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66 Responses to “Filling In: Monroe Ave”

  1. Ron Bajorek says:

    being that I live and work in a old house on Monroe Avenue (albeit in Pittsford, at the corner of French Road and Monroe Ave) I am very curious about the development potential up and down Monroe Ave. I think that we see a trend back towards Urban living, and the investments made on Monroe Ave have not gone un-noticed. Thank you for an interesting article. I also see a need for “inner-city short distance” vehicles, a remergence of small motorcycles and micro-cars, vehicles that are cheap to obtain AND maintain, easily stowable, and that are extremely frugal on fuel. The times, they are a changing.

  2. Dave says:

    The Barnes Dance idea is an interesting one, even though it is fairly slow driving between Clinton and Main on S Goodman, as it is. There do seem to be quite a few pedestrians there.

    On the other hand, I don’t like/eat fast food, but seriously? You propose knocking down businesses just for the hell of it? Perhaps there is some really great reason for this. Where do propose these businesses go?

  3. Elizabeth says:

    As someone who actually works on Monroe Ave and lives on Alexander, Monroe ave is a street that I have a lot of interest in. I would love to see positive changes made-mainly to make it safer for both drivers and pedestrians (Both cars and people like to randomly dart into the street. My favorite time for this to happen is at night during a snowstorm. Fun!). As much as I don’t like how some of the stores are set up (Arby’s McD’s and DD)…tearing them down isn’t necessarily something that either business would even consider-unless they had major incentives ($$$$) to do so…Although not a fan of fast food, they do have quite a big clientele and do pretty good business (and a LOT of workers would be upset if they were to close and not rebuild in the area). I would be happy with those stores bldg more urban friendly corner stores in those areas. There is actually a doctor office in the south end of the parking garage at Averill and I really do not think it’s very logical or practical to have that made into a apartments. I do love the idea of using an artwall to “hide” parking lots-just as long as the retail/restaurant establishments advertise that there is parking available so people know that there is a lot to park in so as to not discourage patrons from stopping bc they don’t know where to park…just saying.

  4. Linda Magi says:

    As part of a group of Monroe Ave stake holders who have been working on Monroe Avenue issues for a long time, I’m very interested in seeing the comments about the ideas in this post.

  5. Matthew Denker says:

    All, please forgive me for not being clearer in the article, the idea is not, surprisingly, to eliminate fast food, but rather to re-site the establishments for pedestrian friendliness over car friendliness. Generally this means something more like the KFC at the corner of Culver and University. In some cases, specifically the block with McDs and 7-11, a 4-5 story mixed use development with the businesses in the ground floor would be ideal. In all cases it comes down to money, and assisting the business with moving into a shiny new space for them rarely draws the kind of ire that moving residents does. Businesses are not really people, and as such, don’t generally think of the building they are in as a home.

    That said, the gas stations, when eliminated, would generally not result in a new gas station happening. I guess everyone can’t be a winner.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you for clarifying Matthew! That makes a lot more sense. And not that I wouldn’t like better restaurants/cafes in that area, however a lot of lower income clientele may be upset if they lost those options! A lot of the customers are actually HS students as well. I hate that DD is so set back. It wastes space IMHO and makes the corner a lot uglier. The Arby’s is outdated, but at least it is on the corner:) A Colie’s or Panera’s would be so much better. Building over a gas station can cause problems from what I understand…lots of environmental factors. Can cause issues down the road…what are your thoughts on that?

  7. Nancy says:

    With the number of Asian restaurants in the area, has anyone thought about an “Asian Town?”

  8. jimmy says:

    Hey Matt interesting ideas. I like the barnes dance idea, but I say there needs to be a little more pedestrian traffic. And what makes the driveways you pointed out unnecessary? Also DO NOT DESTROY THE ARBY’S BUILDING! That building is practically historic and should be protected. Have you ever been inside it? You should check it out. I have eatin there many many many times and I have fallen in love with the food and the building! The dunkin donuts across the street is another story. I like the fact that Dunkin is there but a nice two story building on the corner should replace the existing configuration. First Floor Dunkin, second floor a couple apartments and then parking in back.

  9. Matthew Denker says:

    Gas station sites generally require remediation. It’s one of the hidden and horrific costs of automobile use. That said, it’s not impossible, and could pay for itself with some more intense land uses once redeveloped. This is one of those unfortunately regressive uses of tax dollars too. If the city cleans up, everyone pays for the accidental sins of motorists. On the other hand, the motoring-class generally has more clout, and is unlikely to support additional user fees (gas tax/tolls) to suddenly reduce the convenience of driving by shuttering gas stations and remediating the land beneath them. I admit it is a challenge. This is one of those times that producing a city resource (library/community center/neighborhood improvement) might be the best option to use public dollars to remediate while still benefiting all players.

  10. Matthew Denker says:

    @jimmy – The Arby’s building is well sited, but could benefit from an entrance facing the street. This could be done pretty easily with the existing setup. I guess the biggest issue is that this is a major intersection that deserves denser usage. Then new Earthlink building across the street was really nicely done. It’s a shame that the money isn’t floating around to open a really marquee restaurant in the space as the developer hoped. A high end NY Style steakhouse here would also be at odds with the Arby’s and DD across the street(s). Cognitive dissonance is never a road to profit.

  11. Elizabeth says:

    I’m not sure what the developer’s are hoping for, but the employee’s I’m sure would like a restaurant/coffee house that serves breakfast and lunch at a higher quality then DD, Arby’s and Grill & Greens (located in the Wolk bldg). I don’t think any of the employees here want a high end restaurant, but rather something that provides a more quality product that doesn’t break the bank…Hence my suggestion of a Colie’s or Panera’s would be good idea. Even a Chipotle would be good, although limited in it’s offering and would be a lunch or dinner place only.

  12. Elizabeth says:

    and PS I would prefer a local restaurant over a chain restaurant, but using the above restaurants as an example of the restaurant type that would do well there based on the clientele :)

  13. jimmy says:

    Cognitive dissonance- that’s a really good point. I never thought of that, but I understand. Ya that is a tough one. Maybe something like Bill Gray’s or a Five Guys would fit in better at the Earth link building

  14. jimmy says:

    Now that I think of it, there is an entrance to Arby’s that directly faces Alexander.

  15. Matthew Denker says:

    I think the building has the same issue that almost all new buildings have – one, too large, commercial space. The new building is about 65k sqft. Just as a rough estimate, 10k of it is likely the commercial space on the first floor. As the average McDs is 3-4k sqft, there’s space for 3 of them here. Breaking the commercial space requires complicated changes to the CoO, but it should be done. Then there would be space for a chain as well as a local business or two. Only a few stores (Pharmacies in Rochester, large banks aren’t interested like in NYC) want this much space. Unfortunately, the likely culprits to take it already built their own new space up the street. Having at least one dinner restaurant in this space would help immensely, though. It will spread the usage and the load on the parking lot more evenly. The office workers (and Canandaigua bank users) won’t be there at 7 pm at night, but Good Luck 2 patrons will be. Mixed use is what strengthens the load on a facility and keeps a neighborhood lively.

  16. Matthew Denker says:

    @jimmy – I see that. It would be good to move it all the way to the corner so it works on both Monroe and Alexander. Even so, and this is where a small change makes a big difference, just adding a little bit of landscaping here to invite people in would go a long way towards improving the built environment. It would almost assuredly help their business more than it would cost.

  17. Wheeler Law says:

    It seems that after reading a lot of the articles and comments here, many people have some fantastic ideas regarding land use. Many suggestions include making Rochester a more walkable city, but it seems how to do it is what is really at stake here, and I think most people are missing a crucial detail here. Most walkable cities in the world are not in the United States because of a clear lack of developed, effective public transportation here. Buses are a pathetic excuse for more effective fixed guide way based transportation, the latter of which end up cheaper in the long run due to lower fuel, labor, and maintenance costs offsetting the higher upfront construction and acquisition costs. This street would desperately need a form of ground level public transportation in order to sustain the increase in density and pedestrian traffic. It could also connect people with downtown, and could extend southward.

  18. Jason Haremza says:

    As someone who has been coming to the neighborhood since college, and who has been a resident for 10 years now, kudos Mr. Denker for focusing on Monroe Village.

    I love the ideas, especially the Barnes Dance at Monroe and Goodman and the split light at Oxford/Sumner Park.

    Regarding the Earthlink Building at Monroe and Alexander, it’s not really a big deal to put up a demising wall or two and split up the leasable space into smaller chunks. In fact, I wish Buckingham would move the independent pharmacy (RDrugs) currently buried in the depths of the former hospital out to the street fronting retail space for more visibility and easier access.

    To continue the discussion, here’s a few additional ideas:
    - Fix up the buildings we have. Several are in desperate need of facade improvements, including: the grand old house next to Starbucks (buried behind a crappy EFIS covered addition and vinyl siding), Lilac Laundromat, Big Deal Pizza (more crappy, dirty, vinyl siding), and Doc Hoa (please replace that tattered awning!)
    - Speaking of tattered, can we take down the remaining “lizard” banners on the light poles? They look pathetic.
    - Speaking of light poles, can we get new, decorative, energy efficient “tear drop” light fixtures like all the other new lights in the city?
    - Wider sidewalks. Many of the sidewalks are too narrow for sidewalk cafes or even comfortable strolling and window shopping, one of the great pleasures of urban life. The vehicular lanes are too wide on Monroe, leading to semi-legal traffic movements, like passing on the right, or passing a stopped bus, or just generally letting traffic move too fast for an urban neighborhood.
    - Address the clusterf**k that is the intersection of Monroe-Canterbury-Dartmouth. This doesn’t work for pedestrians or motorists. Maybe the YMCA and Hess need to consolidate their driveways a bit.
    - Mr. Rainaldi: PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do something with the Monroe Theater. You’ve moved on to the Culver Road Armory and forgotten about the theater. Maybe you need to reduce the lease rates a bit in order to attract a quality tenant. Wouldn’t having it occupied at $8/sf be better than sitting empty at $0/sf?
    - Blessed Sacrament: I know you value your parking, but a landscaped buffer along Monroe would be nice. And replacing the shabby chainlink fence with something more befitting the great architecture of your campus.

  19. ELF says:

    @ Nancy – South Clinton Ave between about Linden and Gregory is already an Asian town. There are several Southeast Asian restaurants there and a couple of grocery stores, as well as both the India House and India House Store. Check it out.

  20. Dino says:

    All of this opinion on what private businesses can and cannot do with the land that they own is interesting, but ultimately pointless and a frivolous fantasy. They will do what is profitable for them. Rochester taxes its city land based on what is physically developed on the land, not on the parcel’s “perceived value” based on its proximity to an urban core, or what the land “should” be worth, or any other value like that. That is why there are so many surface parking lots in the middle of our urban core. They are taxed far far less than actual development. That’s how Wilmorite got in trouble with the Sibley property and legally created a loser subsidiary company to keep perpetuating losses and deliberately NOT pay the city the taxes due on the property. The land owners of the perceived “negative” business on those ugly, flat surface lots have no incentive to develop the land to its maximum urban potential (perceived as “height” or “density”) because they risk not only losing money on developing the land and not generating the rent out of it but in also paying the taxes on that development for nothing. The Earthlink building on Monroe and Alex has had that restaurant space available ever since it was erected. Clearly no restauranteur thinks he/she can recover his rent costs and initial investment in that space.

  21. Ron Bajorek says:

    a couple of points here: “More gas taxes?” Wow, do you have any idea how much you pay in taxes on a gallon of gas already? The profits by the oil companies is nothing compared to the income stream by Federal and State government. With that said each of us should do everything in our power to consume less gas. Personally, I like the Arbys building, it’s retro. what would be a nice devlopment is if someone could purchase the strip of land form RCSD that runs along Monore Ave and develop it into Retail and Condos. It would shelter the school yard and it would be a more attractive use of that space. Parking is still going to be a huge issue…..

  22. Charles says:

    I like this website and it’s offerings but these guest articles are too much. I appreciate the conversations they evoke but using authors with no professional experience on the subjects I believe degrades this website as they are presented. Both articles have talked in fantasy land and opinion. The RRCDC and other local efforts have done real research, charettes based on community involvement and presented them in a professional manner. I enjoy coming here for the passionate and informative articles but these last few have been nothing more than articles based on feelings. I know I sound like a dick but I like the causes presented here and I don’t know if these two voices are helping.

    The best idea might be the first one presented by the developer to reuse the existing infrastructure and have first level retail with res. above as a mixed used rehab space.

  23. Elizabeth says:

    For the specs on the bldg EarthLink is in: 80,000 sq ft total. There is 3,575 SF avail for a restaurant, which is min. divisible to 1,750 sf. try the link below or check out buckprop.com to find the space.

    http://www.crelisting.net/TbL8-747w

  24. Elizabeth says:

    and to the comment about making Monroe ave narrower-it already can be very slow going with traffic-waiting for people to make left hand turns etc…there are multiple bottleneck areas…to eliminate the few areas where you can pass someone making a lefthand turn would just make traffic more of a problem. Not saying that there shouldn’t be measures taken to make it safer, but the road is by no means too wide. In some areas it’s too narrow (think near archimage) with the on-street parking area’s. Perhaps, there should be lights with a lefthand turn signal and signs indicating no left hand turns into some area’s that hold up traffic for quite awhile. But that said, if it discourages people from stopping into a business, its not a good thing…

  25. Matthew Denker says:

    @Charles – Scathing. I’m not sure what else to say (ok, not entirely true, here’s a bunch more!). What qualifications are you looking for from someone interested in improving Rochester’s lot? Engineers don’t seem to be the key to fixing anything, and one of the issues with charettes, love them as I do, is the issue that Henry Ford spoke so eloquently on when he said, “IF I asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” Community involvement is what gave us all the surface parking lots we have now, because that’s exactly what people wanted once they went to the suburbs and got in cars. It is what gives us underutilized redevelopment now. I am not sure it is always the way forward. One of the issues with presenting things in a more professional manner, and I admit this is a failing of my own, is not having the time or money to do so. I, surprisingly, have a day job, and no one is compensating me for writing on Rochester. I suppose I could just stop. I think if you value community involvement, though, this is building it.

    @Elizabeth – A good point, but the idea is to build local business, such that far less is coming from cars in the first place, and far more is coming from people walking and biking to the establishment.

  26. Matthew Denker says:

    @Dino – Sorry I couldn’t sneak this into the last comment, but again, there are many layers to getting a business, such a a restaurant, going. There may in fact be a number of restaurateurs who would be interested in the space, but a lack of financing for an operation. Also, $17.50/sqft is wildly expensive. For the minimum space you’re looking at rent of 2,550 a month. That’s quite a bit when you can buy 943 Genesee St for $535,000 and come away with 2 commercial spaces, 6 apartments, and a mortgage of only $2000 a month (with 30% down – it’s a commercial mortgage).

  27. Elizabeth says:

    Unfortunately, people must drive…there are a lot of people that need to drive because they commute 20 min plus from the suburbs to get to their jobs in monroe ave area. I understand the desire to make it more walkable, but I don’t think it’s fair to try to squeeze out the drivers. I don’t think drivers use it as a shortcut or an alternative to a more busy route…Monroe ave is a worse alternative to similar routes using East Ave or S. Clinton Ave. Unfortunately it’s the most direct route to my 2nd job so I drive down Monroe ave twice a day. I walk to my day job :) People do drive their to get to local business and take that away and businesses wouldn’t do that well. Park ave and south ave are very walkable, but still have a lot of traffic…both people who drive there and those who walk from where they live are integral to those area’s. Why can’t both be incorporated into the Monroe Ave landscape, albeit in a more safe manner?

  28. Matthew Denker says:

    They can, and the safest thing for cars is to be going slower. I’m not claiming that people don’t need to drive (although they probably don’t), what I am saying is that any given business on the Monroe Ave corridor shouldn’t need to rely on drivers for their business. There’s no reason that a more mixed use street (which will assuredly hinder driving somewhat), has to throw cars off it (car free streets are a generally terrible solution). At the same time, piloting a car is INCREDIBLY simple, and if all of the access to the shopping on Monroe was from side streets and around back, it would make little difference to drivers and a huge difference to pedestrians trying to navigate the street. The very reason people can live in the suburbs and drive is because of how incredibly convenient it is. Trading a little bit of that convenience doesn’t need to be the death knell of driving, or business, or anything else.

  29. Bob Williams says:

    Ron,

    You are completely wrong. The federal gas tax is $0.184/gallon and has been since 1993. So what was once 18% of the cost of a gallon in 1999 is now 4.5% of your purchase price. Not enough to maintain the current infrastructure.

    The federal gas tax should be quadrupled if anything to pay for national passenger rail and transit improvements.

    I don’t think anyone mentioned it, but my biggest beef with the otherwise attractive Earthlink building is that the entrance to the proposed restaurant isn’t on the corner! It’s not obvious where it is at all. Not further down Monroe where Earthlink’s lobby exists. Probably in the back. Poor.

  30. Elizabeth says:

    The entrance is in the back to the area that would be for the restaurant(s)…However, that’s also where the parking would be…I did find that a bit odd too. So unless they opened up the lobby area of EarthLink to the public so they could access the restaurant from the front, the only access is from the back. Not really sure why they didn’t put a door on the Alexander or Monroe ave side, as it would have made much more sense…unless it was originally intended for something else and the space was then freed up…a good question to ask Buckingham :)

  31. @Charles,
    A little personal background first… I work in the design field, and we often use brainstorming sessions as a tool to begin to create a solution to a problem or challenge. In this “ideation” phase of a project, we don’t throw away any idea, big or small or however seemingly unachievable.

    Design charrettes, like those held by RRCDC, begin similarly. A group of residents or a neighborhood identifies certain goals or issues they’d like to solve with improvements to the built environment, and the public is invited to express their own ideas and put them down on paper. Those ideas are then collected and measured against the identified goals, and a more professional presentation is assembled. There’s more to it than that; but in a nutshell.

    So… in this case, someone like Matthew Denker has ideas he’d like to share about Rochester, or a specific issue such as making Monroe Avenue more walkable/livable. He’s willing to put the time and effort into writing his ideas down. And I have a platform that reaches many people in the community. So why would I not give those ideas a chance to be heard and expanded upon by others before I pass judgement or dismiss them?

    Although I did at one time, I don’t live in the Monroe Ave neighborhood. So I think the best thing I could do would be to ask you all to expand on Matthew’s thoughts. If this degrades your perception of RochesterSubway.com, so be it.

    As Linda stated in the comments above, she’s a stakeholder in the Monroe Ave neighborhood and is watching this comment thread for reaction and further ideas. THAT is an awesome thing, and would not have happened had I not given Matthew open air time.

    I do appreciate your thoughts regarding the quality of content on this site. And perhaps I should be more clear about what I hope to achieve with these guest posts. But I hope you will continue to read, and participate.

    I invite everyone who has ideas on how we can improve our community to leave a comment here, or send me an email. Be warned, I WILL want to publish you too. Just keep it clean and thoughtful :-)

  32. Rob says:

    I lived on both Rowley and Cornell (both sides of Goodman) for four years. I had plenty of trouble both in a vehicle and being a pedestrian.

    In terms of driving, when it’s snowing or raining, a lot of the downtown (leaving, heading East) traffic ends up on Monroe. In these circumstances my regular commute would go from 6-7 minutes to around 30 minutes, that being said the barnes dance would cause a catastrophe. Although, the point of the article is to make it more pedestrian friendly, and walking through there i’ve nearly been hit numerous times by people not paying attention during left-hand turns.

    The other issue I had was with eliminating “unnecessary driveways.” Essentially this would dump all the more traffic on to Goodman, and they’re designed in a way to only allow right-hand turns out of them. Again, this is about automobile traffic, but in the 4 years I lived within a few hundred yards of these I never had trouble with them.

    I even wish they hadn’t removed the dumpster on that island on the Bruegger’s side. Great place to drop off poop while out walking the dog!

  33. ELF says:

    Some good developments happening on Monroe: that adult bookstore with the brick-in windows has closed. The windows were put back in and one half of the building is going to be a nail salon. The old Pittsford Seafood place is being converted to a sit-down restaurant.

  34. Jason Haremza says:

    @Elizabeth: The streets you mention as examples, South Avenue and Park Avenue, are exactly what I’d like to see on Monroe: two 11 or 12 foot wide lanes, one in each direction, with either wider sidewalks or striped on-street bike lanes or both. The lane widths in some parts of Monroe are 14-16 feet.

    Some traffic congestion is a good thing. Think of any truly desirably mixed use urban area you’ve visited and I would bet there is traffic congestion. Engineers typically measure traffic congestion in what is known as ‘Level of Service’ (LOS). But they usually only look at the LOS for vehicles, not the LOS for pedestrians and bicyclists. As LOS for cars goes up (fast, free flowing traffic), LOS for people tends to go down (wider intersections to cross, loss of on-street parking to buffer the moving vehicles). So I firmly believe that in cities, the comfort and convenience of the pedestrian should be primary, and the comfort and convenience of the motorist should be secondary.

    There are plenty of car-dominated areas to live in, even within the city limits. There needs to be some truly walkable, transit-oriented parts of the city. A young person (actually any person) shouldn’t have to leave Rochester and move to NYC or Boston or Chicago to experience true walkable, transit-oriented urbanism. We’d have it right here if only we nurtured it. I once lived in a city where I didn’t need to own a car to fully participate in society; I’d like Rochester to be that kind of city as well.

    Re: the Earthlink Building. There’s nothing to prevent the owner from easily installing a new door directly to Monroe or Alexander Street, per the tenant’s needs.

  35. Hillary says:

    I am a neighbor to these businesses. I live, work, bike, walk, and shop in Upper Monroe. I don’t oppose development on Monroe. (By the way, neighbors don’t always oppose development.) I would like to see 100% occupancy of the vacant retail and residential real estate along Monroe. I think creative re-use of some of these old apartment or mixed use retail-residential spaces would be great.
    Things that we can have an influence over are public projects like sidewalk improvements, lighting improvements, and bike lanes (!).

  36. Charles says:

    Sorry, I told you I would sound like a. My intention is not to turn this into the yahoo comment section. I agree, the response section following these articles has been a positive evolution.

    My point is that there has to be real $ demand for changes. Demand can come from different places. Developers see undervalued potential, citizens lacking a certain amenity or the city acting to upgrade/ rehab/ improve public features. Aesthetic improvements and amenities tend to be organic in nature and almost easier on a community participation level, but sometimes done during the public process (read on).

    Once there is a perceived demand, and an owner moves in to supply it, that’s really when the community may have a chance to say “hey listen to us, we live and work here and can help you”, usually though they are beyond that stage in their design and nothing actually changes. (go back to getting it done on a community level)

    Here is the kicker though, Then it goes to the zoning board for approval. You would expect the board to be made up of paid professional gov’t employees (engineers, architects, landscape architects, planners) who would have knowledge on these subjects and make informed decisions based on experience, master plans, and knowledge of the subject but instead the board is made up of volunteer citizens with no professional background, just interested citizens (accountants, teachers, carpenters, nurses) Now these are the people who have and continue to approve these designs, including bad facades, extensive parking, poor connectivity and disregard to history.

    I think thats what needs real change. Thanks

  37. Matthew Denker says:

    @Charles – Thank you for the insightful comment. I do think that this is a good situation for local developers who care about the community to bring real value to the table over large national ones. Local developers who are willing to build meaningful amenities for the community to go along with improvements, and with any luck for said developer, some profits. It just seems to me that the local developers are not particularly apt to provide the product. Rents are highest and vacancies are lowest in the interior of the city, and yet more product is slow in coming. Some of this may have to do with the the development review process, but as an external party, it seems like the city is willing to bend over backwards to allow just about anything given a developer asking politely.

    It is, I think we can agree, a difficult situation. It would be good to get more planners with some background involved in the process, although part of the trick is getting the right ones. Plenty of traffic engineers have been involved in the pleasant driving experience Rochester offers. I think if we can get some good, fresh, urban planners involved, we’d be in much better shape. I must admit to adoring Howard Decker’s writing on Rochester, and do wish he’d get involved here. Sorry in advance if you’re not as much a fan!

  38. Jason Haremza says:

    @Charles

    I understand your point about the Zoning Board being made up of paid, professional, government employees. But, for better or for worse, that’s not how land use review boards work in New York State, or the nation as a whole. They are virtually all made up of citizen volunteers (or nominally paid).

  39. Charles says:

    Yes, exactly my point. Look at what we have created. Are we better off? IDK but I do know we basically asked a teacher to understand the complex nature of zoning with no expertise. While maybe a nice, informed and passionate person, he or she is not equipped for the job.

    This is essentially the same as feeling like you are becoming sick and instead of asking your doctor for advice you turn to your kid’s teacher or garbage man for a diagnosis. You may ask them the best way to get to the doctor’s office or suggestions on how to feel better, but you wouldn’t go without a doctor’s review. Just like you use an accountant for taxes, a dentist for your teeth and teacher to educate your kids.

    While I understand there may be positives to this model I don’t think it is the most intelligent.

    And the city does bend over because it’s good politics. Shovels in the ground looks good and while the zoning board should be more cursory because they have nothing to lose they instead say well if the mayor is on board, so am I. They don’t know any better. Time for better people making better decisions based on long term plans, community involvement, research, and similar experiences. Thanks again.

  40. Rob says:

    OH, I forgot this before. On demolishing all those unsightly fast food chains and gas stations; I support the idea of adding more mixed-use commercial/retail space in those locations. There aren’t nearly enough places to buy “water pipes” and rolling papers in the area!

    Aside from poster and food retailers (besides Archimage and 2-3 others), those are the only storefronts I’ve seen stay in business in the area since I was a teenager.

  41. Ron Bajorek says:

    @Bob Williams, look at what we are paying in STATE TAX per gallon of gas. We pay 68.1 cents per gallon in this state for tax, how does that help you and me? It doesn’t. Quadruple the federal tax rate on gas? For whose benefit, the jackasses in Washington? No thanks Pal. http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Gas-taxes-by-states.png I’ll just drive my 1971 Honda Trail 90 this spring/summer as much as I can, insurance $50.00, milage: 70mpg with my large overweight body on it, parking is a breeze.

  42. @Ron, @Bob…

    And yet somehow gas taxes AND tolls still only pay for a third of our state and local road spending. Even in NY those fees only cover 44% of our road spending. How is this possible?

    If we’re paying too much already, what needs to change?

  43. Kristo Miettinen says:

    These seem like the ideas of a community that has its basics in order, just fine-tuning a basically working neighborhood to make it work even better. But is that the situation in the Monroe corridor, or more generally anywhere in Rochester?

    Isn’t it the community’s basic problem that the industries that supported the urban lifestyle in the past are contracting or evaporating? And if so, shouldn’t the first priority in urban renewal be thinking about what could be located in Rochester, and specifically on Monroe Avenue, that would bring value to the rest of America? That way the rest of America would be willing to send badly needed money to Rochester, and specifically (in this case) to the Monroe corridor.

    Focusing on quality of life enhancements is a distraction when the core threat is to the sustainability of life… when your foundation is crumbling it is pointless to dream about frivolities.

    Or are things really going quite well locally, so that enhanced quality of life for pedestrians is near the top of the priority list?

  44. Matthew Denker says:

    There are really two competing (although not mutually exclusive) ideas these days about what makes a city tick. Brings home the bacon, if you will.

    The first, and more classical version, is what I refer to as the JOBS JOBS JOBS! Theory. This theory posits that without jobs, your region/city/township/etc. is screwed. You need jobs to keep people around and to grow and to make money. This is generally what causes a massive amount of hand wringing in Rochester (If Kodak closes shop, what do we all do?).

    The second, and much more recent idea, is what I call the NICE PLACE TO LIVE theory. It posits that most creative class types (broad definition, it includes software engineers and internet moguls as well as graphic designers) can live wherever they feel like it, and providing a set of amenities that are attractive to these people will allow for growth and prosperity without needing to create oodles of jobs locally.

    I’m not sure either model is perfect, but the JJJ model always had some holes. How does it ascribe the growth of the suburbs? There aren’t jobs there, just people living there. So clearly people are willing to commute. Ok, now how far and how often? Now at the other end of the scale are people who don’t need to commute at all. What would they like to live near? Surely some of them want access to the great out doors. This explains the massive growth and notably healthy population in Colorado. Rochester maybe shouldn’t hang its hat on the outdoors. That said, similar cities, such as Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, and Portland have all managed massive growth not by attracting new industries to replace old ones (Pburg never did find something to replace steel mills), but because someone who makes a living blogging (http://www.howsweeteats.com/ off the top of my head) chooses to live there for the “feature” set the city has to offer.

    Personally, I’m not positive that Rochester, or any city of its size has a serious structural problem. The city worked great before everyone moved to the suburbs. Nobody here is crying over the downfall of the Cutler Mail Chute Company (a Rochester original from before the rise of the current crop of corporations!). With a groundswell of small changes, the city can work great again. As someone smarter than I surely must have said before, cities are for people, not for cars (and why are we so infatuated with designing things for inanimate objects, anyway?). Once we start to take the steps to right that wrong, we’ll be on the path to real success.

  45. Mark "Bones "Paradies says:

    The neighborhood you were talking about has a very high crime rate. If you put up the artwork in front of the parking lots You will be making it easier for criminals to break into vehicles. Also the diagonal intersection idea by Dunkin Donuts Will slow down traffic way too much,period! I understand converting empty space to lofts and apartments. I do not understand tearing down existing business to put up more apartments so people will have to travel out of the neighborhood to shop! In the very first paragraph of this article it is all about walkability. If you tear down the businesses and put up apartments where are these people walking to? I would leave that area alone, and work on the empty warehouses throughout the city that are such an eyesore. that’s all I got, God bless,Bones

  46. Elizabeth says:

    @Matthew-thank you for sharing those 2 ideas…possibly a little bit of both ideas together may be a good idea as well. @Bones I think what Matthew is saying in the article is to rebuild many of those food places as more pedestrian, urban friendly places. retail on the first floor and apts above. There are already stretches of this model on Monroe ave…and many of those businesses do pretty well :)

  47. Matthew Denker says:

    Elizabeth, thank you for clarifying. This is exactly the case. It’s the idea of mixed use development. I’m not trying to eliminate Dunkin Donuts. But who’s shopping there now? Certainly no one living above it. It’s too friendly for cars and people outside the neighborhood (and since there’s not nearly enough people living here anyway, more density won’t hurt). Here’s a Dunkin Donuts on 181st St in Manhattan – http://goo.gl/maps/1Vsyy.

    As for slowing traffic down, while that’s GENERALLY the idea (slower traffic makes for a safer pedestrian environment – the people already sitting in a climate controlled vehicle are granted an undue level of additional convenience on top of that), a Barnes Dance does not materially change traffic speed. Instead of a 2 cycle light, where turns are slowed due to pedestrian crossings, it becomes a 3 cycle light where pedestrians are only allowed to cross on one of them and traffic is allowed to flow unimpeded on the other 2.

  48. Kristo Miettinen says:

    OK, I’ll not quibble about the distinction between jobs and value (the latter brings about the former indirectly, but the converse is not always the case)… since this is about urban architecture. But in architecture, as in engineering (my field), is it not the case that form follows function? That you must first figure out what the Monroe corridor is for, before you figure out what it should look like?

    Looking at an aerial photo, the corridor would seem to be a thoroughfare, a way to pass through a neighborhood. If that is the case, then value-adding (and fund-capturing) functionality is provided by gas stations and fast-food restaurants (else those traversing the neighborhood receive no value locally, and therefore leave no money in their wake). But you seem to be arguing that this should be a place to live, simpliciter – a proposition that also has architectural implications. If the jobs are elsewhere (i.e. if the external-value-generating activities are elsewhere, understanding that there are also jobs intrinsic to the community) then there have to be commuter mechanisms with links to the external job centers.

    Monroe Avenue as currently built is really a thoroughfare, not a promenade or boulevard, and to convert it from one to the other requires redesign of more than just the immediate avenue itself. If the avenue is made into a pedestrian-oriented space, then the commuter channels will have to be built elsewhere. This is typically done with roads parallel to the boulevard/promenade, two or so blocks away, designed to be feeders onto the transit road system (in this case probably access onto 490 and the inner loop). Look at any successful recent riverwalk or harborside urban revitalization, and parallel to the hip walking zone you’ll find the ingress/egress route, two to three blocks away.

    It might be cheaper instead to have Monroe Ave be the commuter channel and build the pedestrian/living space two or so blocks away on either side of it.

    I know that you hope to escape the need for that commuter lane altogether by relying on the so-called creative class, who can create value in place, perhaps beaming their product out on the internet or whatever. But the brutal truth is that the more conveniently a job can be done anywhere, the more likely it is to be done in a very few concentrated specialized areas. The very same freedom that lets digital jobs be uniformly dispersed everywhere across the country also lets them be concentrated in a few select art/geek Nirvanas, among which Rochester isn’t presently counted.

    Note that, per your question, my explanation covers the suburbs quite nicely. Suburbs are designed for rapid ingress/egress, with a larger road always within two or so blocks of each small residential road, and all roads leading to arteries.

    As to the examples you cite, (Minneapolis, Portland etc), Pittsburgh is the only one I really know, and we’d be very fortunate to replicate their success. But how to do that, using Monroe Avenue as a starting point? There never really was anything in Pittsburgh equivalent to Monroe Ave (no thoroughfares in a city that cannot be conveniently traversed, and never could be). The geography is different, and so are the architectural challenges. In any case, good design should start from understanding that Pittsburgh’s success wasn’t automatic; neither will ours be. We can’t expect the success to come just because we make ourselves attractive, we have to learn how the successful few pulled it off, because for every Pittsburgh there is Gary and Cleveland and Buffalo…

    Cities are for people, yes, but not just for the people who live in them, they are also for people elsewhere. New York is the financial capital of the USA, it provides financial services (the exact nature of which is debatable) to everyone else. Albany is the political capital of New York State, it provides us leadership (keeping straight face… keeping straight face). Every successful city provides something to the outside world, something that justifies the orgy of consumption of goods that must be brought in from elsewhere. Rochester still needs its next answer to the existential question of “why Rochester?”, and redesign of Monroe Avenue should be done with that answer in mind (whatever it turns out to be).

  49. Elizabeth says:

    @Kristo-Trying very hard not to sound rude, but you sound as if you are not at all familiar with the area…Have you ever walked down Monroe Ave? It is walkable-very much so. It has a lot of potential to be even better then what it is. It’s eclectic in that there are a very diverse demographics that call Monroe ave home or where they work. (I call it both-I work on Monroe and live on Alexander near Monroe). Are you not aware of Park Ave? South Ave? University? Yes, there are very pedestrian streets 1-3 streets over already. But why shouldn’t Monroe Ave and its residents and those that would like to be able to walk down the street and contribute to the local economy have pedestrian friendly sidewalks and businesses? Yes, it is a thoroughfare somewhat…however, if you have ever driven down Monroe during rush hour than you would realize that Monroe Ave isn’t the ideal street to cut through. S. Clinton and East Ave are better options. Comparing Urban to Suburban is comparing Apples to Oranges. I happen to like Monroe ave and I would like to see some positive changes…

  50. Ron Bajorek says:

    interesting thought on Ted Cohen building: Yesterday Hess anounced that they are getting out of the retailing of gas business, WHICH MEANS the space in front of the Ted Cohen building will be available. This should be good for the developer (parking), although I’m sure there are EPA issues with that lot

  51. Matthew Denker says:

    In reverse order:

    @Ron – that would be exciting news.

    @Elizabeth – It’s really hard to talk to an engineer (and in this case I assume a traffic engineer) and not sound rude. They’re very level people even when completely wrong.

    @Kristo – I think this is a chicken/egg problem. Is Monroe Ave only ever to be the traffic sewer that it is, or can it be something else? Unemployment in Rochester is not 100%, so there are clearly a bunch of jobs as it is. Should they be spread out among all of Monroe County, or could we re-concentrate them downtown? Could we move population growth from green fields in Scottsville into the city? I don’t know, but we should try. I think the creative class is a good place to start to bring in new blood, but there’s plenty of warm bodies in the Rochester area that could be in the city. Even when it comes to people from outside the city, we can’t all keep driving in. It has to stop. On top of that, considering 490 mirrors Monroe Ave for basically the entire length of the road, there really needs to be no other arterials what so ever. Larger cities than Rochester get by on far less asphalt, and Rochester already has one of the lowest rates of car ownership of any American city.

  52. ELF says:

    Some more great developments on Monroe: two new independent retail shops (Bartertown Collectibles and the upcoming J&M Collectibles), a new art gallery (the Art Museum of Rochester, or AMoR), and a sit-down restaurant scheduled to move into Pittsford Seafood’s old place.

  53. Kristo Miettinen says:

    It’s a bit after the end of the conversation, but I was thinking of our exchange here as I read the following article, which mentions Rochester:

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/03/20/richard-florida-concedes-the-limits-of-the-creative-class.html

    Rochester will never be Seattle. Sorry, just ain’t happening. Rochester planning needs to start from an honest assessment of what Rochester might be at its finest: a light industrial center, home to a concentration of machinists, mechanics, optical technicians, and catering to their preferred lifestyle.

    And with transportation channels capable of bringing raw materials and subassemblies in, and shipping finished products out.

    The more Rochester invests in trying to become something for which it isn’t suited, the sooner it will simply cease to be anything at all. Growth (or just plain survival) depends on putting dreams and fantasies away, and embracing reality.

  54. Matthew Denker says:

    I think you’re misinterpreting what that article (and Mr. Florida) says failed. I think he has come to the realization that trickle down economics is a failure, at least in as much as bringing a bunch of rich white folks in and hoping they’re just give their money away will buoy the locals. This isn’t surprising. How is it working out for supporters of it in general? On the other hand, we have proven the value of using local government to collect excess rents from the richest among us and actual help the people locally who need it. Rochester suffers severely from a tax base that is lacking. Largely because it’s impossible to develop anything in nicer neighborhoods where someone with money to be taxed might actually move.

    I think when we start saying “Rochester will never be X” is when we fall apart. The tone is sad. What happened to when Buffalo was the 8th largest city in the US and the tone was that it WOULD surpass NYC? If we’re not thinking big, are we even thinking at all? Incidentally, I find posing this question in an article specifically written about the tiniest little things (I could go install a guerilla piece of art as the scrim I propose RIGHT NOW) to be somewhat humorous. If this is big, what will building my house in Rochester be like?

  55. Ron Bajorek says:

    Matthew Denker – “at least in as much as bringing a bunch of rich white folks in and hoping they’re just give their money away will buoy the locals. This isn’t surprising. How is it working out for supporters of it in general? On the other hand, we have proven the value of using local government to collect excess rents from the richest among us and actual help the people locally who need it.” Wow. Where to begin with this comment. Let me start by saying this: Nobody wants to “give away” their money. The VAST MAJORITY of People, RICH or POOR, Black, WHITE, RED, Yellow, Purple or Green, are looking for a fair exchange, something of value for monies spent. EX: I paid $50,000 for a VW because I believe it is a fair exchange of my currency for the value I’m receivg from the car

  56. ron bajorek says:

    Matthew Denker – “On the other hand, we have proven the value of using local government to collect excess rents from the richest among us and actual help the people locally who need it.” – can you site some examples of this proven value for us?

  57. Kristo Miettinen says:

    Oh, I think he says much more than that, echoing things I’ve said above:

    (1) That you have to focus on what your city (or its population) does for others, not just on what they want for themselves. Cities are for people, yes, but not just for the people that live in them (or whom you plan to attract). Lose sight of the external services or goods provided by your burgh, and you’ve lost sight of the most important part, its raison d’etre.

    (2) You can’t create a “creative class” Mecca wherever you please. The creative class is inherently mobile, and they will seek each other out and concentrate in only a few places. Most places will not have a creative-class-driven identity. Rochester is likely one of those ordinary places, not one of the special places.

    (3) Rust belt cities (and by implication other places like Rochester that are arguably not rust belt but share similar histories) are better off focusing on what made them what they were at their finest, rather than trying to be the next Portland.

    As for why this question got so big when your proposal started so small, if you look back on my point it was because of sequence. You have to know the answers to the big questions (What drives Rochester? What will Rochester’s future contribution be to larger society?) in order to answer the medium-sized questions (What is the function of the Monroe Avenue corridor in Rochester?) that will allow you to do the detailed planning (Where shall we channel all of the pedestrians? How much vehicular traffic should we support on Monroe Avenue?).

    You said something that I think captures the point of our disagreement beautifully: “I think when we start saying ‘Rochester will never be X’ is when we fall apart.” I think the opposite, that Rochester is already falling apart today in large measure because of unrealistic non-industrial plans (fast ferry, performing arts center etc) and that when we finally start planning more realistically, more practically, and especially more industrially, that will be when we stop falling apart and begin to stabilize. Stability is, for now, a best-case scenario.

    We have to plan to be the most industrially productive city of 200,000 that we can realistically be, otherwise we will be a frustrated city of 190,000 headed toward 150,000 and beyond. And since your piece is architectural, let me bring us back there: the architecture of a light industrial center is different from the architecture of a creative-class center of hipness, beginning with major roadways like the Monroe Avenue corridor. Knowing what we are powerfully directs how we build.

    PS: Rochester’s small machine shops and optical fabrication labs are one of its last remaining bright spots. You may think that if a person doesn’t know Rochester’s walkable neighborhoods, arts scene and restaurants, then such a person doesn’t know Rochester. I would argue that if you don’t know Rochester’s tool-and-die industry then you don’t know Rochester…

  58. Matthew Denker says:

    Wow, so this has spiraled out of control quickly. So I think part of the issue here is limited word space. I can only discuss so much, and what I am discussing is redevelopment. That said, I don’t intend to close down any industry to put in apartments. Rochester isn’t Bushwick in New York City. It does not need perfectly functional industry replaced with housing.

    What it could use is:

    1.) More support of growth in neighborhoods that are already viable. The tax base can’t grow in the city if you can’t build a new house on Park Ave. This, as we see in other threads here, is a huge problem.

    2.) A public transportation system that allows for Rochester’s working class to gain mobility without personal automobile ownership. Without this, good jobs will be created else where. Either because transfer payments make it too cheap to own a car, or because jobs move to places where owning a car is unnecessary.

    3.) A city IS more than just who lives in it. Rochester needs a regional development plan, otherwise, cash hungry suburbs will continue to throw huge tax breaks to firms to move out of downtown and into their newest office park. They will continue to pave over greenfields and build new, unsustainable public sewage systems to be able to grow, all while a few people on Park Ave try to stop having new neighbors.

    Going back to the article you cite, it makes the same mistake of confusing greenfield construction with market demands. There’s a reason that housing downtown is more expensive than that out in the countryside. It’s similar to why outlet malls are always way out of town. You are trading the time cost, the transportation cost, for the other savings (in this case on housing, in that case on pants). Much of the “savings” come from the fact that there are no real regulations on what you can do to the farm you just bought, and the suburb you are building those houses in is not unlike a pyramid scheme. It requires ever more people to work. It’s one of the signs of resiliency in most cities. The fact that they still exist after population loss, and have not drained to 0 is amazing. When suburbs start losing people, they hollow out significantly faster.

    Changing gears a second, I fear this is the kind of conversation that gets incredibly emotional incredibly quickly for a ton of people. It’s clear that some of the comments above would be at odds with the ideals of universal healthcare and education. The kinds of things that have given so many Europeans, and even Canadians, a better quality of life than so many Americans. It’s also clear to me that while I am willing to go out there and propose actual changes, many times with numbers behind them, that I am going to be shouted at by people willing to say that there are big questions without proposing to answer them. Rochester has some 30,000 of the brightest, most promising young people in the country show up every year to be educated at its two world class universities. Just working to retain 5%, or one in twenty of these students in Rochester. A mere 1,500 new, fresh faced and highly educated residents and I believe we would be on the path to success. Rochester doesn’t even have to go out and dig up the creative class like so many small rust-belt cities. They are already here. Let’s keep them here. I guess in saying so, I’ve gone right back to thinking big. Sorry.

  59. ron bajorek says:

    Matt Denkler, did you just mention Universal Healthcare and Education and Two World Class Universities (University of Rochester @ $50,000 per year and Rochester Institute of Rochester @ tuition of $46,000 per year) in the same sentence?

  60. Matthew Denker says:

    They made it in the same paragraph, yeah. Why do you ask?

  61. Matthew Denker says:

    Also, and please don’t take this personally, but it’s Denker. Thanks.

  62. ron bajorek says:

    I think you are being a little disingenuous when you ask why I am asking, I’m pretty sure the status of World Class Universities would be somewhat distinquished with Universal Education (so would healthcare. sure, more people would have access to it, but none of us would have “World Class Service”). So what is it you want, leaders in education and production, or access to the masses?

  63. ron bajorek says:

    sorry Mr. Denker about the mispelling of your name…..

  64. Rob says:

    Oh noooo, he called the dude “Denkler”! I love the internet.

  65. Matthew Denker says:

    I don’t feel like the two are mutually exclusive (either case). Rochester can be blessed with a pair of world class universities at the same time as there is universal education. No, not everyone will be able to get into UofR or RIT, but Rochester actually has a cornucopia of higher education, including a really top notch community college, in MCC, as well. Just because I don’t agree with their real estate choices, doesn’t mean the education is bad. Similarly, I don’t think healthcare is a zero sum game. I don’t think there are X units of health care available to be doled out and if everyone gets some that we each get some tinier piece. We can have better health outcomes than that, especially if we focus on prevention. This has been proven out by the major advances in dentistry. Dental insurance is widely accepted as pro-prevention and anti-repair. This has done wonders for keeping the cost of care in check while improving outcomes. Health insurance continues to disappoint by not being able to incorporate these mechanisms.

    Sorry to anyone reading this thread as it has gotten REALLY off topic.

    In any event, I still think it’s an excellent discussion, so feel free to join in.

  66. ron bajorek says:

    what you just mentioned above regarding the many educational outlets is what we have now, why do we need Universal Education? Why do “RICH WHITE PEOPLE” need to spend their money on Monroe Ave? If Monroe Avwe wants the money, it needs to add value (and in many cases it does)I live and WORK on Monroe Ave, I believe that city living is going to come back in a big way (so do the banks, look at the money being spent downtown), but people need to see the value. PS:Universal Health Care equals Patients & Dcotors PLUE the govt taken money, so it won’t be x units of health care, it will be X units of Healthcare minus goverment costs. Look at Freddie Mac Fannie Mae, The Postal Service, your local DMV, blah blah blah…….


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