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A couple nights a week, my friends and I get into an animated discussion of politics, sports or whatever happens to come up. We know what pushes each other’s buttons. There are never any hard feelings, except for the night one of us stormed out after an argument over which song made the Beastie Boys famous (She’s On It on the Krush Groove soundtrack vs. the License to Ill album).

Last night’s debate started with my blog post about New Year’s Eve. I lamented the city’s tradition of having downtown child-centered activities that commence with fireworks at 10 p.m. Some party, right? I said people would come downtown for a full night of festivities if the city gave them a reason.

One of the guys launched into a rant so compelling (and long), I took out my iPad and started taking notes. He does not want me to use his name.

This was directed at me:

You think there’s a halo over all of Rochester. I miss the monorail and Cathay Pagoda, but the city has serious issues.

The suburbs are so great we don’t need to leave. We have everything, they’re the best suburbs in the country.

If you’re my dad, he has no reason to leave Webster. He has fine dining, shopping and Wegmans. You think people are always denigrating the city, but our suburbs are second to none.

You think life would stop in Brighton and Pittsford if downtown died? The city is not the hub for those people. I’m one of them.

I’m not smart enough to have a prescription to fix downtown. It’s sad and it’s a shame, but (the death of downtown) wouldn’t have the impact you think.

We need to focus on the entire area. We have great suburbs and crime is going down. You think I’m so anti-city and I’m not. I just don’t think downtown and the city are as important.

I (shockingly) disagree. Downtown is the center of our civic and cultural life. Fifty thousand people work downtown every day. There are many people who value a vibrant urban environment and lifestyle, even in a medium-sized city. Downtown is an important part of our identity.

The entire city is the core of our community. The concentration of poverty and blight in the city affects all of us in terms of crime, social services, education, economic development, quality of life and the perception of our metro area.

While I agree with my friend that we should think regionally, we should not think about only the good and dismiss the bad. None of us – not even city-centered me – should be isolated.

Update: My anonymous friend wants me to clarify that he was describing a mentality and belief that he does not necessarily share. He was relating his perception of the challenges facing the city. He may be a suburbanite, but he spends a lot of time in the city.

19 Responses to “You think there’s a halo over all of Rochester.”

  1. What I think is amazing are pictures of what the City of Rochester used to look like many…many years ago. People walking around like going into the entertainment area of Toronto. I think many dollars are wasted by NYS and Monroe County that should be put to better use to make our City Vibrant! I myself do not care to go to the City unless I have to because of news of all the killings and robbery’s. NYS is just concerned of sucking the money off of the Indians for selling Cigarettes when they should be worrying more about Taxing Alcohol which would take care of some of the drunken driving and DWI’s.
    Maybe some of our governors and Senators should look over some of the old pics and see the respect people had for Rochester back in the days when the Subway was operating.

  2. Increasingly, I agree with your friend. Downtown is no longer the cultural hub. Sad but true. Can it flip back? Other cities have pulled that off on a temporary basis, but long term, we are a suburban society.

    Also, whoever said “She’s On It” was so right.

  3. It’s an interesting conundrum that has applicability in Buffalo, as well. Simply put, there are loads of people throughout WNY who have no use for the city proper unless they have court, Sabres tickets, or the theater. All other services are not only available, but more convenient, closer to home; home predominately being some suburb.

    The national trend of hip young people moving into downtowns has touched Buffalo only tangentially; most newer housing is comprised of rentals, with built-in transience. Condos in the downtown core are almost exclusively high-end, going for more than 300k.

    I think downtown Buffalo has a lot of problems that are largely self-inflicted through poor planning, little foresight, and weak zoning. A land value tax would go a long way towards rendering land speculation of vacant lots less economically viable, and perhaps grow downtown again. When I visit Rochester, it seems to me as if its downtown is more robust and better maintained than Buffalo’s. But that could be a grass-is-greener thing.

    In order to render old, decaying downtowns vital and vibrant again, people need an incentive to go there. I’m an advocate for a sales-tax-free zone for Buffalo’s downtown core. By giving people $.0875 cents off every dollar they spend, you could easily and quickly spur interest in downtown retail and revitalize an area that people have no reason to visit. With the pending development of Buffalo’s Canal Side (waterfront project through the ESD), this sales-tax-free zone becomes even more acute of an issue. We’re spending millions to create a tourist/shopping/cultural destination, we should ensure that it’s used and that it helps revitalize its surroundings.

    Through a sales-tax-free downtown, people from throughout the region, and from Canada, will have a huge incentive to demand goods and services within that zone, and private enterprise will swoop in to supply it.

  4. Having grown up in the suburbs, I bought my first house in the city, loved it..then I moved back to the suburbs because of the school system. Oddly enough, the home I bought in the SUBURBS, was a “murder house” AND we have been robbed since living here. As soon as my boys are out of school, we will be back in the city.I would love it if Rochester built condos that were not so high end. Make it affordable to the middle class(whatever that is nowadays) and I think more people would come downtown. By the way the current issue of the Rochester Magazine shows a scene of Rochester in the 1880s with people ice skating on the canal. There is also a current picture of Ottawas Rideau canal frozen over and filled with people and stands for their Winterlude Festival. There are things we can do..I just don’t know why we don’t do it!

  5. December 30, 2011 at 4:54 pm Downtown Worker Guy responds:

    Downtown can come back if the City can figure out how to get out of its own way. Failing to respond to businesses fleeing from downtown over the last 20+ years, combined with one bad decision after the other on how to use City resources have led us to where we are. The unfortunate fact is that folks who live in the burbs don’t “have” to care about what’s happening in the City because it’s “not in their backyard”. Just look at the HBO series “Wired” or “Waiting for Superman”. The City and many of its residents are fighting themselves. I love Rochester and this reality makes me sad.

  6. It’s funny — I just came back to Canandaigua this evening from downtown Rochester. I’ve lived in Canandaigua for 22 years, but I grew up in Rochester in the Highland Park neighborhood. We bought our first house in that neighborhood and I loved it, I loved being in the city. And I still love Rochester. I’ve traveled all over the country and to Europe, Japan, Jamaica. I’ve also lived in Georgia and Florida. So I have a larger view of this city and can tell you, it may have its ups & down’s but it’s a gem. Sadly underappreciated.

    One of my 4 sons lives in Victor and that’s exactly where he wants to be. He has no desire to ever come into Rochester for anything. Like some comments above, he feels he has everything he wants and needs in the suburbs. My two younger sons will come into downtown for a concert or Amerks & Red Wings games, The Strong or to one of the East End bars to meet friends. When my other son comes home from Kalispell, MT, he loves coming in to hear great bands.

    My parents lived in our family house for 47 years, so we all came in on a regular basis. My work brings me into the city frequently, and I’m excited to see the improvements — just today I was amazed at the new building along the river on the east side! We have a wonderful riverfront now for urban living. I love the Douglas/Anthony bridge! I enjoy and feel safe downtown. People have a completely distorted view of what the city is like now. It’s a shame that they believe it has nothing to offer. As you said, Rachel, it’s the center of one of the best cultural environments outside of NYC.

    I’ve also been floored by the change in the South Wedge — very hip, cool and good looking shops and pubs. The city may be in a state of transition, but I think it’s headed in a very appealing and positive direction. It would be a shame to count it “done and decayed.”

  7. December 30, 2011 at 6:46 pm Downtown Worker Guy responds:

    You’re right, Marci. I live in Corn Hill Landing and absolutely love it. I am a 5 minute drive or a 15 minute walk from work. There are shops, restaurants, and entertainment all around. I just wish Center City could replicate what has worked well here.

  8. December 30, 2011 at 8:14 pm Lin who moved away in 91 responds:

    What a great letter from Marci Diehl, my Sibley memories and working downtown for 20 years, then moving to South Mendon could have a similar storyline, thanks! Just wish New York State Taxes were not so horribly high, we’d return in a minute.

  9. December 31, 2011 at 1:40 pm Mark Tichenor responds:

    If Downtown is not the cultural hub, then we have no hub, and anyone who’s honest about their suburb would admit there’s precious little culture. We don’t all come together in celebration of shared experience at Target or Applebee’s.

    • Mark, it’s hard to feel “hub-like” in ROC to begin with due to its long linear E-W Main St. being the focus of what most folks think of as downtown. certainly, putting a choker around it in the form of the Inner Loop so folks could go around it may helped it look more like a hub on a map, but actually did more to deter it from being a hub by reducing congestion on it’s main streets and arterials.

      On of our problems has been that we were a relatively young city with a lot of relatively cheap land around the city which affored many home buyers to trade time for space, especially with the cheap residential land prices in Greece and Henrietta.

      Also, the celebrated decision to not build the Genesee X-way into the 490 @ Goodman helped accelerate the shift of high-priced commercial and light industrial land to the Jefferson/Henrietta Rds/Marketplace Mall district, further aggrevating the growth of a downtown hub.

      Along with the earlier location of the 90 so far south of ROC has cast a stone for downtown’s demise for decades to come. This is partly the reason why core downtown parcels like at Midtown are now proposed for 3 story commercial buildings.

  10. As an NYC native transplanted to Rochester I couldn’t disagree more with the “mentality” outlined above. Although downtown has it’s issues I get into the city for Amerks games, Red Wings games, a cup of joe @ Java’s, the Jazz Fest, Geva, and dining. Yes, the suburbs are nice but cities have always had a special feeling to me — even ones like Rochester that have clearly seen better days. The prescription to “fix” downtown? Evict the “unattractive corner”, Increase police presence and make police excessively visible so people feel safe walking the streets, entice developers to downtown by offering tax vacations for 10 years for renovating existing structures, and increase transportation options to/from the burbs. Street cars anyone? If you add residential options people will relocate to the city and business will follow. Look at neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Long Island City in NYC. These were old industrial zones that attracted artists, which spiked interest in general residential, resulting some of the most successful and varied neighborhoods in the city! The same prescription can work in Rochester.

    As for the update…really? Not his point of view? The quotes seemed quite personal.

  11. Some believe mid-sized cities are morphing into a doughnut model instead of a hub.

    The doughnut model has a low population density center reserved for institutional, cultural and recreational facilities that minimize the distance from outlying residential areas to a center point for commercial support.

    From the center outward to a ring there is light residential density with a clustering of mid-rise-like redidential densities at the ring which usually involves some kind of outer beltway (think 16 corners in Brighton at 441/East/Highland/etc.) Often, there is higher density residential with supporting full-service commercial service centers at the cofluence of the beltway with established roads and boulevards (ala Houston, Indy.)

    The area beyond the doughnut rapidly tapers back off to a low residential density with modest commercial and cultural support structure.

    The doughnut model can be a bout as time efficient as a core hub model if the radii distances into the center as well as the eas of transport around the doughnut ring are well designed.

    It is often said that metropolitan residential consumers trade time for space when choosing a place to live. The doughnut model reflects the equation by compromising the time/space formula in the middle somewhere.

  12. January 2, 2012 at 1:55 pm Cassandra responds:

    My husband and I used to live in an apartment downtown. We love city centers, and were always trying to hype up downtown to our friends. Then, we decided to settle down… when we couldn’t find a condo in a decent price range we moved to Irondequoit. Now we see what we have been missing compared to when we lived downtown – grocery store, gym, a variety of food options, etc all within a few minutes drive (and most of the time, I can find everything I need within the same plaza).

    There’s not much of a draw to bring me downtown, unless I have jury duty, and that’s compulsory. Coffee shop? It’s much easier to park at one of the local shops around my house. Bar? No way in heck you’d catch me at one of those East Ave bars. I will come down for cultural or sporting events, because I expect those to be a big production (finding parking, fighting with traffic afterwards, etc) – and I also expect there to be a sort of safety in numbers.

    Looking back, I’m so glad we didn’t try to stretch our budget and go for one of the downtown condos. All we would have gotten would be construction (with an uncertain outcome at that!) and groups of people loitering for one reason or another in our proverbial front yard.

    • Nice to see someone touch the 3rd rail re downtown living. Over on Gibbs by the YMCA and the townhouses, there’s open pandering on the sidewalks, often with direct approaches to residents on their steps or by doorbell. Folks usually quietly move, too embarassed to say the obvious why.

  13. January 3, 2012 at 4:28 pm Patricia Barnes responds:

    When I was young (a long time ago) My parents would take my sister and I downtown and it was such a great experience. Downtown was thriving. We also went to Front Street at Andrews Market where my mother would get the meat for the week. We frequently went to the movie theatres. They should never have been torn down. When will our city leaders learn to save iconic buildings? I can appreciate why MCC wants to move it’s downtown campus to the Kodak buildings on State Street. I hope that happens.

  14. You need a subway so people can get into and out of town easily.

  15. June 7, 2013 at 10:18 am Orielly responds:

    If you’re an empty nester with a pet (like 80% of them) would you rather live in the city center to walk your dog at night or the village of Pittsford, Fairport, Spencerport, etc? Want urban living those villages offer it way better, with a far safer environment. Coffee shops, stores, they all have it. Easier parking, closer to Wegmans the beauty of the canal where boats can actually go by you vs park in the river at corn hill.

    Under 35 DINKs sure live in the city. Party on weekends at the East End. Start having kids you’re going to put them in a burb or private school if you have half a brain vs City Schools. So you’re moving.

    In a nutshell thats why our city will never be the “cool” metro we would like, as we see in Toronto. Crime and the threat vs living 15 minutes away in the village of Pittsford, for a +50 crowd… its a no brainer.

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