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Archive for January, 2012

Our Governor here, Andrew Cuomo, has just announced that the State of New York will be forking over $1 billion to the city of  Buffalo, to aid a city in crisis.

Yup – a cool billion.

As you can imagine, the howls of disbelief and anger in Rochester and Syracuse are deafening. These three cities, the Moe, Larry and Curly of upstate New York urbanism, are nearly identical in rates of poverty, crime, joblessness, screwed up downtowns, massive sprawl, infrastructure no one can pay for, municipal budget deficits, crummy schools, and any other metric you might imagine to measure cities in crisis.

All three cities are a mess, with huge challenges ahead. All three cities have a rich and deep store of narratives, and all three were once gorgeous, vital, robust, bustling, and unique. All three cities have systematically choked themselves with inner loops and outer loops and loop-de-loops, sending  jobs and institutions and families out of town, and fast. All of which got me to thinking.

Maybe the fact that our city didn’t get the dough is actually a blessing. Maybe we can put our heads together and figure out just exactly what we would do with that kind of money, so next year, or the year after, when we here might win the Governor’s massive lotto game, we can get started right away. Let’s think about this for a minute.

(Of course it could take years to get an agreement in any of the Stooge Cities as to how to spend a $1 million windfall, much less $1 billion – but onward).

Here’s what we should do (with thanks to Edward Glaeser and his wonderful, problematic book, “Triumph of the City”): City, County, and area leaders and institutions should come together to harness the extraordinary energy and innovative talents of our region – our people – and especially our young people. Doing all that they can to foster a spirit of invention and entrepreneurship, our leaders should commit to a central locale for a potent, new, and powerful economic engine: our central city. By bringing the energy of our most gifted citizens together in a dense urban setting, collaboration and the free sharing and transfer of ideas and invention will yield new jobs, real growth, and a new vitality for Rochester and its surrounds. History teaches us that innovation and invention benefit most from close quarters – cities.

Where should we create this new regional economic engine room? Well, there are a bunch of recently cleared blocks in downtown Rochester where an old enclosed shopping mall used to be. It was called Midtown Plaza, and it was at Main and Clinton – our city’s historic crossroad intersection. Now it’s big and empty, and will be for the most part for the foreseeable future. A great spot for our power center.

From the Democrat & Chronicle.

At the moment, RIT is building the Golisano Institute of Sustainability out in the suburbs on their windblown campus. Of course this kind of Center should be downtown, since no human settlement is more sustainable than a dense, walkable city. Maybe we could allocate a few dollars to move the building to Main and Clinton.

Our local Community College, Monroe Community College, is about to enlarge their downtown presence substantially – probably in former Kodak buildings over by our ball yard. So they will be downtown.

University of Rochester is spread out all over the place here. They began downtown – maybe we could lure them back with a portion of their facilities.

So we gather the best and the brightest – well at least some of them – and we get them to go to work inventing a useable future for our region. Meanwhile, we take whatever is left over in the $1b grand prize and we give it all to our urban infrastructure, social and physical. Many of my fellow Rochesterians may not agree with me, but it seems clear that the health and viability of our region is inextricably tied to the health and viability of our city.

And in late-breaking news, we learned Friday that Rochester has won a kind of booby prize in the state’s urban lotto. The Governor has awarded us $100 million so that we can improve an interchange on one of our loop-de-loop expressways. Everyone here seems to think this is a fabulous development. At the risk of being lynched, I say: NUTS!

The intersection in question, I 390 at Kendrick Road, is a southern point of access to U of R and their medical campus. Sandy Parker, of the Rochester Business Alliance says: “All of that area is extremely congested, so without this project coming into being, it would restrict further expansion of the U of R and RIT.” Take a look at this extreme congestion.

Joel Seligman, President of the U of R, declares that the project will be “transformational to the region’s economic future….” State Assemblyman  Joe Morelle says that this project will “help take us to the next level.” All of them should be ashamed. This project is a massive make-work that is a total and absolute dead end. Basta.

As it happens, I know this intersection very well. In the spring, summer, and fall, I am here multiple times a week, at many different hours of the day. This place is many things, but “extremely congested” is certainly not one of those things. This is just the kind of defective thinking that is leading us further and further from a useful urban future.

A truly ridiculous project, whose time has come and long gone, and yet cheered on by our regional and institutional leaders. Do we really still believe that road building is what we should do to preserve and protect our community? I wish I could laugh – it is laughable – but I can’t. There are 100 million better things we need to be doing here. Expressway interchanges are nowhere on that list.

Sigh.

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