Monday, August 22, 2016

Mindset

The essence of Rochester can be captured with the catchphrase "big city amenities without big city hassles."  An outsider might wonder what sets Rochester apart from similarly sized regions which may lay claim to the same slogan.  As outlined many times, Rochester's artistic, musical, and educational offerings are not just present but often world-class.  Furthermore, when these offerings are viewed on a per-capita basis, Rochester always seems to surface near the top.  Yet Rochester's big city amenities move beyond these tangible elements into the realm of something more nebulous...mindset.  Many are attracted to America's large cities not just for employment, cultural merits, and sporting events, but rather a general outlook that is current and perhaps ahead of its time.  What places Rochester in a select group is that despite not being a huge city, it frequently displays the mindset usually reserved for larger metros.

A perfect example is found in the following ranking assessing America's Most LGBT-Friendly Cities.  Vocativ, a media and technology company that uses proprietary data mining technology, looked at 16 "key lifestyle metrics" to identify the top 35 most LGBT-friendly cities among America's 100 most populous metropolitan areas.  Here are the top 10:

  1. Los Angeles, CA
  2. New York, NY
  3. San Francisco, CA
  4. Des Moines, IA
  5. Chicago, IL
  6. Seattle, WA
  7. Albany, NY
  8. Rochester, NY
  9. Denver, CO
  10. Madison, WI 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Hipster

I'm slightly too old, chubby, and gray-haired to fully comprehend the definition of hipster.  Furthermore, living in suburban tract housing automatically disqualifies me from having a proper opinion on the matter.  That said, I can drink third wave coffee, listen to indie music, and throw back microbrews with the best of them.  Fortunately, Rochester offers this scene in abundance.  In fact, the hipster scene in Rochester is one of the most vibrant in the country, at least by one measure.

Infogroup, a big data, analytics, and marketing services provider, sought to identify the Top 10 Most Hipster U.S. Metro Areas among metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) with over 1 million residents.  Nine types of businesses were identified as being closely related to hipster culture:

  • microbreweries
  • record/tape/CD retailers
  • music dealers
  • non-chain coffee shops
  • beer/ale retailers
  • thrift shops
  • bicycle dealers
  • tattoo parlors
  • music/live entertainment

MSAs were then ranked by their concentration of these hipster businesses per 10,000 residents.  The top 10 were:
  1. Seattle, WA
  2. Portland, OR
  3. Denver, CO
  4. Sacramento, CA
  5. Grand Rapids, MI
  6. San Diego, CA
  7. Providence, RI
  8. Pittsburgh, PA
  9. San Francisco, CA
  10. Rochester, NY

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Upgrade

Despite having a population of almost 1.1 million within its metropolitan area, Rochester is often labeled as a small town.  While the whole "big-city amenities/small town charm" mantra has its merits, one can't help but wonder if Rochester is sometimes held back by its label (and associated mentality.)  Here are a few facts:

  • Rochester is the largest metropolitan statistical area in the country without at least one NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, NCAA Division I men's basketball, or NCAA Division I football team. 
  • While smaller metro areas such as Omaha, Syracuse, Des Moines, Spokane, Tulsa, Wichita, and Boise can host NCAA men's basketball tournament games in March, Rochester apparently has no hope.
  • Despite being a remarkably musically-oriented bunch, Rochesterians routinely travel to Buffalo for big-name concerts such as Coldplay, Justin Timberlake, Rihanna, Bruno Mars, etc.
  • Rochester's arena has a reasonable group of tenants, among which one has a deep-pocketed owner.

Without knowing all (or even any) of the details, the following would seem to be a reasonable conclusion: given all the potential options for wasting our tax dollars, wasting them on a new arena with increased seating capacity is a necessary upgrade.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Music Revisited

In typical Rochester fashion, discussion of the local music scene sometimes turns into a lament about defunct music venues and/or how Rochester is not Nashville or Austin.  Also in typical Rochester fashion, the region's actual musical resume far exceeds the perception that exists both within and outside Western New York.

ValuePenguin recently sought to identify the best U.S. metropolitan areas for music fans.  The authors looked at three weighted categories (the band, the crowd, and the intangibles) which together contained a total of 15 individual data points:

  • musicians/singers per 1,000 people
  • hourly median wage for musicians/singers
  • musical groups/artists per 1,000 people
  • sound recording studios per 1,000 people
  • record labels
  • radio stations per 1,000 people
  • musical instrument/supply stores per 1,000 people
  • bars per 1,000 people
  • top venues
  • tape/CD/record stores per 1,000 people
  • average annual days with precipitation
  • average closing time of bars
  • percent of population with visual/performing arts degrees
  • top music schools
  • percent of population using public transportation to commute

We can argue with the methodology all we want, but since Rochester's performance was stellar, we won't.  Of 200 metropolitan statistical areas studied, here are the nation's ten best metro areas for music fans in 2016:
  1. Nashville, TN
  2. Honolulu, HI
  3. Seattle, WA
  4. Madison, WI
  5. Austin, TX
  6. Albany, NY
  7. Tucson, AZ
  8. Rochester, NY
  9. Pittsburgh, PA
  10. San Francisco, CA

Monday, August 8, 2016

Recognition

The inspiration for this site was based in the huge discrepancy between the suboptimal perception of Rochester outside the region and the enriching life that graces (many) Rochesterians.  Further motivation came from Rochester's self-deprecating nature which at times comes dangerously close to self-loathing.  While self-deprecation can be endearing, self-loathing can actually be self-fulfilling and ultimately jeopardize the region's future.

In any event, there are many in Rochester who understand the area's charm and immense potential.  It is always nice to have this sentiment validated by outside sources.  The Culture Trip is a United Kingdom-based tech company/website that describes itself as showcasing "the best art, culture, food and travel for every country in the world."  A global community of artists contributes to its remarkably broad content.  Buried on its website is a list of The 15 Most Underrated US Cities You Should Visit.  Granted, the list is not based in scientific methodology and seems to represent the opinion of one well-traveled author who happened to study in Ithaca.  That said, given that it includes Rochester and Buffalo, we will accept it as truth.  Here is the list of cities in order of appearance:

  • Rochester, NY
  • Buffalo, NY
  • Portland, ME
  • Madison, WI
  • Minneapolis, MN
  • Missoula, MT
  • St. Louis, MO 
  • Omaha, NE
  • Nashville, TN
  • Savannah, GA
  • Louisville, KY
  • Asheville, NC
  • San Diego, CA
  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • Albuquerque, NM

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Big Stretch

In The Big Short, author Michael Lewis tells the story of a very small number of astute investors which realized that our economy had been falsely inflated by subprime mortgages, mortgage-backed securities, and the massive amount of cash flow that occurred by the mere movement of these questionable loans.  While the vast majority of the country continued to jump on the housing bandwagon, these astute investors managed to steer clear of what would turn out to be an historic housing collapse.  Perhaps even more impressive was the manner in which these individuals devised an ingenious way to bet against the housing market, thereby capitalizing on what in retrospect was an inevitable economic crisis.

What, if anything, does this tale have to do with Rochester, aside from the fact that slow and steady Rochester was relatively insulated from the housing bubble? For the past several decades, Rochesterians have been told that the Flower City's time is up.  Rochester, Upstate New York, and the entire Rust Belt have seen their heyday.  Life is infinitely better in North Carolina, Florida, and Texas.  Continued population loss, economic decline, and urban blight are inevitable.  Yet through the mass hysteria, a small group of people has quietly done its homework.  This group of developers, artists, and entrepreneurs believes that Rochester's urban density, intellect, creativity, fresh water, and agriculture can provide immense returns in the future.  Clearly, these visionaries have taken a significant gamble by betting against the grain.  With some persistence, they might be handsomely rewarded.

Monday, August 1, 2016

A Rant

The best/worst part of the internet is the fact that it has given voice to somewhat underinformed individuals who are then able to discuss issues in which they have no expertise.  A coherent message is generally considered optional.  A perfect example is this site.  With that sentiment in mind:

Nothing gets under the skin of an optimistic Rochesterian like seeing a tiny city in the middle of nowhere have a more vibrant downtown than Rochester.  Ithaca, located in an otherwise rural Finger Lakes region, boasts a population of around 30,000 and is located in a county with a population of perhaps 101,000 residents.  Despite being surrounded by seemingly endless land, Ithaca has a surprising density that clearly values bikers and pedestrians.  In fact, Ithaca Commons, arguably the city's cultural and economic center, is a pedestrian mall that is not open to vehicular traffic (this is an often failed concept, I know.)  The result is a remarkably lively downtown that leaves Rochesterians scratching their heads.  While Ithaca prospers and our Western New York neighbor, Buffalo, suddenly has a highly desirable waterfront, Rochester boasts the following:

  • The longest discussion in the history of mankind about a performing arts center
  • Perhaps one of the most unimpressive waterfronts in the entire Great Lakes region
  • A huge amount of retrospective chatter about a boat that was not economically viable
  • A great arena by 1980's standards
  • A beautiful Main Street shopping district that includes Family Dollar and an abundant choice of lottery tickets  

This rant is not productive, but it is therapeutic.