A friend of mine made a snarky remark about all the people walking on the new Union Street Cycle Track the other day. She was bitterly upset that people would be so rude to walk on the bike path and obstruct her ride. I just smiled and laughed.
Hey Rochester, remember when we had no bike infrastructure to fight over? Remember when our sidewalks were empty? Remember when the only brewery we had was disconnected from our city pride? Remember when you had four quality restaurant choices? Remember when developing the riverfront was out of the question, or the fight for downtown land was whether or not to tear something down, not decide what to build? Remember when the cycle track my friend was complaining about was a sunken, underutilized highway in disrepair? Remember when there was no hope, no light, and no energy?
On these hot early summer evenings, I’ve taken to the streets on my bike, only to see more people milling about downtown than I’ve ever seen. Pace bikes and personal bikes are no longer just a presence in traffic, they are a force. New trees along Union and other streets, a face-lift for the Sibley Building and Square, new benches and sidewalk features on Main… these are just a handful of small, incremental bright lights that continue to to warm our urban core.
Manhattan Square park has been made anew, complete with running water again. Martin Luther King Jr. Park has fabulous fountains flowing from its belly of brutalism once more. High Falls is gaining attention, in large part because of the Genesee Brew House and the victorious re-connection our largest brewery has made with this city. Even the lonely confines of Charles Carroll Park is beginning to receive makeover attention with thoughtful and purposeful design in mind. Potentially iconic places that were formally left for dead are feeling the energy of new vision, and the excitement these ideas are creating is bringing folks out of their urban hibernation and into a the beginnings of a city many never thought Rochester could be.
The Genesee River will receive an injection of life. Broad Street will likely become one of our city’s most iconic spaces. High Falls will, in time, take its proper place as one of the most visited attractions in New York State. The former east side of the Inner Loop will become one of the most vibrant places our city has to offer. Our downtown population will grow by the thousands. RTS is revamping its bus network, based in large part on careful analysis and an incredibly thorough level of public outreach. And Parcel 5, Rochester’s hotly debated piece of land, will become something powerful, even if the form it will take is still uncertain.
Often I write about the issues our cities need to resolve. And these “issues” are plentiful in my hometown of Rochester. Poverty, lack of major employers and a laundry list of other serious concerns need to be addressed. But there’s nothing wrong with looking back and realizing that some of our most furious debates and frustrating conversations weren’t conversations at all a decade ago. Taking to the streets on a summer night and seeing couples, friends and even families walking again, enjoying their blossoming city from the inside is a powerful experience we can all have today. The feeling of life, the power of people enjoying our evolving home and surging public energy is palpable with each and every person who chooses Rochester once again.
Our debates are important and our conversations are more relevant than they ever have before. Our annoyances are valid and our anger is understandable. But these are signs of passion, vigor and most importantly, feelings of ownership we have over our city and it’s direction once more. We feel something for Rochester. We feel the desire to to connect and direct the course of our city because we truly believe in the limitless potential it embodies. Our passionate urban discord should be seen, at least in part, as a victory, won in the hearts of the growing number of people who are taking pride in our city and speaking to its future.
We’re getting there Rochester. Just keep going.