14 thoughts on “The Price, Part II

  1. The Birdseye feature at Bing Maps would probably work better for the 2010 view… but yeah, no… it most certainly was not worth it. At least we’ve got plenty of parking now 😉

  2. …and a rather forlorn and disconnected Wadsworth Square park…

    Too bad Monroe Avenue will never again terminate on Washington Square Park, home of the Soldiers and Sailors monument, one of the only properly programmed urban parks in the city (Jones Square and Anthony Square I think are the others, Brown Square has been halved and the grade messed with).


    One of my new initiatives/crusades ties in to the discussion in the previous thread about the Swillburg aversion. I’m speaking of the redundant 490 East ramp closer to the real South Avenue which was supposed to launch the proposed I-486.

    While we’re torching the inner loop (I hope there’s a reasonable fill plan that faciliates actual building construction where bedrock has been compromised, possibly DEEEEP basements?), let’s take down that absurdity and help Mr. Pat Dutton sell those Capron Lofts.

    I was at Sully’s Pub at 240 South on Friday and most of one’s field of vision was filled with concrete. It could be filled with the reasonably attractive new Troup-Howell Bridge. Very Pittsburgh-esque.

  3. Here, here on all counts.

    Poor Washington Square Park – it used to make so much urban sense. And now – a fragment of a lost city.

  4. I’ve always been intrigued by the possibilities of Wadsworth Square. When the Inner Loop is turned into a grade level boulevard, the square becomes less disconnected from the urban fabric. And while the current real estate market in Rochester does not support this, there is a vacant parcel to the west of the square. Some talented architect could design a building that addresses the square on the lower levels and addresses the elevated portion of Clinton Avenue (which, unfortunately, is essentially an expressway off-ramp) on the upper levels.

    I find most contemporary parks “over-programmed.” Manhattan Square suffers from this, as does the new little pocket park, Nathaniel Square, at South and Alexander. Could the designers cram any more tchotchkes and gee-gaws into that little space? It just seems so unsustainable. All that stuff needs to be maintained, painted, kept graffiti-free. Trees and grass, by contrast, are relatively maintenance free. I do rather like the statue of Nathaniel Rochester, though, slave-owning old rascal that he was.

  5. Wadsworth is a nice space, but as you note, it would be much improved with a western edge. And once the Loop is gone, maybe we can get someone to deal with all the parking to the north – what a desert.

    And if the Loop is at grade, maybe we can get somebody else to get Clinton down too, so that they have an on-grade intersection. We can always dream.

    Most of public space improvements today are overdone. (And most infrastructure, like bridges, is way underdone). As I have worked on a zillion miles of streetscape around the country, it’s been really hard to get folks to calm down and forego all the fancy crap. What works pretty well is to show them my great-urban-spaces-image-collection. Lots of surprise that the great urban spaces are not filled with geegaws.

  6. …and a rather forlorn and disconnected Wadsworth Square park…

    Our house overlooks the square, so I might take some issue with how forlorn it is, but the history of Wadsworth Square is a microcosm of the history of the city that is being explored on this site. The square is named after the Wadsworth family who came to this area from Connecticut in the late 18th century. Their land holdings grew to include vast tracts of land stretching all the way from Rochester to Geneseo. As Rochester began to grow, especially after the Erie Canal came within a block of the square, the Wadsworths began to subdivide their lands. The deed to our house goes all the way back to this original subdivision. As the street and block pattern became established in the early 1830’s, the Wadsworths donated a block to the city, to be held in perpetuity for educational and park purposes. The square was bounded by Howell St, Broadway, Marshall St and Clinton Av. It was surrounded by houses on three sides and anchored by a public school that enfronted Clinton Av, where the parking lot now sits. There are several historic images of the square that show how it evolved over time, but the design was always simple, with diagonal walkways and large trees.

    After the Erie Canal was moved and the automobile began its ascent to dominance, automobile related uses began to creep into the Wadsworth Square neighborhood. Some of the houses were torn down & replaced with non-descript garage type structures. The neighborhood began a long slide into decrepitude. This slide accelerated after the construction of I-490 & the Inner Loop. All of the buildings on the north side were removed, as Howell St became nothing more than one of the surface roads flanking the Inner Moat. Clinton Av was elevated and became little more than an exit ramp from 490. The Southeast Loop “urban renewal” project completed the devastation, destroying everything in its path. Streets were removed & rerouted, resulting in the insanely wide Chestnut St and forever severing Monroe Av from its terminus at Washington Square. Ambitious plans were made to create a “new town in town” but only a few buildings & Manhattan Square Park were completed – which may be just as well.

    By the 1970’s the Wadsworth Square neighborhood had hit rock bottom, with numerous boarded up houses, the school demolished and the square itself completely covered with asphalt, used for, what else, the storage of cars. But in the 1980’s things began to change. There was a renewed interest in the neighborhood. All of the boarded up houses were put back into use. The Wadsworth Square Neighborhood association was formed and successfully persuaded the city to dig up the asphalt and re-establish the square. The new square had no real design, it was just a lawn with randomly scattered trees, but it again became a place where people gather, to sunbathe, walk dogs, toss Frisbees & in great numbers to view fireworks. One of the non-descript garage buildings now houses Abundance Cooperative Market, which is really Rochester’s downtown supermarket whether anyone knows it or not. The neighbors are now beginning to work on plans to introduce a more formal, urban, design for the square and hope to begin a first phase of construction this year.

    The 2007 RRCDC Downtown Design Charette (go to http://www.rrcdc.org to view the plans) made an effort to reposition Wadsworth Square as an important public space that acts as a transitional space between a (hopefully) densely developed downtown and the traditional Rochester neighborhood fabric south of the square. The charrette was intended to provide practical, doable ideas that would have a big impact. The most important recommendation is the complete elimination of the portion of the Inner Loop from its junction with I-490 to East Main St. This portion of the Inner Loop carries very little traffic & its removal was seen as low hanging fruit. We worry that the plans being developed by the city will not really eliminate this portion of the loop, but will simply replicate it as an at grade boulevard that will still be vastly oversized & continue to follow a looping route that has no real justification. The charrette plan restores Howell Street as a real street, albeit one that continues to provide access to & from 490. The removal of the Inner Loop would create buildable sites on the north side of Howell Street that would allow for new construction that screens the parking garages from view and restores a street wall that defines the north side of the square. The plan also narrows Chestnut St to match the width of Monroe Av and provides a short diagonal street that connects to Howell at the center of Wadsworth Square. This creates a building site that is suitable for a 10 – 15 story building that would terminate the vista of Monroe Av. Finally, the plan calls for a small street at the west side of the square connecting Marshall & Howell Streets, which would provide access for a redevelopment of the parking lot, much as Jason envisions in his comment.

    The charrette plan provides a vision for the repair of a devastated urban fabric all along the east side of the Inner Loop. It really deserves more attention than it has received so far. The plan was completed before the new ESL headquarters, now under construction, was announced. Although the major recommendations of the charrette plan can still theoretically be carried out, (the space is still there), the ESL is symptomatic of the poor development decisions that have plagued the Southeast Loop area since the demise of the original urban renewal plan. The reasons are many, & I may go into them in a future comment, but suffice it to say that it is essentially a development more suited to a suburban office park than to a vital and lively downtown.

  7. Tim, rest assured my use of “forlorn” had to do with what you stated regarding the lawn with scattered trees and the municipal parking lot. The square itself is very resilient, as you’ve related, its the way its been marginalized that is the disgrace.

    I think you are very lucky to live in one of the four remnants of proper programming surrounding the square. My wife and I tried to buy a place on Broadway right near there in 2005, but were outbid in the days of more competitive real estate.

    My blog post on the subject agrees greatly with you and the Charrette Plan’s recommendations for inner loop removal. Our society is still collectively worried more about moving cars than reclaiming real urban fabric that was once the west side of Union Street.

    There are so many street grid restoration projects that I could think of in that immediate area including the straightening of Broadway, forcing Union back into a T instead of a curve conducive to fast motoring, running Pearl back through the old Sears parking lot, fixing the bend at the end of Howell @ Union, obvious restorations of Gardiner, Charlotte, Richmond, I could go on and on…

  8. Thank you, Tim, for the wonderful story of the ebb and flow of Wadsworth Square. It’s heartening to hear of a victorious skirmish in a mostly lost war.

    As I look at images of Rochester from the past, whether in aerial photos or in my endless peering at the unbelievable Albert Stone archive, and I read stories like the one you have shared, I am dumbfounded.

    Rochester was once a city characterized by a really extraordinary urbanism. Remarkably dense, with beautiful, tree-lined streets, bustling downtown thoroughfares, great urban spaces, distinct and useful localities – a really wonderful city.

    And as I look at all this, I find myself completely baffled by what folks must have thought (and are still thinking) as they have paved over everything. I am struggling to take the measure of, and understand, the destructive forces that have taken hold of the city. The tools are clear – cars, asphalt and concrete, traffic counts, narrow-minded pols, and a million others.

    But the destruction is Dresden-like. It was all so lovely, and it is all so gone. Amazing.

    This morning I have the Vision Plan here on my desk. I have spent lots of time with it, and lots of time snooping around the city (thanks to our wonderful tour guide, Roger Brown) to see what the Vision Plan tries to undo. Touchingly, and frustratingly, the heart of the Vision Plan is so very basic: go back to the older urban character of the city, and put things back. Streets, buildings at the edges of streets, connected urban spaces, local centers of activity, clear sequences of movement and procession. All the simple but sophisticated urbanism that was once so powerfuly present here in Rochester.

    In Chicago, Charles Wacker was named the first Chairman of the Plan Commission, and was charged with building the 1909 Plan of Chicago that Burnham et. al. had fashioned. Realizing that he needed money to build a then non-existent public realm, he and Walter Moody created the Wacker Manual, to educate school children about urban civility and good urban design, and to teach them how to be good taxpayers. It worked, for a while.

    Perhaps we need a Rochester-centric 21st century version of the Wacker Manual. Changing how people think about this city, and teaching folks a simple set of good urban manners, seems like an insurmountable task. So simple, but so very difficult.

  9. This is not exactly the Wacker Manual (gosh that answers my long-held question on the origin of the name “Wacker Drive.”), nor is it Rochester specific, but it’s a start:


    “Where Things Are, From Near to Far: A Children’s Book About Planning”

    “The book is based on the urban-to-rural transect, which divides cities into six different zones ranging from rural countryside to dense skyscrapers. Every day, city planners help shape our cities and towns — making streets safe for pedestrians, improving building designs so they meet the needs of citizens, improving traffic flow, creating bike paths and city parks, and preserving historic buildings. This book is a tribute to the work that they do in hopes that kids will learn more about this fascinating career at an early age.”

    I have not read the book myself, to be honest, so I can’t be sure there aren’t any anti-urban biases in there, but the description sounds pretty good; it’s based on Duany’s transect concept. And I’m sure it doesn’t get into how planners actually have very little power; that power is in the hands of politicians and their contributors. However, I’ve been exhorting anyone with a kid or access to kids (i.e. teachers) to add this book to their library.

  10. Thanks for the link – I have long been a fan of kids books, and so will try to take a peek at this one – we’re off to the library this very afternoon.

  11. The Wacker Manual went through many, many editions over the years – they kept modifying it as work was completed and time passed. I once had an 8th or 9th edition, but it got pilfered from my desk and never returned. Oh well.

  12. Thanks, Tim, for your history of Wadsworth square. We recently bought a home on Griffith Street and really believe that our neighborhood is on the upswing. Recently, bumps in owner-occupied housing has meant a visible increase in the dedication of our neighbors to the area. Our neighborhood committee is working hard to improve the area, with visible results. A safe, friendly community exists here now. Come visit and see the changes!

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