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High Falls: A Waterfall, Within a Canyon, in the Heart of Our City

September 18th, 2013

Benjamin Woelk reminds us that we have a 96 foot tall waterfall... inside a canyon... in the middle of our city. This is a simply a world-class site.
By now you’ve probably heard of the GardenAerial external link project. But you may not be clear on the details. What is it? And why is it important? Benjamin Woelk is Associate Director of Administration & Community Engagement at GardenAerial. He recently gave a presentation at TEDxFlourCity where he explained how the GardenAerial project will reinvent our community by giving Rochester a “sustainable identity.”

Benjamin reminds us that we have a 96 foot tall waterfall… inside a canyon… in the middle of our city. High Falls has been here for millions of years. Yes it’s evolving; but it’s also been here longer than Kodak, Lilacs or Garbage Plates. Rochester began here. And as he correctly points out, this is a world-class site. Repeat it: A World. Class. Site.

Now watch the video and see how High Falls could be transformed into New York State’s first EcoDistrict, and a boon to our economy once again…

The GardenAerial project area. [IMAGE: Friends of the GardenAerial]
Here’s a view of the GardenAerial project area. The High Falls neighborhood and the gorge (from the falls to Smith Street/Upper Falls Blvd.) will be designated an EcoDistrict external link, holding new development to a set of sustainable guidelines encompassing green building, adaptive reuse, sustainable energy, transportation, etc.

The three phases of GardenAerial. [IMAGE: Friends of the GardenAerial]
And here are the three phases of GardenAerial…

Phase 1: Conversion of Browns Race into the FlourGarden. [IMAGE: Friends of the GardenAerial]
Phase 1: Conversion of Browns Race into the FlourGarden. Native plantings, hardscaping, and flowing water will bring the defunct raceway back to life.

Phase 1 also a reimagined Granite Mills Park... [IMAGE: Friends of the GardenAerial]
Phase 1 also a reimagined Granite Mills Park…

...And a Brewer's Square Promenade on the east side of the Pont de Rennes pedestrian bridge. Try to ignore the Cataract Building which is no longer there. [IMAGE: Friends of the GardenAerial]
…and a Brewer’s Square Promenade on the east side of the Pont de Rennes pedestrian bridge. (try to ignore the Cataract Building)

Phase 2: A new pedestrian bridge over the falls with a connection between High Falls and downtown by going under the rail tracks and under the inner loop. [IMAGE: Friends of the GardenAerial]
Phase 2: A new pedestrian bridge over the falls with a connection between High Falls and downtown by going under the rail tracks and under the inner loop.

Phase 3: A re-imagined Ponte de Rennes bridge and a new wintergarden on the east side of the gorge. [IMAGE: Friends of the GardenAerial]
Phase 3: A re-imagined Ponte de Rennes bridge with a glassed-in structure beneath the existing deck with elevator access down into the gorge. The space could house shops or restaurants. And finally, a new wintergarden on the east side of the gorge would have a hands-on, educational garden which would maximize year-round tourism.

I’d encourage you follow the progress of this incredible, citizen-led initiative by visiting GardenAerial external link and making a donation today.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 18th, 2013 at 12:02 am and is filed under Events, Rochester Destinations, Transit + Infrastructure, Urban Development, Video. 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.

13 Responses to “High Falls: A Waterfall, Within a Canyon, in the Heart of Our City”

  1. Kathy says:

    My only concern is maintenance. Look what happened up at Maplewood. The island with the “sculpture” looks awful and the median garden is in shambles for lack of maintenance.

  2. Doug says:

    I think this is a great idea. It could be just what we need to liven up this section of our city and take advantage of a beautiful landscape.

    But how will this attract business and developers? Adhering to these guidelines would (I guess) cost more than the non-green alternative, so what’s drawing new companies to the site?

    I do think, however, that if there were more shops and businesses that the area could see a revitalization. I think the brew house has gotten plenty more people to that area. However, there’s nothing for them to really walk to on the other end of the bridge unless they’re going to/from Frontier Field. So if some shops with some draw came in to High Falls I bet there could be some renewed interest. But it could also fail if no one knows it’s there since it’s off the main streets.

    Something next to the brew house, like the plan stated, could be a good starting point. People are right there anyway and can take a stroll without leaving their car far behind.

    I’m all for it, just would want to make sure it’d succeed.

  3. Matt says:

    The illustrations look great, but we should imagine those scenes with all the people removed, because that’s what’s it’s really going to end up looking like.

  4. Kevin Yost says:

    GardenAerial should also bring back the Laser Light shows as well.

  5. Benjamin says:

    Hi all, first thanks for reading the article and being interested in the project.

    I wanted to take a moment and respond to a couple of the comments here.

    Regarding maintenance – Similar to the High Line in NYC Friends of the GardenAerial(FoGA) is seeking to establish ourselves as a conservancy organization for the High Falls gorge. We see taking over the maintenance duty of any project that we work on developing.

    Regarding businesses/developers – High Falls already boasts the highest commercial occupancy rate in the City of Rochester (surprised Matt?) and so we have many businesses that are already here. FoGA is seeking to create a developers package by working as a non-profit to help soliciting donation of land that then may be given to a developer with concessions as to how sustainable development may be created.

    EcoDistricts are about both Ecology and Economy, this is a placemaking strategy that could create the first EcoDistrict in NYS putting Rochester in the same sentences as Portland, Seattle, Boston, Washington D.C., Malmo Sweden and so on. Also not to be overlooked is the ROI that was created when project similar to the GardenAerial (the High Line) served as economic catalysts for their cities.

    Finally with MCC moving in, Genesee Brewhouse on the Eastside of the Gorge, and GardenAerial’s efforts to create direct access into the Center City of Rochester we see this having the ability to attract many to what already is the most beautiful place in Rochester.

  6. Matthew Denker says:

    But a mechanism needs to be in place for the newly attracted people to move and live there. Rochester has already tried and failed at attracting masses of people downtown from the suburbs/points afar. One of the reasons the high line works, ignoring how ridiculously affluent the area was even before it was built, is all the people living near it. It’s not just for tourists. Going one further, the highline tried very hard and failed to include the less fortunate residents near it. How could this development concept really strive to include the less well off already in the area who are not making use of the existing public spaces?

  7. Benjamin says:

    Hello Matt,

    Thanks to Ben Kendig and the High Falls Development Corporation several of the buildings here in High Falls have recently been converted in apartments. In addition the Mills and Mills 2 (not the most exciting names) represent subsidized housing here in High Falls. St. Simons Terrace on the East Side of the gorge also has direct proximity to the proposed project.

    That being said High Falls has suffered from a lack of real access into both downtown and surrounding neighborhoods which is why we are dedicated to creating better interconnection to High Falls while studying how to create better access into downtown (Center City) by traversing the Inner Loop.

    Regarding the Meatpacking District it was actually in severe decline through the 1960s-1980s and dealt with major problems with drugs and prostitution. It was an area most would not go.

    At FoGA we have already started community outreach into surrounding neighborhoods with “Green Visions” being the most evident of these projects.

    We initially piloted a program to remediate vacant lots in the JOSANA Neighborhood and turned the program into a workforce development opportunity with young ladies from the Charles Settlement House. This effort to revitilize open/public spaces will continue as a major part of our programmatic outreach and will have an obvious connection to the GardenAerial as we connect surrounding neighborhoods to the project.

  8. Jason Haremza says:

    I think all the ideas are fantastic, some more feasible than others. I think moving towards a conservancy organization is crucial, since we can all point out things in Rochester that started out really cool and then declined due to lack of maintenance (has anyone looked at the Artwalk gardens at University and Merriman lately?)

    The Fallsbridge would be particularly spectacular. Sitting on the balcony at the Brewhouse the other night, looking at the dark falls, I thought it would be cool if the piers of the railroad bridge (and future pedestrian bridge) were lit up. Sorta like the Rundel Building. Might be even cooler than lighting up the Falls themselves.

    I’m a little concerned about drawing too many parallels to the High Line. Manhattan is a very unique place with a real estate market that can’t be compared to Rochester. I wonder how much development would have occurred in Chelsea and the Meatpacking District anyway, without the High Line. Certainly it helped, but in NYC’s superheated real estate market, even banal places like Staten Island and Long Island City are seeing substantial investment.

    My point is, the Garden Aerial projects are cool enough all by themselves, without necessarily expecting them to stimulate significant new construction.

    Finally, as raised earlier, I’m not clear on what an Eco District is exactly. Again, given the realities of our real estate market, even under a Warren administration, the city is not likely to imposed additional requirements on development in High Falls or anywhere else. But I’ll be thrilled if I’m wrong about that :)

  9. Jason Haremza says:

    Ok, so I researched Eco District a little bit. I’m not anti-Eco District, and I could see some benefit from a marketing and branding standpoint, but I don’t see how it would work beyond that.

    There are tentative steps towards more sustainable practices throughout the community. I wouldn’t want to somehow label High Falls as the “green district” where all our efforts towards sustainability would be directed.

    But if calling it an Eco District can help achieve a good resolution to the question of Beebe Station, get public access to the Gorge floor, and increase shops and services in the district (making it a more walkable place), then I’m all for it.

  10. Greg says:

    As someone who follows urban planning in small cities and large, having taken many a tourist to the high line, and recently relocated to Providence where we have an absolutely spectacular use of downtown rivers, I think this is is a truly amazing concept. Cities need to leverage their unique assets. I have a hard time thinking of any city with an underused resource like high falls. It’s simply unlike anything, anywhere. Year-round access is where this really shines. That would also be internationally unique (The high line is NOT pleasant in January)

    In providence, there has been a lot of development near the rivers, and we have fantastic programing on (literally on) the river, the latter helped generate the former I’m told. Providence isn’t NYC – the economy here is in many ways similar to rochester. It’s proof efforts like these can work.

  11. As someone who grew up in Greece and regularly makes trips to the High Line from my home in North Jersey, this is the sort of project that, done well, can create benefits no one foresees.

    The High Line regularly attracts thousands of people because it’s a great space, nearly plain, but not.

    An outdoor attraction like that in Rochester, not burdened by over-planning, would merit a visit from me every trip.

    Maintenance: picking good plants reduces maintenance dramatically, as does encouraging a culture of shared space so people don’t trash things but instead use garbage pails, for example.

    Attractions attract people. People bring money. Money supply creates businesses to sell things. If it can be lightly regulated, I predict good things.

  12. chase tyler says:

    The main flaw with any designs for a park here are that Rochester already has plenty of parks. Too many parks. The only thing we have more of is parking lots. Not rhat its a bad thing, but its really awkward when I’m the only one there.

  13. Joel Helfrich says:

    Perhaps some more intelligent people could leave comments regarding an op-ed I wrote last month about Beebe Station:

    http://www.democratandchronicle.com/article/20130910/OPINION02/309100015/Web-Essay-Repurpose-Rochester-s-Beebe-Station


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