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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.




15 Responses to Rochester Called Out on Sprawl

  1. April 2, 2014 at 8:53 pm Tony Mittiga responds:

    I’m not impressed about niche rankings like this. There are too many historical, geographical, and very local reasons for the evolution of urban areas. This study is about as useful as the recent one that placed Rochester among the “smartest” cities.

    • April 3, 2014 at 8:08 am Rachel Barnhart responds:

      It’s not a “niche ranking.” It’s an actual, detailed study with an extensive methodology.

  2. April 2, 2014 at 9:24 pm Orielly responds:

    People have greater economic opportunity in compact and connected metro areas. Maybe true. Bigger cities have more jobs. But that can’t be solely connected to a compact metro.

    • People spend less of their household income on the combined cost of housing and transportation in these areas. BUNK… not compared to Rochester … cost of housing here is far lower than major metros and our roads are in better shape causing less accidents and wear and tear on cars. Our high gas cost is directly attributed to high gas taxes passed and supported by DEMS.

    • People have a greater number of transportation options available to them.
    So what? A car in ROCH is a far more easy and convenient than driving a car in NYC. If people could park easily at their home and drive 20 minutes to get anywhere in NYC they would take a car that over a subway or taxi any day.

    • 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.) BUNK. What living condition is safer Harlem or Pittsford village? What air is cleaner, what life style has less day to day hassle? Where would most rather live if they had the choice?

    Again I like sprawl. Living in the safe burbs and being 20 minutes from anywhere with no traffic jams, good schools, attached garages and nice big back yards is far more appealing than living in the noise or hassle and expense of Manhattan.

    • April 3, 2014 at 8:10 am Rachel Barnhart responds:

      O’Reilly. You’re correct that people in poor neighborhoods have a lower life expectancy. That’s because they’re poor and have less access and knowledge about health care. Young black men are more likely to be victims of homicide.

      And the reason they’re isolated in poor neighborhoods and perhaps lack opportunities because they can’t get to jobs in far-flung suburbs? SPRAWL. So I’m glad you agree with the study’s premise.

      • April 3, 2014 at 8:32 pm Orielly responds:

        Ms Barnhart – You’ve made a few career bettering moves in your life why? Did you learn to make those decisions in Cornell or at Marshall HS?

        No, you had a desire to better yourself. Based on instinctive attributes, like initiative, drive, determination, logic self improvement, care for your self and your family and an inquisitive nature to find a better way or follow a better path. This along with some risk taking or trying something new puts you where you are today. Much or most of that has nothing to do with your intellect education or upbringing. Much of it resides within or we learn it.

        The poor don’t have less knowledge of Health care, that’s A result. And they are not isolated in poor neighborhoods or lack opportunities because they can’t get to jobs in far-flung suburbs. WHERE there is a will there is a way. Where there is initiative there is a better way.

        THEY lack initiative, drive, they don’t want to improve themselves, they want it given to them. They don’t want to do the hard work, thats too tough. Work in school, do homework, try your best every day? Not most of them.

        They can’t get jobs in far flung burbs? Says who? Think a minority 16yr old living in the city with the attributes that you have won’t be successful if they try…. intelligence or education is not a factor.

        Get a bike.. they are given for free all over Rochester. Go to the Salvation army store and ask for a free suit and tie. Tell them you will pay them back and they’ll give it to you. Ride your bike to Wegmans and fill out an application. Follow up, apply at other Wegmans stores visit the home office looking for a job. Once you get a job, dress well, be polite, do the very best you can and improve yourself. Never turn down work hours, work any day or time. If you work hard you work for Wegmans for your lifetime and you’ll make a livable wage if not more. Many area business provide the same opportunity to those with drive and a desire to work.

        This isn’t something your always born with. Your parents don’t always teach it. Logic says you observe and learn it. Some sell drugs and think that’s the way out. There are many paths out of the Hood, if some one uses logic, initiative and drive you can do it without breaking the law. It can be done, but few try it this way.

        They live were they live and subject themselves to those living conditions as a result of their own inaction. Like their schools who they vote for the same party to lead year after year, decade after decade of failed schools. THEY now have the schools they voted for and the life and living conditions they choose as a result of their own lack of initiative.

        Its called self responsibility. They more than anything else are responsible for their lot in life.

    • Spot on analysis!

  3. April 2, 2014 at 10:07 pm Matthew McDermott responds:

    Okay, so somewhere between the extremes of a traffic jam in Midtown Manhattan and Oreilly’s love of sprawling suburbs there has to be a happy medium.

    I live in a city neighborhood where we can walk to a park or playground with the kids, go to a movie theater, grab a cocktail or a bite to eat without jumping in the car. Every city neighborhood isn’t like that, but those amenities are why we chose this one.

    I don’t want to mow an acre of grass on the weekend. The idea of “the good life” as moving to the suburbs is much more a product of my parent’s generation than mine. Friends my age that have made that move have done it for schools and would move back to a city neighborhood if they felt they had credible options for their kids.

    What I do know is that it’s a lot less costly to find ways to redevelop what we have than to vacate it and build yet another subdivision and an Appleby’s in a cornfield somewhere. Keep your suburbs if that’s your thing, just don’t make me move there.

    • April 3, 2014 at 8:11 am Rachel Barnhart responds:

      One thing the study didn’t address is that we’re all paying for sprawl with no population growth. Who pays for developers’ tax breaks? Who pays for new roads, sewers and infrastructure? We do.

      • April 4, 2014 at 7:39 am Animule responds:

        And “we” also pay big $$$$$ to subsidize cities, and the damage caused by family dysfunction emanating from an explosion of single parent families that dominates some cities, like the city of Rochester. Just a day or two ago, we had a proposal to spend $15 million in the city school district on “parent engagement” – something that is unheard of in any school district outside of the city of Rochester. We also have the spending of tax money to “rehab” city housing like the property at 54 Lorimer Street profiled in the D&C that, when all is said and done, will have a market value a fraction of that. It’s rare that any construction takes place in the city of Rochester that is not subsidized to the gills by taxpayers. That is not the case in parts of the county where people actually want to live, and are willing to spend their own money to make that happen.

        I am perfectly fine with taking away all and any tax breaks for developers and letting the market decide what the appropriate cost for development should be as well as the cost of roads and gasoline. But I am also deeply wary of agenda-based groups like “Smart Growth America” telling me where I should live to satisfy their agenda. Let’s face it, if these guys were calling the shots a few generations ago, America would have stopped at the Ohio border. This is a country built by a restless people, a people that traveled across the country in wagon trains (at great risk – just ask the Donner Party) to settle the West so they could decide themselves where they want to live. This fundamental freedom and other freedoms we used to enjoy are being chipped away on a daily basis by unelected, over-educated snobs that think they have the solution to all of life’s problems if you simply do as they tell you.

        I am a fair bit older than you are, Rachel. And I remember back in the 1970s when the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc would use the Olympics as its advertisement to the world to demonstrate the superiority of their way of life. Quite often, you would see a profile of a Soviet athlete living in some government subsidized high rise, rabbit hutch apartment that represented high living behind the Iron Curtain. Americans used to laugh at that, saying that would never be us because we had the freedom to go where we wanted and live where we wanted. Fast-forward to today, and we have an intelligentsia that is suggesting that we should all live like those Iron Curtain athletes from the 1970s, because it is good for the environment and “fights sprawl.” No thanks. I am not willing to sacrifice my freedom for somebody else’s political agenda.

      • Although I agree that sprawl is a problem, I don’t think you can credit sprawl for the negligible population growth in the area. Three of the cities that rank towards bottom of the sprawl index (Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville) have seen a lot of growth while some of the cities that scored well on the sprawl index like Detroit and Chicago saw very limited growth.


        • April 6, 2014 at 9:22 am Rachel Barnhart responds:

          We have sprawl with no growth, which leads to higher taxes as we don’t have more people to pay for all this stuff.

  4. Of the compact areas you cherry-picked, only NYC, SF and Miami (and that one would trigger debate) might be considered desirable by a lot people — remember, we’re talking about **living** there, not popping in 3-4 weekends a year to shop and attend a show or two. I could make a “pro” case for at least four of the sprawl communities and maybe five.

    As a single professional, I’m more upset about paying for the terrible public school system quality and subsidizing the high percentage of tax-exempt parcels pulling down big (i.e., compact) cities than I am about sprawl.

  5. Addendum: Atlantic City is the No. 3 most compact community on the list. Do you see anyone clamoring to live there based upon it being so compact?

    Yeah, I didn’t think so.

    I looked at the 25 most and least compact areas on the list. My off-the-top-of-my-head reaction was that I’d want no part of 21 of the most compact locations, but I only immediately ruled our four of the top 25 sprawl spots.

    A report like the one cited is great at stirring up discussion/debate. But when the number of four-way intersections is given more weight than the crime rate (and I do realize this whole report is about sprawl and not “quality of life” or “best places to live”), it’s a good indication that it need not be taken seriously in the contest of discussing Rochester’s merits and flaws.

  6. I’m not sure what we’re really meant to do with a study like this. We’re already “sprawled,” right, so it’s not something we can just change, even if we wanted to, and I suspect most folks that live in the suburbs (I’m one) wouldn’t want to move to a more condensed neighborhood.

    We’re spread out because we have the room to do it. NYC does not. Most metropolitan areas in California do not. Would downtown Rochester be a more attractive place if there were more taxpayers living within the city limits? Quite possibly. But that doesn’t obligate anyone to feel guilty about living in the suburbs.

    • April 5, 2014 at 12:05 pm Rachel Barnhart responds:

      I think you look at future planning decisions, including where to build new roads and housing. It also means looking at what kind of community we want to be.

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