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Want to stop climate change? Move to the city and walk more.

Salon published an excerpt from Jeff Speck’s “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time.” He argues density is better for the environment than sprawl. It all comes down to location and cars.

You can have a LEED-certified house in the suburbs with solar panels, green toilet bowl cleaner and a hybrid car in the driveway, but if you have to drive everywhere, your carbon footprint is way worse than the guy who lives in a downtown loft and walks to the office. If a company builds a sustainable office in the suburbs and its employees have to drive long distances to work, it’s not an environmentally-friendly project.

The Rochester metro area ranks poorly on the density meter. Census data shows us we have an average of 2,000-2,999 living in each square mile. Buffalo has 4,000-4,900. The walkability of the region varies widely. Some neighborhoods are very pedestrian-friendly, with nearby amenities. Others require cars for almost everything.

I live in Corn Hill, one of the more dense and walkable neighborhoods. Even though I drive fewer than 10,000 miles a year, I want to be able to drive less. My opportunities for walking to amenities are limited to the YMCA, Corn Hill Landing and East End. I have to drive 4 miles to East Ave. Wegmans, 6.5 miles to 13WHAM-TV, and 15 miles to Eastview Mall.

I have always believed 13WHAM-TV could reduce its carbon footprint and save on gas if it was centrally-located. After driving to work, I usually get into a news car and head back downtown to cover the news of the day. Some days require multiple trips downtown. It all seems like a giant waste of time and gas.

When I posted the Salon article on Twitter, one person said we can’t abandon the already-built suburbs. No, but you can plan for future population growth by building on infill lots. You can encourage companies to locate near workers. You can discourage building on green space and places far away from the urban core.

Several people said they couldn’t imagine moving to the city because of the state of the schools. The city’s problems were caused by people leaving. So, please, come back.

Links of the Day: 

– Gas prices in Western New York are not expected to be impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

– The Democrat and Chronicle published a hugely embarrassing story on cops getting their own parking tickets voided.

– The Rochester City School District is closing schools in poor neighborhoods while strengthening ones in middle class strongholds.

– Shopping local really does help the local economy.

– The strange, true story of a Buffalo bank robber turned crime novelist.

21 Responses to Come Back to the City

  1. I agree with living within walking distance. However perceptions on crime, the school system and the simple culture of driving everywhere; will not allow a generation to do so. The old “American way” was about owning a house in the suburbs and Dodge or Ford V-8.
    It will take great effort to break perceptions on Downtown (and old ladies that they won’t be mugged).

  2. Zero population growth plus the natural desire in the US among the middle class to ‘move up and out’ plus gov’t policies that encourage new building in undeveloped areas equals what we have. Plus this is another example of how the ‘Rochester Region’ as a metric is poor. The city and burbs touching it are all fairly densely populated. When you factor in the mass of farmland/parkland/forever wild land that is the ‘region’ it skews the numbers down. Monroe County vs Erie county would be a better comparison.
    Irondequoit, Brighton, Gates and parts of Greece are very walkable but the shift of commercial space in those areas, specifically the elimination of smaller grocery stores and old man winter make it unfeasible. There were 6-7 or more grocery stores and a slew of Italian markets in Irondequoit when I was a kid, plus farm markets besides Amens and Wambachs, (Case’s on Norton and the one on Titus are more farm stands but still exist although they are ripe for development and the Wambach family is perpetually trying to sell off or develop their land).
    It is time to stop blaming people and start blaming poor planning by incompetent leadership.

  3. November 4, 2012 at 1:59 pm Animule responds:

    People will move back to cities when cities get their act together on issues like crime, school systems and more. Then again after decades of 100% rule by Democrats, I’m not sure that is even remotely possible.

    To take successful suburban kids and throw them into a city school system that only prepares about 5% of its graduates for college is child abuse.

  4. November 4, 2012 at 2:41 pm Eduardo Ricardo responds:

    The longer the City continues to have such heavy handed policies (parking), the further it will be avoided.

  5. November 4, 2012 at 2:48 pm Eduardo Ricardo responds:

    Besides an attorney/politician, who really cares THAT much about the climate, climate change?


  6. Not to mention the completely bogus snow reporting done here. I know we use the airport as the official measuring site for reasons someone else decided, but the reality of our snow totals in the northern burbs is probably 20+ more inches per year more than out 90-110 listed average. The wall of snow at 590/Browncroft, the next wall of it at 104, then again in Webster/Greece….. winter here really is a detriment to walking. Sidewalks in Irondequoit are the same as city ones and none are safe when we have snow cover because people expect the town/city to keep them clear.

  7. The city needs to re do zoning, sure I don’t drive as much as a suburbanite but I am car dependent. Those of us living in the south east have two grocery store options and they are 1000 ft apart, while the rest of the area is without grocery store. As the other poster said, the smaller stores are being killed and the cities crappy zoning laws are creating commerical islands. Were making Rochester a crappy suburban area

  8. “When I posted the Salon article on Twitter, one person said we can’t abandon the already-built suburbs.”

    Really? We already have abandoned the already-built city.

  9. YES. A thousand times, THIS. Dense, walkable, bikeable communities are good for people and good for the environment.

    If you haven’t already, check out the blogs Rochester Subway and A Town Square for what we used to be and what we could be again.

  10. @ Eduardo Ricardo

    You need to get out more. Plenty of us are concerned about climate change. Get your head out of the sand.

  11. This Survey of Downtown Rental Housing from 2011 reveals just how much downtown Rochester is growing right now.

  12. When you talk about the city, are you referring to downtown? I grew up in Charlotte. That is the city. Yet people who live in Brighton, Henrietta, Gates, to mention a few, are closer to downtown that I was. What if you live downtown, but your job is in Victor? Who works downtown but city employees and lawyers? Let’s be real….the city is a toilet that has been destroyed by a one party rule political system. This party exists only on its promises of government handouts. It has created a culture of people who don’t know what it means to work for what you want. Young singles may be excited by the downtown lifestyle. When they marry and start a family, they will move to an environment that provides safety, cleanliness, and to be with people who share your values. As far as a carbon print, I drove less than 5000 miles a year. I lived in Greece . Work was less than 2 miles. Wegmans and the mall was less than 1mile away. I will repeat…the city is a toilet. Just my thoughts.

  13. November 4, 2012 at 8:45 pm lellingw responds:

    Lived in the city but it only got worse but all my cultural enjoyments are still in the city so I travel there quite frequently.

  14. Who in their right mind that cares about their kids would send their first grader to city schools and see if they can make it, overcome and be successful in that system? Sure, some do make it, but most .. no, and why risk it?

    So talk and post all you want about carbon footprint and Global warming. If you have a family and kids you will find a way to get them in good schools and if that means…. and it does today (and the foreseeable future) that they need to go to burb schools or private schools you will forget about global warming.

    OBTW Mitt Romney is for Vouchers, (Obama against) and if vouchers were available more families could move to the city as the schools would not be an issue. That would reduce carbon footprint as well wouldn’t it?

    Somehow though I guess the greenies are against Mitt though. Funny how that works.

    And the Greenies have yet to be heard on MCC downtown that requires 1000s of unneeded trips between campuses DAILY that having all students on one campus in Brighton would not require. Funny how that one works also.

    Green is cool only when its tries and make people do things “we” want to force them to do in a “free society”. But in many other ways, when its against “our” social ideas, the greens fall silent.

    Red is gray and yellow white, But we decide which is right. And which is an illusion!

  15. November 5, 2012 at 1:26 am Eduardo Ricardo responds:

    The City is a toilet, lol. Don’t look, someone took a “City of Rochester”.

    And it stinks.

  16. November 5, 2012 at 1:32 am Eduardo Ricardo responds:

    I DO need to get out more. i’d like to. But my money is going to pay traffic tickets. Gotta obey the law.

    What do you think, I’m a cop or something?

  17. “one person said we can’t abandon the already-built suburbs”

    LOL. Where was this person when everyone was leaving the city? This argument is circular. We need to think long-term.

  18. Orielly, the suburbanization movement has been so heavily subsidized you have no standing to point the finger at anybody for trying to get people to do things in a “free society”. Why am I being forced to subsidize the infrastructure extensions for those that want to live in a housing tract. Its a “free society” only in the sense that you are getting things for “free.” Funny how those against big government are ok with the tremendous outlays for roads, sewer, water, etc to service these spread out developments. Guess conservatives are only conservative with money when its something they don’t agree with.

  19. Orielly: Would these school vouchers allow city children to attend suburban public schools? If so, everyone should be in agreement, as a metro school district would benefit us all here in Monroe County. And, if so, why do so many Republican suburbanites fight against it?

  20. November 5, 2012 at 3:24 pm Orielly responds:

    It would be up to the local school district if they accept vouchers or not and to whom they admit. But with 1000s of Kids walking around the city with 15K vouchers, Charters would be popping up all over, and The former NAZ BK, Mcq Mercy and AQ would not be looking for students, they’d have waiting lines.
    Metro schools doesn’t change the dynamic of Vouchers. That is that a student can be kicked out for bad behavior or not trying. And in that is the benefit of vouchers for all. Kids who want to learn don’t have to with stand the hassles to deal with like 3 “incidents” a day at East high school.

    As far as the infrastructure items of suburbanization, I think one needs an accounting review.

    A new Housing track is approved by a town board with the water, road and sewer costs covered. Water connection above that is paid for in new business to the MCWA.

    Compared to the costs of maintaining an aging water, road and sewer system in the city and then taxing that old system with new homes, that process, would be far more costly. And many new homes use septic systems. Additionally never having to go into the city for shopping or “living” city roads aren’t taxed by cars as much with burb living and therefore those roads with old and bad foundations don’t need to be repaired as much as if all those people moved into the city as you wish and used them every day.

    In the burbs we have safe streets, good schools, big back yards, no noise at night, no parking hassles with a car on the street, no issues with snow removal. With all that… guess what, we aren’t moving back. And We pay far more taxes to support the infrastructure. Many in Pitts, Mendon, Penfield, Perinton pay more in taxes a year than a city house costs to buy. So tell us again what is is you pay for us?

  21. Pingback: A reason to return to city living | Rochester Improvement Society

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