Wear to Where is a series blending Rochester, New York area fashion with a geography lesson. Highlighting a host of local boutiques, makers and models, the series is an exploration of Rust Belt chic and the spaces which would otherwise not even get a second glance.
Think of it as fashion as a gateway to cultural geography.
The Inner Loop is a particularly good place to start this series for two reasons. The first, since construction began in the 1950’s the Inner Loop has divided the City of Rochester socially, politically, economically and racially. It is telling that this road that is the boundary between the richest and poorest legislative districts in Rochester. If there ever was a tangible symbol of the problems with our often divided city, it is the Inner Loop.
The second, because tomorrow this place goes away. The Inner Loop (at least this part of it) will be filled in. Where this shot was taken will be underground and a new place will emerge from a bit of Rochester’s old, and sometimes ugly, past. By burying this part of our past, we get the unique opportunity to start to build a new place.
Next in the Wear to Where series, we look to the Irondequoit Bay Outlet Bridge. For years this span of 180 feet has been less of a unifier than a divider in this community, but Senator Chuck Schumer has an idea (or rather wants someone to come up with an idea) that could change that permanently.
This past week, Senator Chuck Schumer called for $70,000 in federal funds to study ways that both boats and cars can get though the narrow Irondequoit Bay outlet. Since the current bridge opened in 1998 it has been an imperfect solution to a vexing problem for all involved. From November to April, the bridge is open and the beach communities of Irondiquoit and Webster are connected. But from April to November, the bridge is moved aside and boats flow between these two towns.
“Right now, this situation is a lose-lose,” said Schumer. “The boaters are unhappy half the year. The motorists and the businesses are unhappy half the year.”
Indeed, in many ways it is a classic urban planning problem that pits the needs of residents, businesses and visitors against one another. Senator Schumer has called for a federal study, but it may be a good place to begin a larger discussion within our community about our priorities.
Wear to Where #3. Grocery Store
From the remodeling of the East Avenue Wegmans, to the buzz surrounding the opening of Hart’s Grocers downtown, to last week’s announcement of COMIDA tax breaks for a new store in College Town, the role of the grocery store as neighborhood economic driver has now been firmly established in our tax policy.
While there is always room to debate tax priorities, one only has to look to Mise En Place which opened in the South Wedge in 2008 to see how a local store that caters to the needs of a neighborhood can act as an anchor for economic development. That said, how then do we explain the fuss we make over something that people from other places take for granted? Could it be that while we as a community remain divided over so many things in our city we have found at least common ground on something?
Wear to Where #4. Stone Tolan Orchard
If you are a native Rochesterian, odds are you have been to the Stone-Tolan House (but maybe not since your fourth-grade field trip.) To the applephile (the non-Steve Jobs kind), the orchard is classic example of the type that was often part of small local farms, with the tasty heirloom apples developed in New York in the early nineteenth century to match.
The house itself is a teaching museum of local pioneer life complete with tavern and kitchen built to accommodate small gatherings of locals and travelers. Standing on the grounds on chilly days like we have been having, it is hard not to imagine how difficult it was for people in 1792 to make through the winter. It is hard enough here sometimes in 2015.
The days and nights between New Year’s Eve and the nebulous arrival of spring can be a challenge for Rochesterians. This past week has been cold (you can see it in Danitza’s face), some days among the coldest on record. Too many times I have heard that the social life of Rochester effectively shuts down in the winter. True, we are not Montréal but a place that has largely chosen to orient towards summer with our festivals and events. Still, we too have these long, cold months. So here is the question: are there ideas we have not tried that could better bring this community together during the winter or is it just too cold to go outside?
Wear to Where #5 Lock 33
At a cost to the New York taxpayer of just about half that of the Louisiana Purchase fourteen years earlier, “Clinton’s Ditch” faced the ageless and indestructible rancor of the New York State Legislature and the animosity of the press statewide. It is hard to overstate the impact the investment taxpayers made in building the canal had on the development of Rochester and New York State. Now, it is almost impossible to imagine a project like the canal ever being built in today’s political climate and maybe that is not such a good thing. In this edition of Wear to Where we stop by Lock 33 and ask, “What’s the big idea?”
Over the past decade, I have been fortunate to be involved with some great projects that never got off the ground because a handful of politicians thought we shouldn’t spend taxpayer’s money on the general principle that spending taxpayer’s money is a bad thing. Going through the political history of the canal, one thing becomes immediately clear – the canal was built at a time in New York where bold leaders had big ideas and were not afraid to spend money to see that idea happen.
It is not that spending tax money was easier in a New York State of DeWitt Clinton , Martin Van Buren and Tammany Hall cronyism, but the notion that big ideas cost money and that big ideas were what New York State needed, was, at that time, something that even bitter rivals could agree on. Too often now it seems that preventing a political rival from executing their idea is just as good as having your own. And that the easiest way to block an idea is to simply say it will cost taxpayer’s money.
To me, the canal is a reminder that we are a better people when we have big ideas. Not considering an idea because it costs money is not really a reason in itself. Even Clinton’s bitter rivals had to admit that instantly cutting grain shipping prices to a tenth of overland transit made the canal a wise investment and populated Western New York. Now, as the state continues to loose population (myself included) to places with warmer climates yet far less developed infrastructure, I want to suggest that it is time to consider investing some real money into big ideas Upstate.
Another nuclear power plant (we have the transmission lines)? High speed rail that connects Rochester to Manhattan in 2 hours (the right-of-way is already there)? How about the five best public high schools in the country? Anybody?
Big ideas change places in ways thrift never can and bold leaders have big ideas. Let’s remember, just like the canal, Rochester, was not created by cheap, visionless New Yorkers. Excelsior .