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The First Snapshot of Rochester’s Buildings of Historic Value

January 24th, 2013

A map of Rochester's Buildings of Historic Value [Thanks to: Jim Fraser and Joseph Becker]
Scientists have known of the existence of DNA for over fifty years. But until recently external link, no one had ever seen a photograph of that tricky little double-helix. For the preservation community in Rochester, the image above could be just as big of a breakthrough as photographing DNA for the first time. We had a fuzzy idea of their existence, but until today no one had ever seen a map of the city’s Designated Buildings of Historic Value (DBHV). And I mean NO ONE. Not even the people who put the list together…

The DBHV list contains some 4,000 properties and looks something like this; an enormous spreadsheet.
The DBHV list external link contains some 4000 properties that are in, or said to be eligible for listing in, the National Register of Historic Places. But no one that I’ve spoken to (from Bret Garwood, Director of Business & Housing Development to Wayne Goodman, Landmark Society Executive Director) has any idea what this list really looks like, or how accurate it is.

In the wake of the failed effort last year to save the Cataract Brewery building, the DBHV list became the focus of critism. Preservationists came to view the list as an incomplete document without the necessary legal backing to protect the buildings on it. While Mayor Richards called for the size of the list to be dramatically reduced – from 4,000 properties possibly to as few as 100.

The one thing both sides seem to agree on is the list needs to be updated and prioritized. But who would take on the monumental task? The City doesn’t have the human resources to put on the project. And non-profit groups like Landmark Society don’t necessarily have the infrastructure or technical know-how to manage such a large amount of data. The job might be easier if we could SEE the data on a map. This is where average citizens (and Google) come in…

All of that ugly data can now be displayed visually in Google Earth. When complete, it is hoped the interactive mapping tool will have multiple data layers and will be available online.
My good friend Jim Fraser, and Joseph Becker, a GPS specialist & IT consultant, have taken it upon themselves to painstakingly import the DBHV list into a Geographic Information System (GIS) so that every property on this list could be mapped and layered atop Google Earth.

Jim explains, “We wanted to create a tool that would allow the community to be more proactive about saving places. So this is the first deliverable of a project to create an interactive preservation planning tool to be available publicly on the internet.”

The Monroe, Park Avenue, and East Avenue neighborhoods are saturated with properties included on the DBHV list. While neighborhoods on the north/northwest sides of the city have very few.
In order to be able to prioritize these endangered places, we need to know two things: (1) what those places are, and (2) a definition for “endangered” that allows us to measure and prioritize. This mapping tool is a way to get both.

Jim says ultimately this mapping tool will have several layers. “The historic properties are the first layer. Other layers will show data from other stakeholders’ perspectives. For example, a crime data layer or a building assessment layer could help to prioritize projects based on the risk of losing the building. Retail, demographic and developer data layers could help prioritize opportunities for development. Community leaders could add layers containing places of value within their communities. Each layer could assign a priority to each object on the map. The final calculation of priority that you’d see for each object would depend on which layers you are viewing. The result [will be] a tool that combines community perspectives and supports collaborative planning.”

This map will allow us to see glaring mistakes and omissions. For example, why's the Amtrak Station parking lot on the list? And the old post office building is not?
The map is already yielding exciting results, and raising new questions. For example, why is the Amtrak Station parking lot (outlined in red) on the list? Yet, right across the street, the beautiful old main post office building external link is not? Or, why are there so many buildings worth saving in the City’s southeast quadrant, but hardly any in the north/northwest? Perhaps this map will allow us to address some of these things now that we can SEE them before our eyes.

But Jim and Joseph will now need the support of City Hall and other stakeholders so that all community perspectives can be considered and included.

Until today, the DBHV list has remained a dark mystery primarily because of the way it has been compiled and added on to – over time, by various people, without much transparency. That all needs to change. But equally as challenging was the size and format of the list itself. In that regard, this map is nothing short of a breakthrough.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, January 24th, 2013 at 8:01 am and is filed under Rochester History, Rochester News, Urban Development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

10 Responses to “The First Snapshot of Rochester’s Buildings of Historic Value”

  1. Zack says:

    Hundreds of historical buildings in poor, minority neighborhoods did not make the list.

  2. As Jim pointed out in conversation to me, a separate layer for places that are social and cultural assets (not just architectural ones) could be included.

    I even wonder if this list already contain “places” of historic value? There are quite a few parking lots highlighted on the map that have no buildings. So either the data is bad or was imported incorrectly, or the buildings are no longer standing, or this list is more than just “buildings.” Interesting.

  3. dee says:

    i do some work with GIS data, and in your post office example, although the address is 216 cumberland, the US land parcel data comes up as 395-525 central ave, (which, weirdly, isn’t on the pdf list you posted either) but yeah, there’s certainly some funky interpretation of data going on. i’ll post more if i find out any significant leads.

  4. Rick says:

    Awesome project! I think with a lot of time when you mash up data, you still need human input to correct and re-check things.

  5. Excellent points Dee and Rick. Maybe this is where crowd sourcing could be useful; if this map really can be shared publicly on Google Earth or Maps or something?

  6. Interesting project. I guess I am interested in the criteria used to include properties. For example, I have found 19 Trafalgar St. as noted “National Register eligible district.” The Eagans lived next door at 15 Trafalgar St. from 1950 to 1968. I wonder what was unique about the Webster’s house (at 19)?

  7. Joel McLellan says:

    That is not the Amtrak parking lot it is the current location of the Trailways/Greyhound terminal. Although that is the old temporary building being shown.

  8. @Patrick, very good question. The DBHV list itself seems to be lacking any details. But, I do know at least a portion of these buildings have Building-Structure Inventory Forms on file with the NY State Historic Preservation Office. These forms include detailed descriptions of the building, notable features of the property site, and details on the architectural and/or historic significance.

    This would be a substantial amount of work, but all of this information should be dug up and added to this map. Precisely why Jim and Joseph can’t do this all on their own.

    @Joel, the temporary Greyhound/Trailways site was the Amtrak overflow lot before it had the buses on it. But for the sake of brevity I called it the Amtrak parking lot. Thanks for clarifying though.

  9. Renee says:

    Holy fantastic, Batman.

  10. Joel Helfrich says:

    It appears that the Cataract Brewery buildings were not highlighted in red, while the parking lot next to the buildings (still visible in the images) is.


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