesee County


Did you know there’s a plan to put a giant science and tech park in Genesee County that backers say has the potential to create 30,000 jobs?

The mega-site is called STAMP – short for Science Technology Advanced Manufacturing Park.

From the STAMP website:

The STAMP site has great potential to transform Western New York into a high-tech/clean-tech hub of manufacturing similar to Luther Forest in Saratoga. After five years with $1.5 billion in private investment, over 2,000 jobs will be created onsite and about 5,500 regional supply chain jobs will be leveraged.  Full build-out of the STAMP site is expected to be 15 to 20 years out, but will bring in $10 billion in private capital investment and employ over 10,500 workers directly, 30,000 supply chain jobs and 2,839 construction jobs across both the Buffalo and Rochester metro areas.

Folks, this is way bigger than yogurt.

Economic development officials think they can leverage low cost power and huge amounts of land to attract high tech companies. STAMP is one of the priority projects for the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council. The estimated cost to develop the site is $250 million. The Buffalo News reports:

Steven G. Hyde, president and CEO of the Genesee County Economic Development Center, said plans for the park are in their sixth year. “This isn’t a pipe dream that just started yesterday. This is real and has lots of potential.”


While semiconductor chip manufacturing is a prime target for STAMP, it is not the only high-tech industry that would be a good fit, Hyde said, mentioning solid-state lighting and photovoltaic products as two others.

Competing for such coveted plants requires a massive, available site like STAMP with some infrastructure, Kucharski said. These types of companies want access to a large labor pool like Buffalo and Rochester can offer, but also want to build on a low-vibration “greenfield” with ample room to expand; Kucharski said the STAMP site meets those criteria.

It seems Eastman Business Park and STAMP have the same goals. EBP has more going for it in terms of existing infrastructure and proximity to workers, transportation and the airport. EBP may not be a “greenfield,” but it’s just as large. EBP, which is also a Finger Lakes council priority, will almost certainly require gobs of tax dollars to modernize. Why not shift STAMP there? Why are we going to spend millions of both sites? Both will compete for the same tax dollars and tenants.

This seems like industrial sprawl.

Links of the Day:

– The “elder statesman” of the Sabres, who helped bring the team to Buffalo, has died.

The story of a Rochester policeman who is gay.

– The Los Angeles Times has the touching and sad story of a religious teenager paralyzed in a shooting who snitches because it’s the right thing to do. Part One and Part Two.

– Let’s remember this holiday season how little retail workers are paid. There are good reasons they should be paid more.

How much longer can J.C. Penney survive?

Why pot should be legalized.

Construction is under way on a runway expansion at the Canandaigua Airport. The FAA is paying $7 million to lengthen the runway so it can accommodate larger private and corporate planes.

Ontario County officials have fought for the runway for years. They hope it attracts new business to the county.

Are we witnessing the subsidization of corporate sprawl? Why are taxpayers footing the bill for infrastructure in Ontario County when there’s a perfectly nice (underutilized?) airport 32.5 miles away in Monroe County along a highway leading straight to Canandaigua?

Let’s say this runway attracts new business. That means new jobs and new houses and new roads and new sewers. More tax dollars will go to paving over green space. Meantime, there’s existing infrastructure in Rochester and Monroe County, which have seen little to no growth over the last decade.

There have been calls for Monroe County to come up with a smart growth plan. We need a regional plan. I question why we are actively promoting boom times in rural Ontario County when its core still needs a lot of work. Tell the CEOs who decided to locate next to farmland to rent a limo.

Links of the Day:

– Kodak is ending retiree health care at the end of the year. This most affects those under 65 who are not eligible for Medicare.

– Take a look at Kodak’s many spawn. You will see many successful companies.

– A Seneca County company is turning grape seeds into high-end cooking oil.

– In line with my theory MCC will never leave the Sibley Building is the lack of enthusiasm displayed by Republicans in this article.

Victor, Ontario County


The Democrat and Chronicle published a gushing piece about the growth of Ontario County without mentioning the serious costs of this kind of sprawl.

The population of Ontario County has increased 8 percent over the last decade. The Town of Victor’s population has gone up 40 percent. The area led the region in the rate of home building permits.

One of things that facilitated the area’s growth is new roads. The D&C reports:

Access to major transportation routes is key to the county’s success. Victor is especially attractive because it offers quick access to both the New York State Thruway and Interstate 490.

“That’s one of the most powerful locations in upstate New York,” said Ontario County economic developer Michael J. Manikowski.

In addition to Victor’s Exit 45, Ontario County has three more Thruway exits, something unusual for a county its size.

Here’s what’s wrong with this picture. If the region’s population center, Monroe County, was booming, spillover would be easier to understand and accept. What’s happening in Ontario County, however, is just classic sprawl without growth.

It comes at a cost. Sprawl eats up open land. Sprawl forces state taxpayers to pay for infrastructure. Sprawl puts more cars on the road for more miles. Sprawl leaves depressed home values and vacant homes elsewhere in the community. Sprawl means abandoned downtowns. Sprawl means a wealth shift out of one community into another. Sprawl means more residential and school segregation by income.

Onondaga County is now tackling the costly issue of sprawl without growth. Even if Monroe County wanted to have a serious discussion about sprawl, it looks like it would need Ontario County to partner. That doesn’t seem likely. The D&C reports:

“This has been a long-term success of over 30 years of trying to get this right,” said Ontario County Administrator John Garvey.

While the county’s attractive landscape, especially around Canandaigua Lake, makes it attractive to potential residents and businesses, it’s not enough to produce the current prosperity, Garvey said.

The “current prosperity” is due to sprawl. As Ontario County touts its success, it’s important to remember the cost to its neighbor.

Links of the Day:

– To slow down traffic, Tompkins County painted road shoulders green. It looks like a permanent St. Patrick’s Day parade route.

– Ah, New York State bureaucracy. The Albany Times Union has the epic tale of a woman trying to get her massage therapist license.

– A Central New York couple really, really loves pumpkins.

– The “flack to hack” ratio is going up and the power of PR people over journalists is out of control.

– A critical piece on a former WPS owner also knocks Abby Wambach. Observers said she didn’t do enough to protect younger, underpaid players from the bully owner.

Source: future.ongov.net


The Republican county executive of Onondaga County has come out with a remarkable website and plan dedicated to smart growth. Joanie Mahoney wants new developments to locate in places with existing infrastructure. The Post-Standard reports:

Onondaga County lost 5,785 acres of farmland between 2002 and 2007, and 1,300 acres of forests were lost to development between 1992 and 2006.

All the while, the county’s population growth has remained flat, so the same number of people have to pay to maintain a growing amount of public infrastructure such as roads, sewers and water lines.

County Executive Joanie Mahoney is proposing a new development plan that she says will reward suburban communities that restrict sprawl and give tax credits to developers who build in urban centers rather than paving over farmland.

Sprawl – particularly sprawl without population growth – has consequences. More cars traveling more miles. Loss of land. Greater infrastructure costs. Bigger strain on public transit. Cities drained of people and resources. Empty downtowns. Segregation.

Onondaga’s plan points to the economic benefits of smart growth:

Source: future.ongov.net


When former Mayor William Johnson started talking about sprawl around 2000, the backlash was intense. It helped cost him the 2003 county executive’s election. Have times changed?

Monroe County’s towns do not ignore the issue of smart growth and land preservation and many have comprehensive plans. The county’s planning department web page also details some efforts on the subject. But there’s no community plan (or will?) to address the issue of smart growth and talk about the consequences of sprawl.