Saturday, March 15, 2008

Breaking from Tradition

In an effort to cover a wide variety of topics today, I've broken from my fairly regimented format to post something "in the now" for better or worse.

As I sit in Rundel Memorial Building of the central library downtown, I can see the Blue Cross Arena across the river, sitting largely empty for only a few more minutes before college hockey fans from Erie, PA, West Point, NY, and many places in between descend on it for the semi-finals of the Atlantic Hockey Association's conference tournament. This tournament decides the conference representative in a national field of 16 teams vying for the NCAA Division I championship, the most prestigous in college hockey. (Photo by Flickr User: Amerk - CC License A-N-SA 2.0)

I will be one of them in about two hours, as my alma mater takes on the Air Force Academy in the other semi-final game. For now I am blissfully ignorant to the fact that ten of thousands are lining East Ave. and Main St. for another reason, the St. Patrick's Day Parade. The very fact that I am downtown for the day wearing orange and accomplishing things related to other interests highlights the diverse use purposes of a vibrant downtown.

I started out, unfortunately, by driving to Midtown Plaza (weekend bus service has been eliminated from Webster). To those who might say the downtown is expensive, I snagged two beef barbecue sandwiches from Arby's and a Gatorade - G2 from Rite Aid for a grand total of $3.21. From there I traversed only two blocks of Broad St. to my present location. (Photo by Flickr User: AdsitAdventures - CC License A-NDW 2.0)

Looking for additional urban news, I came across an article in the D&C regarding the typical suburban perception of 'expensive parking' or a lack of parking (I parked for free at Midtown, these people generally just don't KNOW HOW to use the city to their advantage). I also saw that there were 31 comments attached...

Since its inception, I've had a very hard time stomaching D&C user comments. Many are racist, plain ignorant, or worse, made by someone who has left Rochester but feels the need to continue to put their two cents in. Generally these people are still trying to convince themselves that they did the right thing by moving when they find out the grass isn't greener.

Despite not knowing why I decided to read them, I was pleasantly surprised this time by a mass of thoughful citizens and concertgoers who brought facts and ridicule upon the eternally grumpy narrow-minded. The downplaying of the importance of cheap parking was led by Georgia NeSmith, who deserves her own mention and a link to her significant web prescence for her urban efforts.

The bigger question might not be "how do people park for free?" but "who is actually going to park?" The following was sent to me by Adam, thethirdcoast, friend of the M.U.C. It discusses new New York Governor David Patterson (who can't drive by the way) and his acute awareness of what peak oil actually means. Forget oil running out, if you aren't producing at more than half of peak, you aren't getting a net energy increase compared to the costs of mining.

As I ramble on like Andy Rooney, I'll briefly touch on an RNews story where reading between the lines and focusing on something said in passing that is usually simply ignored represents on the part of local goverment and a fundamental shift in thinking. It is stated that, "The mayor wants the city to study land use, transportation, and planning for the corridor." This is exactly the way to proceed. Notice the word transportation. As Bruce Katz more eloquently told me one month ago, public transportation going forward is a means to channel growth/city improvement opportunities into desired corridors. I will not go deeply into my light rail proposal here until it is more refined, but my first leg would link RIT, Marketplace Mall and its surrounding area, and the University of Rochester with downtown.

While at the RNews website this afternoon, I also came across news that I was keenly aware of through association, but it bears repeating publicly as good press for the technological sector of the Rochester economy. Harris Corporation's RF Communications Division located primarily here in Rochester on University Ave, Culver Rd, Humboldt St, and Carlson Rd is hoping to hire 50 more engineers through the month of May.

Finally, I would like to alert my readership to the growing popularity of a website dedicated to quantifying the walkability of great neighborhoods. Walkscore.com takes an address, ostensibly of a place you are considering purchasing or renting and uses Google's map engine to locate the closest Grocery Store, Restaurant, Coffee Shop, Bar, Movie Theatre, School, Park, Library, Bookstore, Fitness Club, Drugstore, Hardware Store, and Clothing Store to that address. Somehow a score out of 100 is calculated. Limitations include the fact that straight line distances are always used and don't take rivers or freeways into account as 'swimming is harder than walking' according to their disclaimer page. They also enourage "'the Web 3.0 app called going outside and investigating the world for yourself' before deciding whether a neighborhood is walkable."

My current Webster townhouse scores surpisingly high for the suburbs with a 68. This wasn't entirely surprising. As far as Webster goes, we make good use of the land with the townhouse footprint and are able to walk less than 1/2 mile to an Aldi or a stripmall sportsbar. The place we want to move to in the city boasts a score of 75, but the algorithm never asks you where you work or whether being on a regular busline is important to you, let alone proximity to sporting and cultural events. By comparison, our Brighton apartment only scored a 30 while my childhood home, which was inside the Scranton City Limits, was crushed for being in a single use zoning area and scored only 25. This 25 was likely inflated by the designation of the Friendship House as a neighborhood school, which it is obviously not. No wonder I worshipped the car between the ages of 16 and 20!

That's all for today. I hope this week to find some good architecture restoration stories, otherwise I will being to work on a new case study. My proposed meetup is gaining some credibility in the form of a pledge from a practicing Urban Planner with an MSP from Florida State to share his expertise. I hope to launch this early this week. Off to put my laptop in my very expensive 'locker' over at Midtown before I head indoors for almost six hours of live hockey.

4 comments:

Georgia NeSmith said...

Hey, thanks for calling attention to my blog. Unfortunately at the moment there seems to be some technical glitch, because any link used shows up for about two seconds and then you get a completely blank page. Kinda makes me wonder about sabotage, but we get enough of conspiracy theories...

Will try to have it up and running properly soon.

CWhittaker said...

Thanks for the pimping of my creds. As far as Walkscore, it was a factor in deciding on where to live (I live in NOTA, between Village Gate and the Auditorium Theater/Main St. Armory area.) While it does have some holes in the algorithm, it's better than nothing. As far as downtown, compared to other areas of the country, Rochester is far ahead, despite the rantings of a few racist, xenophobic suburbanites. Rochester has walkable neighborhoods, places to go to downtown, and architecture that other places in the US would kill for.

Georgia NeSmith said...

I grew up all over southwestern United States, and spent some time in the Bay Area. I've also lived in Iowa (Iowa City and Des Moines). I have visited nearly every major city in this country at one time or another. And while there are many amenities in the larger cities I'd like to have (you can't beat NYC, Chicago, DC, and the like for museums), there are several very important advantages Rochester has over those: 1) Relatively affordable housing; 2) ease of transportation (at least by car) -- it takes no more than 10-15 minutes to get most places you'd like to go.

I love this city. It has become my adopted home. We need to work on poverty here, and the abysmal high school graduation rate in city schools. But I've found there are many wonderful people working hard to address those issues.

In all the places I have lived I have never felt so much a part of a real community. For all its warts, Rochester is a great city and destined to be even greater if people will stop whining about what we don't have -- and roll up their sleeves and get to work.

Bob and Tia said...

G,

I grew up in Scranton, PA before coming here for college. I've also spent significant time in Syracuse and Buffalo. People here really had it pretty well through the 80's and early 90's while the rest of the Northeast was being forsaken. The whiners have no idea what "no good paying technical jobs" really means. In Scranton, the shortest route to security was to join the teacher's, police, or fireman's unions. I am grateful for all of the opportunities I've been afforded by Rochester and plan to give back.

C,

I wasn't trying to knock walkscore too much. I suppose I worded it poorly. I'm just saying that the University Ave. townhouse I'm eyeing would score much higher if the algorithm asked for your work address and had the 18/19 Bus built in. Hope to meet you soon to discuss new urbanism.

Today I attempt to rig up my bicycle to ride to Webster hockey arena with my equipment bag. It's a start. ;-)

-Bob