Thursday, June 19, 2008

2007 Downtown Charrette Report Vol. 2

In order to dig into the meat and potatoes of this excellent planning document, an early chapter on existing conditions with examples of good and poor urbanism is certainly warranted. This installment of my review of the report will deal purely with the schematic details of our downtown.

Beginning with a look at the Parcels in Public Ownership Map on Page 14, it would appear that few of the actual buildings downtown are publicly owned and that the majority are parking structures, limited green space, and two sports venues.

Far more disturbing is the sea of gray known as the Downtown Parking Facilities Map (pictured). Heartbreakingly large portions of the northern sections and almost the entire forgotten West End (Cascade District, old RIT) of downtown were sacrificed in the name of convenience when parking automobiles. At least one of these parcels (previously city-owned at that) has been announced as the development site for the new headquarters of Eastman Savings and Loan while another opposite Eastman Theatre recently went through an RFP cycle for development into a mixed-use cultural district anchor. Unfortunately, part of the ESL project expands the Washington Square parking garage or creates another one, increasing the amount of prime land expected to store cars in perpetuity.

A lengthy paragraph on structure utilization (with accompanying map not available in the PDF) presents a primary planning goal. Starting with Main Street as a main focus area, and spanning North and South along primary feeders such as Clinton, St. Paul, State/Exchange, and the river corridor, will help to create strong axes of connected urban fabric. Another exclusive to the print edition is the Street Frontages Map, in my opinion the gem of this section. Illustrating areas of high quality, poor, and missing frontages along all downtown streets, this section highlights quality areas such as central Main, East Ave, and the St. Paul Quarter as well as the disappointing Inner Loop east, North Clinton, and West Broad Street mini-districts.

Pedestrian sheds and their radial time designations are paired with the Street Inventory Map (pictured), cited by the focus groups as the source of confusing and frustrating downtown driving experiences. A recommendation is made to eliminate most one-way streets and providing as much on-street parking as possible as an economic generator/pedestrian buffer before the chapter is brought to a close with the exclusive Development Sites Map. This fold-out shows current redevelopment in various stages of progress. Smaller housing projects dot the map while the largest development sites are many that were on the Publicly Owned Parcels Map such as Midtown Plaza, Renaissance Square, Manhattan Square Park, and the current Party in the Park location. Pictured below is the projected completion of the Mills at High Falls, already under construction.

I realize that none of this is groundbreaking. Almost all American cities have bought into a formula of demolition in favor of bringing inherently inefficient suburbia closer to the core. I simply thought that the Rochester regulars would be as intrigued by the maps and figures as an admitted geography/data nut. While New Urbanism permeates all of my entries, the next entry in the charrette series will be the first programatic exposition of its fundamental tenets in the shape of the report's Summary of Guiding Principles. This and subsequent chapters outlining recommendations for each of the focus areas will give me more of an opportunity to call certain assertions into question.

It is likely that my next entry will be published on Sunday and will deal with the New York State Rail Plan mentioned last time as the 30 day public comment period has begun and I will need to ensure its timeliness.


Itchy said...

Rochester needs a parking lot abatement program.

Two thoughts:

1) Use eminent domain to take the land and sell it to developers with deed restrictions as to use: traditional multi-level urban structures with apartments/condos above and ground-level sidewalk-facing retail.

2) Raise taxes like crazy on parking lots so that it becomes uneconomical to operate surface lots.

I believe that a major problem with downtown is that there is TOO MUCH parking - not too little.

Nice to meet you, BTW.

CWhittaker said...

3) find the money to test and clean up as many surface lots as possible, since most of these lots are former industrial sites, auto repair facilities, or gas stations.
This is one of the reasons that these sites are still surface lot.