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2.27.04 City Issues

The local paper still hasn't published my comment on same-sex marriage. The "Sounding Board" feature keeps being bumped by other op-ed priorities.

But the next request has come through. Next week the Rochester mayor is scheduled to give his annual State of the City address. The "Sounding Board" question to us was "What issues are you hoping to hear him address? What problems, what solutions? Why are the issues you've selected important to the city?"

There are plenty of social and public safety issues I could have written about. Rochester is the murder capital of New York State this year. But behind crime is poverty and behind poverty is the lack of job. Behind the lack of jobs is "sprawl" -- people and businesses leaving the city to inner suburbs, then outer suburbs with no population growth.

One of the really hot projects right now is the inauguration of a "fast ferry" between Rochester and Toronto, Canada. The wonderful ship will start its 3-times-daily trips in May. It's a great opportunity. The squirrelly thing is that the Rochester harbor is miles down the skinny Genesee River corridor in a neighborhood called Charlotte (sha-LOT). While there are lots of interesting little places in Rochester, what I'm wondering is how visitors will find them. From my perspective the hotels, recreation, restaurants, bars, museums, and shops are all in separate neighborhoods with miles of dreary space in between. And our population really isn't large enough to support a lot of ambitious development. As soon as one "entertainment district" starts thriving, another one dies.

So this is the topic I'd like to hear about from the neighbor. My 200 words:

Connect the Dots

Rochester is a city of amazing assets, with a progressive and energetic mayor. With so much going on in so many venues, I’m wondering: How he will connect the dots? The success of the fast ferry is critical to the economic development and morale of Rochester. How will Rochester build on this opportunity?

It’s logical that the ferry development in Charlotte connect with High Falls [cool new center city entertainment district along the river]. But yesterday I took that long drive along Lake Avenue [treeless street between Charlotte and downtown, much of it occupied by the shrinking Kodak]. A less welcoming boulevard I can’t imagine. Then, between High Falls and the interesting street life, restaurants, and museums on the east side, there is only more confusion and dreariness.

I’m not talking about shuttle buses, but about focus. How can attractions and amenities be concentrated along a single corridor?  So, I’d like to hear Mr. Johnson talk less about the “dots” of development and more about the systems that will turn those dots into “Destination Rochester” – contiguous space with everything a visitor would need to hang out for a couple days.

Otherwise, the County will just figure out a way to plant an ugly, destructive strip of superhighway between the ferry landing and Jefferson Rd. [i.e., suburban mall heaven south of Rochester]

Appeared in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, 3.1.04.

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