Downtown Rochester today, from Google Earth.
The Rochester Regional Community Design Center’s (RRCDC’s) Vision Plan for downtown, 2008.
Pogo, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Talk about a city that is shovel-ready – yikes!
As a counterweight to the desolation and destruction of downtown, the RRCDC here has created a Vision Plan, a kind of roadmap that illustrates some of the steps that should be taken to return the central city to something like it was once. This city is very lucky to have this wonderful group of urbanists at work. Without their substantial contributions, there would be no guide to proper city making, and no yardstick by which to measure the sorry state of our downtown – it’s a mess.
The urbanist principles of the Vision Plan are so simple: put streets back, build to hold street edges, erase surface parking, make boulevards not expressways, fill in at least part of the moat that is the Inner Loop, green up the public realm, create mixed use neighborhoods of varying character, create hierarchies, and enhance urban sequences. Simple. Really good stuff. For more, go to our link to RRCDC, below at the right, and check them out.
So as I look at the Vision Plan, and stroll through older images of this city, I am touched by the urban narratives I keep bumping into. Narratives like the one reader (and architect and RRCDCer) Tim Raymond offered in comments to our last post – a story about the resurrection of Wadsworth Square. Each of these stories has a common thread: lovely urban asset turns into dumpy urban squalor, is paved over for cars, and in a few lucky cases, thanks to the pluckiness of urban dwellers like Tim, is occasionally reborn to new/old life.
Here’s another little narrative that I tripped over in my research. You’ll have to stick with me here – it will take a series of images to explain.
Once upon a time, there was a place in the city called Riley Triangle. The Triangle was just that – a triangle of land at the southeast corner of Monroe Avenue and Clinton Avenue, kitty-corner from one of Rochester’s most important public open spaces – Washington Square Park. Across the street from the Triangle was the Naval Armory and Convention Center, built in 1868 and now home to the Geva Theater Center. Here is Riley Triangle in 1908, thanks to photographer and hero Albert Stone.
On the Triangle in those days was a large Federal house, and the wonderful “Lunch Car.” Behind the lunch car is a shop selling tire repair for autos. (Foreshadowing).
Not long after that image, Stone returned to the site and took this picture.
The lunch car, front and center. And that pile of bricks to the left? The old Federal house – gone but not forgotten. (Foreshadowing).
The lunch car was controversial in those days, though I am not sure why. Maybe it was a squatter on the site. And so a few years later, Stone returned again to the Triangle and took another picture.
Poof! No lunch car – in fact nothing. The Triangle has been transformed into a small urban park. Note that Monroe Avenue, on the left, and Clinton Avenue on the right, are and were important urban thoroughfares, and this intersection, adjacent to Washington Square Park, was a 100% urban location. Here’s what I mean.
Lincoln stands atop the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Washington Square Park. Riley Triangle is the open space just to the right of the monument, and just to the left of the Armory and Convention Center. You can just see the windows of the Italianate house that edges the Triangle in this photo.
Most important urban spaces are sites for recollecting or remembering important urban matters – stories, events, people. Riley Triangle was no exception, as Stone shows us in 1922.
A monument has been placed on the corner. I am not sure to what end, but something is marked here. Maybe Riley’s story. Stone must have really liked the place, because he kept taking pictures of it. Here’s another.
The light in the park is truly wonderful, I think. And that sweet little Italianate house – nice.
Now I bet you are wondering how all of what I am talking about here ties together. Well, take a look. Here is Riley Triangle today.
Yet another parking garage.
That’s Clinton Avenue on the right, now a thinly disguised expressway ramp. Monroe Avenue was hacked off years ago, and today it doesn’t come anywhere near this intersection. Somehow the city failed to ruin Washington Square Park, at my back in this photo (it would make a terrific parking lot). Nor did the Armory and Convention Center bite the dust – it’s Geva Theater Center, just to the right in this picture. But the rest is pretty clear. Here’s another view of the place today.
In this aerial it’s easy to see all the carnage. The arrow points to where Riley Triangle used to be. Here you can see Monroe Avenue disconnected and diverted, the parking garage in my picture and its surrounding surface parking, and Clinton Avenue as an expressway ramp. Oh, and by the way, that’s Wadsworth Square in the lower right – that small green square patch just south of the Inner Loop.
So – to return full circle, here is what the RRCDC recommends for Riley Triangle.
Now there’s new construction added to the face of the parking garage (lipstick on a pig, methinks, but better than it is today), and across the street. New construction on Clinton as you approach Washington Square Park from the south. Surface parking gone. And perhaps most momentous of all, no Inner Loop. Hurrah! And look at how nice Wadsworth Square has become – defined by buildings on all its edges.
As I said at the outset, we are truly surrounded by insurmountable opportunity. And thanks to the Vision Plan, we know what to do.
Can we make the Vision Plan into some kind of law, please?