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Toronto, Google Earth

Toronto, Google Earth


Rochester, Google Earth

Rochester, Google Earth


I was dumbfounded while listening o WXXI’s 1370 Connection on Thursday. Guest Joseph Minicozzi of North Carolina’s Urban3 design consultants noted Rochester and Toronto’s downtowns are roughly the same size. Indeed, plotted on Google earth, they are each about 4 square miles around.

Minicozzi was pointing out Toronto had dense development, while Rochester has…a lot of parking lots. Cities can get much more bang for the buck per acre when there are buildings instead of wasted land.

Minicozzi has written about how downtown development is good for cities because it generates more tax revenue:

We’ll use the city of Asheville as an example. Asheville realizes an astounding +800 percent greater return on downtown mixed-use development projects on a per acre basis compared to when ground is broken near the city limits for a large single-use development like a Super Walmart. A typical acre of mixed-use downtown Asheville yields $360,000 more in tax revenue to city government than an acre of strip malls or big box stores.


It’s easy to see how you might now be scratching your head. How can you compare a mall with a building? Is that really comparing apples to apples? The point is that we have been perpetuating an error when it comes to how we think about real estate. Our mistake has been looking at the overall value of a development project rather than its per unit productivity. Especially relevant in these times of limited public means, every city should be thinking long and hard about encouraging, and not accidentally discouraging, the property tax bonus that comes with mixed-use urbanism. Put simply, density gets far more bang for its buck.

Perhaps comparing Rochester and with the mega-city of Toronto is not entirely fair. But they do have one thing in common: the geographic size of their downtowns. The similarities end there, much to Toronto’s benefit.

Links of the Day:

Attendance was down at Red Wings games last season.

The state could ban door-to-door energy salesmen.

– Some Seattle teachers are refusing to give district exams to students.

– The $7 billion deal between the Dodgers and Time Warner Cable will mean higher rates for subscribes. 

– When families visit prisons, they take pictures in front of sad photo backdrops.

Unlocking smartphones is about to become illegal.

12 Responses to Rochester & Toronto Downtowns Same Size. Really.

  1. Come on Rachel… the City of Toronto is 240 square miles and the city of Rochester is 37.1 square miles, they aren’t comprable at all. And for someone who hates the suburbanization of metro areas so dearly, Toronto is probably the worst example of that outside of the American South… I’m sure you’ve driven to Toronto before and noticed that from Hamilton on is just a huge suburb. Also Toronto is the major city not only in it’s province, but in the entire country… it’d be like suggesting that Corning should improve its downtown area population density to match Rochester’s

  2. Toronto, like most huge cities, has high rise residential living everywhere. From low income to ultra high end. People here never bought into that. The Plaza apartments on St. Paul were built to be high end apartments. They aren’t. People can debate why, but in the end they just aren’t. High rise living here is synonymous with low income or elderly living. Dr. Smith of WXXI is of Canadian heritage and does whatever he can to steer the conversation towards Canada. Health care, auto industry, housing, crime, he can bring Toronto into it somehow. Toronto and Rochester have as much in common as Toronto and Tampa do when you remove weather from the equation. And, fun fact, Toronto gets 1/2 or less of the total snow Rochester reports (we all know we get way more snow in various burbs than is reported by the airport where the official total comes from). My friends from Toronto have never set foot here. They go to Buffalo to shop, have taken the Thruway past the ‘region’, but haven’t seen a reason to get off 90 and come here. Kinda like I’ve done with Utica. It doesn’t make Utica bad but I would never compare Utica and Rochester in any formal way as the numbers are so different just using population as a metric. There is wealth in Toronto that makes the East Ave crowd look like paupers. It really is Canada’s NY City.

    • January 27, 2013 at 12:17 am Duke of Utica responds:

      “Kinda like I’ve done with Utica. It doesn’t make Utica bad but I would never compare Utica and Rochester in any formal way as the numbers are so different just using population as a metric.”

      You are correct. Utica could never aspire to the prodigious murder rate Rochester has held through history, due much in part to Rochester’s abysmal income and employment disparity/discrimination through the 20th century. Dividends will paid on that for decades to come.

      Many Rochester folk have forever tried to use Utica as some sort of disturbing scapegoat for their own personal anxiety, and to compensate somehow for their own deep-seated shortcomings. As history has shown, the big 3 in Rochester (when they were relevant) historically imported their top work talent from outside of Rochester. This left those indigenous to the Rochester area confused in a way. To make sense of it, they would make fair game of ridiculing Utica, misguided in search of some form of solace in reconciling for their own personal inferiority. Just one plausible explanation.

      In summary: what could be perceived here is: one subconsciously feels inferior to Toronto (rightly so), so one shifts that negative energy to Utica to feel better about themselves. Reasonable enough.

      • Your reply displays the arrogant ‘foreword thinking’ that is everywhere in our media, our politicians, repliers here and on Facebook, the Huffington (huffing fumes?) Post, etc. Everyone knows what other people are thinking. Should we start up the ‘future crimes unit’ yet?
        I used Utica as an example of a city I have gone near on the Thruway but have not ventured into. I know Utica has a nice brewery and once contemplated going but there was this fire…… I haven’t followed the concert series since the brewery re-opened.
        You have invented a reason, IN MY HEAD, for why Utica is being ‘mocked’ by me but that is because you have failed to recognize that I was actually standing up for Utica to be measured on it’s own and not against places like Rochester, just as Rochester should be measured against itself and not Toronto, NY CIty, Miami or anywhere else.
        You were waiting for an opportunity to bash Rochester for it’s imaginary crimes of discrimination and took it. Kodak, et al are not gov’t entities and their policies of hiring and firing are not, should not and can not be blamed on gov’t. but blaming them…..that is the easy way to look at it. Are you a hack looking for an excuse to flaunt your twisted views of entitlement? It looks that way from here, but I would not claim to know for sure as I don’t have the power to read your mind as you claim to be able to do with mine.
        I don’t care about Utica. That doesn’t mean I dislike it. (once again, abstention is not equal to a yay or nay view on something no matter how much politicians and news readers tell us it is). I could have said Rome, Yonkers, Troy or any other city I’ve passed on the Thruway but I used Utica as an example and in your mind that fulfilled the requirement for you to finally ‘get back at Rochester’. Re-read your post and try and tell me that the entire basis for it is NOT that you are fully and completely aware of the thoughts in my head and the logic I used when my post was written. You, like so many ‘enlightened’ people love to tell others what they are thinking and possibly what they should do with their lives to make other’s lives better; but looking at yourself and your own words…… that is off the table. I am sure that like most anywhere in America there are nice areas and not so nice areas in Utica, but for you to claim that my use of the city as an example is part of some huge scheme to continue to defile Utica and it’s fine people is just bizarre but has become the norm. Step back, look in the mirror and ask yourself what you know about me. I’ll help, you know almost nothing. In fact, your attitude is what I would consider discriminatory and prejudiced. But that can’t be true! You’re awesome and only other people are prejudiced and biased because you’re RIGHT and you know it!
        And for the record, right now my mind is thinking ‘peanut butter and jelly sandwich’. I’m sure you knew that.

  3. The comparison to Toronto is worthwhile in the fact that they also had a love affair with demolition and suburban development that Rochester had (arguably still has) and have since started using better urban design. The point about Asheville is worth talking about, especially in these times of rough economic times. Not only does a densely urban area generate more taxes than a suburban development of the same size, its also more efficent to provide services to.

    • It’s not really reasonable to compare Rochester to a city with an average family income that is 41% higher (Rochester = $31.2k, Asheville = $44k). And obviously the city sees greater return on a project that happens in the city vs. outside of the city…. that’s common sense and a stupid comparison.

      Further, even those in Asheville understand the joys of suburban life, only 17% of their metro area lives in the city (68k / 400k) compared to 21% of those in the Rochester CSA (~210k in the city and ~1mil in the metro area)… maybe they shouldn’t be your gold standard for urbanization.

  4. Here is a way to visualize the size comparison clearly between Toronto and Rochester. http://mapfrappe.com/?show=8306 (Wishful thinking that Rochester could be as dense as TO within the next few decades)

  5. HAH! High Park is as big as our downtown!

  6. Ed you miss the point. I said nothing about Asheville being an example of urbanism, I was merely talking about the tax base argument for which Asheville is an example. It doesn’t matter what city or town we talk about, its the point urban development yeilds more tax per unit of land than suburban. This is important for cities like Rochester, we aren’t going to annexing land anytime soon. City hall needs to extract as much as it can from these 36 sq miles. If it encourages things like the Hickory on South Ave or North Plymouth townhouses it will get more tax revenue per unit of land than say a walmart or stripmall type development. Those suburban developments chew up a lot of land but yield a surpisingly small amount of tax revenue. The Atlantic Cities had a good article on it a few months ago. So just forget about Toronto or Asheville the city its happening in doesn’t matter, its what is happening there that matters.

  7. January 28, 2013 at 10:27 am Jay Partyka responds:

    I’ve always thought that the Inner Loop created a boundary that was too large for downtown.

    I think our actual Downtown is the area bordered by State St on East, Chestnut St on the West, Andrews St on the North and Court St on the South.

    The areas outside that square really belong to neighborhoods outside Downtown, but they got carved away by the Inner Loop.

  8. January 28, 2013 at 3:23 pm Kevin Yost responds:

    Then, I would assume the downtowns of Buffalo and Syracuse are the same size as well.

  9. I’ve had the pleasure of living and growing up in Rochester, and now I’ve been living in Toronto for the past four years.

    There’s actually a lot in common with the two cities than people realize.

    There are parts of Toronto that look and feel exactly like Rochester or one of it’s suburbs, and we face the same decisions of whether to keep the city car-friendly (which it is in many places besides the downtown core), or make it a walkable, liveable community.

    Very exciting to see in both cities, and there are similar barriers (politics) to creating those liveable cities in both Toronto and Rochester.

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