Friday, December 30, 2016


The holiday season serves as a great (usually) opportunity to reconnect with family.  During this year's festivities, I had the realization that Rochester is in many ways just like a dear family member:

  • Great pride comes with discussing Rochester's assets and accomplishments (museums, breweries, schools, Finger Lakes, inner loop removal, etc.).
  • At times, Rochester can be remarkably irritating (repeated discussions about Kodak, the train station (shack), the Family Dollar store next to the empty garage type thing on Main Street, etc.).
  • After some time away from Rochester, a strong desire to reconnect develops.
  • Something about Rochester demands taking abundant photographs.
  • Making fun of Rochester is fair game, unless a non-Rochesterian is making the jokes.
  • After years of knowing Rochester, you got to admit that he/she is a really good kid.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Embrace It

Unbeknownst to me prior to my arrival in Rochester, the area receives an abundance of snow.  (Okay, perhaps I did have slight forewarning of the weather.)  Surprisingly, the ample winter precipitation is frequently met with a collective groan, rather than what could be an emphatic embrace.  Because as is often the case, when Rochester does something, it does it in world-class fashion (think music, Riesling, children's museum, iconic companies, etc.)  Not only does it snow here, it snows in a way that makes the world take notice.  In fact, as measured by average annual snowfall among cities with over 100,000 residents, Rochester is one of the ten snowiest in the world.  So rather than shy away from this label, it's possible to wear it with pride.  Here are the top ten, in reverse order:

  • Buffalo, NY, USA (95 inches)
  • Rochester, NY, USA (99 inches)
  • Akita, Tohoku, Japan (107 inches)
  • Saguenay, Quebec, Canada (123 inches)
  • Syracuse, NY, USA (124 inches)
  • Quebec City, Quebec, Canada (124 inches)
  • St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada (131 inches)
  • Toyama, Hokuriku, Japan (143 inches)
  • Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan (191 inches)
  • Aomori City, Tohoku, Japan (312 inches!)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Another List

In a move away from politics, the time seems right for another meaningless (yet potentially meaningful) list.  As the capital of film, it would seem logical that Rochester should be an ideal location for cinephiles (also known as movie buffs).  And the data, at least as collected by one source, would agree.  In 2013, Movoto Real Estate ranked the 10 Best Cities for Movie Lovers.  Although not perfectly specified, it appears that the 100 most populated metro areas were assessed by the following criteria:

  • Movie theaters per capita
  • Video rental stores per capita (perhaps a bit antiquated)
  • Indie theaters per capita
  • Number of annual film festivals
  • Number of film/cinema museums
  • Film societies per capita
  • Drive-in theaters per capita
  • Specialty theaters per capita

Here are the top 10:
  1. Portland, OR
  2. San Francisco, CA
  3. Atlanta, GA
  4. Las Vegas, NV
  5. Pittsburgh, PA
  6. Minneapolis, MN
  7. Rochester, NY
  8. Orlando, FL
  9. Seattle, WA
  10. Cincinnati, OH

(Rochester is also tough to beat in terms of movie watching weather.)

Monday, November 14, 2016

No Excuses

Prior to moving to Rochester from the New York City vicinity, I was asked if Rochester is diverse.  On the surface, the diversity of Rochester does not compare to New York City, which is seemingly home to residents from nearly every country across the globe.  However, upon further review, Rochester brings a different kind of diversity to the table.  Existing side-by-side are the Northeast with the Rust Belt, the densely urban with the classically rural, and the die-hard environmentalism linked to fresh water with the vehement conservatism linked to overregulation.  As such, Rochester is immensely diverse.  And given the ease of navigating the metro area (for most of us), we have very few, if any, excuses for not trying to appreciate and understand citizens that may not look exactly like, think exactly like, and/or live exactly like us.  In the current divisive post-election times, our ability in Rochester to understand all angles arguably surpasses that of less balanced regions.  Here is one person's take:

  • As a brown guy, I can't say that I'm particularly excited about the sudden appearance of swastikas.  On the other hand, attributing Donald Trump's victory to racism is ludicrous.  Several of my brown family members (myself excluded) eagerly voted for Trump.  Similarly, many predominantly white working-class and/or rural counties that voted for Trump actually voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.  Not far from Rochester, Seneca County, Cayuga County, Oswego County, Madison County, Cortland County, Broome County, and Ostego County all voted for Obama in 2012.  In 2016, all seven counties voted for Trump.  Did the residents of these counties suddenly become racist? Highly doubtful.
  • To divide America into rural and urban America may be equally simplistic.  As above, many regional rural counties gladly voted for Obama in 2012.  Furthermore, America's most densely populated state, New Jersey, saw nine of its twenty-one counties vote for Trump.
  • Finally, explaining this outcome as a vote of the college educated versus the high school educated is just as condensed a version as any.  Some of the staunchest conservatives this country knows have been educated at the country's most elite institutions of higher learning.  A few examples include:
  1. Laura Ingraham.  The conservative radio show host is a graduate of Dartmouth College.  Interestingly, she hails from Connecticut, which is generally a dark blue state.
  2. Ted Cruz.  The ultraconservative senator from Texas is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School. 
  3. Clarence Thomas.  The conservative Supreme Court justice is a graduate of Yale Law School.  He also happens to be African-American.
  4. Ann Coulter.  The conservative political commentator is a graduate of nearby Cornell University.  Neither Ithaca nor Coulter's native New York City are known for conservatism.

America is complicated, and simple answers do not exist.  As Rochesterians, we are perfectly situated to have this realization.  As history has shown, we will rise to the challenge.

Sunday, November 6, 2016


Mercifully, the current election cycle is coming to a close (hopefully).  Through the pain and the chaos, the only safe conclusion is that the world is complicated.  And in an odd way, Americans must be drawn to this complexity.

Bringing it back to Rochester (as this blog always does), complexity is one of our surprising, yet defining features.  Despite being one-tenth the size of the Chicago metropolitan area and one-twentieth the size of the New York City metropolitan area, Rochester has depth, and with it the ability to match the entanglement of larger competitors.

In keeping with the election theme, here are just a handful of (some ridiculous) preconceived groups targeted by political pundits, none of which are unique to Rochester, but all of which have a solid representation within a 30-mile radius of downtown:

  • The coastal elite types
  • The middle America working-class types
  • Muslim refugees
  • Non-Muslim refugees
  • Regular Muslims (like the ones who are doctors, teachers, and lawyers)
  • Legal immigrants
  • Illegal immigrants
  • People who look like immigrants but were born in the U.S.
  • The urban types
  • The middle-of-nowhere types
  • The Coexist bumper sticker on a Toyota Prius types
  • The Confederate flag on a massive pickup truck types
  • The church types
  • The atheist types
  • Mexicans
  • Non-Mexicans
  • Hispanics who aren't Mexican
  • Mexicans who aren't Hispanic (that may not be a thing)
  • Non-Hispanic Spanish Speakers
  • Women
  • Men

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Mundane

Part of the difficulty in selling our fine town is that it excels at the mundane.  Las Vegas has glitz, Miami has the beach, Orlando has Disney World, New Orleans has Mardi Gras, and Washington D.C. has bloated self-importance.  Meanwhile, Rochester has:

  • Arguably the best suburban public schools relative to property value in the country
  • Short commute times
  • An elite music school, orchestra, and jazz festival
  • Extremely affordable health care, on a relative scale
  • The gold-standard for grocery stores
  • A dearth of natural disasters
  • A tradition of forward thinking on social justice

In adding to Rochester's ability to excel at the not-so-exciting, here is an old list (2005) of the American metropolitan areas with the lowest per capita carbon footprint, measured by per capita emissions from transportation and residential energy use.  In typical fashion, Rochester found its way into the top 15:
  1. Honolulu, HI
  2. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA
  3. Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton, OR-WA
  4. New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA
  5. Boise-Nampa, Idaho
  6. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA
  7. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
  8. San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA
  9. El Paso, TX
  10. San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA
  11. Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA
  12. Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Roseville, CA
  13. Greenville, SC
  14. Rochester, NY
  15. Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, Il-IN-WI

Monday, October 3, 2016

Crime Revisited, Again

Given that certain Rochesterians insist that the city of Rochester is remarkably dangerous, here is a list of 25 cities with over 100,000 residents that these Rochesterians should never, ever visit.  (In other words, these are the 25 Most Dangerous Cities, from least to most dangerous, as measured by violent crimes per 100,000 residents in 2015 - sorry, Rochester did not make the cut.)

  • Minneapolis, MN
  • Tallahassee, FL
  • Springfield, IL
  • Anchorage, AL
  • Springfield, MA
  • Buffalo, NY
  • Atlanta, GA
  • Toledo, OH
  • Hartford, CT (I lived there for four years.)
  • Lansing, MI
  • Washington, DC
  • San Bernardino, CA
  • Indianapolis, IN
  • Stockton, CA
  • Springfield, MO
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Oakland, CA
  • Little Rock, AR
  • Baltimore, MD
  • Rockford, IL
  • Milwaukee, WI (I was born there.)
  • Memphis, TN
  • Birmingham, AL
  • Detroit, MI
  • St. Louis, MO (My wife and I went to college there, lived off campus, and survived!)

Monday, September 26, 2016

More on Baseball

Baseball, once firmly entrenched as the national pastime, has lost its place in the American conversation.  Sports radio is dominated by football talk, and the occasional discussion about baseball occurs seemingly less often every year.  National television ratings remain marginal, with the World Series losing ground to Netflix original series.  In many ways, the tale of baseball has numerous similarities to the tale of Rochester.  And, of course, the simple story of decline is at best misleading and at worst completely inaccurate.  Here are a few parallels:

  • Baseball, it could be argued, had its heyday in the 1950's and 1960's.  The city of Rochester peaked in population at about 332,000 in 1950.
  • Baseball, in its heyday, boasted names such as Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Sandy Koufax. Today, names like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Clayton Kershaw don't have the same ring, which is not to say that they are not great players.  Rochester once had an impressive lineup of iconic companies, namely Kodak, Xerox, and Bausch & Lomb.  Today's anchors include the University of Rochester, Wegmans, and Paychex - while they may not carry the same weight, they are powerhouses in their own way.  (Not to mention that the iconic companies are still around.)
  • Baseball, as it stands today, is not a flashy sport.  Rochester is known much more for intelligence, hard work, and grit than glitz and glamour.
  • Baseball has a tendency to glorify its past, much in the same way that is seen in Rochester.  Interestingly, the glory days were not always so glorious.  As an example, when Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's single-season home run record, Yankee Stadium was more than half empty.  Similarly, it's hard to imagine that Rochester's history was as utopian as remembered.
  • Baseball has been accused of being slow to adopt 21st century technologic advances.  Rochester's risk aversion can be viewed as a similar handicap, leaving Rochesterians with amenities that don't quite match the quality of the residents.
  • Baseball, largely due to regional television contracts, has moved from a sport of national prominence to a sport of regional prominence.  Rochester, while not a household name across the country, undoubtedly remains a critical presence in Upstate New York.
  • Baseball has lost ground to football, an immensely entertaining yet rather brutal sport, one that may not stand the test of time.  Rochester has lost residents to the sunnier and apparently trendier Southwest.  Yet this same region may have difficulty reconciling population growth with water scarcity.
  • For all the discussions about baseball's decline, many facts point to a baseball that is stronger than ever.  Ratings on local television broadcasts are extremely strong, revenues are at all-time highs, and paid attendance in 2015 was the seventh-highest ever.  And as much as certain residents want to talk of Rochester's decline, the metro area's population is larger than it has ever been, the millennial growth rate is among the highest in the country, and downtown's population is booming

Monday, September 19, 2016


Now that the Bills' season is over, Rochesterians can focus on baseball.  The national pastime is a good fit for Rochester, a musically inclined city, but not in a top 40 sort of way.  While football is like pop music (catchy, immensely popular, and possibly overrated), baseball is more like classical music (painful at times, yet occasionally exhilarating and unrivaled).  In any event, here are a few interesting tidbits about our region's contribution to baseball:

  • Baseball was invented in Upstate New York (Cooperstown).  Apparently, this story is not actually true, but as the current election cycle shows, the truth is unimportant.
  • Many of the baseball scenes of one of the best baseball movies of all time, The Natural, were filmed in Buffalo's old War Memorial Stadium.
  • Traditionally, baseball bats have been made from ash trees (now seriously threatened by the emerald ash borer).  Where are these ash trees located? Upstate New York, of course.  Rawlings obtains its ash wood from the Adirondack region.  Louisville Slugger bats have largely originated from 6,500 acres of timberland in northern Pennsylvania and across the border in New York State.
  • Alumni of the Rochester Red Wings include Bob Gibson, Eddie Murray, Stan Musial, Cal Ripken, Jr., Frank Robinson (manager), and Earl Weaver (manager).
  • The upcoming Major League Baseball postseason looks to feature many teams genuinely longing for a World Series.  The Chicago Cubs haven't won since 1908, and the Cleveland Indians last won in 1948.  The Texas Rangers and the Washington Nationals, both somewhat younger franchises, have never won.  The Baltimore Orioles last won in 1983.  At the time, the Orioles were managed by Rochester Red Wings alum and Rochester resident Joe Altobelli.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Crime Revisited

Rochesterians, both historically and currently, have embraced change.  This endearing characteristic is representative of our small town's worldliness.  Yet listening to certain Rochesterians discuss urban crime often raises the question of whether these discussants have ever stepped foot outside the Rochester metro area.

The city of Rochester, while by no means the safest spot on the planet, has some serious competitors when it comes to violent crime.  In 2014, the violent crime rate in Rochester was 839 per 100,000.  Here are a few equally-branded locales that in the same year put Rochester's violent crime rate to shame:

  • Cleveland: 1,334.3 (per 100,000)
  • Baltimore: 1,338.5
  • Milwaukee: 1,476.4
  • St. Louis: 1,678.7
  • Oakland: 1,685.4
  • Memphis: 1,740.5
  • Detroit: 1,988.6 

But how about better-branded locales? Here are a few that also had Rochester beat:

  • Las Vegas: 841.1 
  • Anchorage (in Alaska!): 864.6
  • St. Petersburg (in the Florida that Rochesterians worship): 864.9
  • Chicago: 884.3
  • Orlando (yes, in beloved Florida): 901.1
  • New Orleans: 973.9
  • Houston: 991.4
  • Minneapolis: 1,012
  • Philadelphia: 1,021.4
  • Miami (that's in Florida by the way): 1,060
  • Nashville: 1,122.5
  • Washington D.C. (that's the nation's capital): 1,185.3
  • Atlanta: 1,227.4

Thursday, September 8, 2016


I don't run, although I clearly should.  As it turns out, for those who do run, Rochester is a rather desirable spot to carry out this pursuit.  Runner's World recently sought to identify America's 50 Best Running Cities.  Beginning with a list of 250 U.S. cities with populations over 160,000 that had been identified as having a high participation in running, the authors then ranked each city based on five weighted indexes of importance to runners:

  • Run Index (40% weighting) - included factors such as number of races, number of running clubs, number of running stores, etc.
  • Parks Index (20% weighting) - included factors such as parks per 10,000 residents, walkability, etc.
  • Climate Index (20% weighting) - included data on precipitation, temperature, and air quality
  • Food Index (10% weighting) - included data on farmers markets per 1,000 residents and healthy food availability/affordability
  • Safety Index (10% weighting) - included data on violent crime, pedestrian fatality rate, and travel time

Rochester was not a top performer in any individual index, but as is often the case, it excelled as a total package.  Of the 50 best running cities, here are the top 20:
  1. San Francisco, CA
  2. Seattle, WA
  3. Boston, MA
  4. San Diego, CA
  5. Washington, DC
  6. Portland, OR
  7. Minneapolis, MN
  8. New York, NY
  9. Omaha, NE
  10. Denver, CO
  11. Chicago, IL
  12. Madison, WI
  13. Colorado Springs, CO
  14. San Jose, CA
  15. Los Angeles, CA
  16. Rochester, NY
  17. Pittsburgh, PA
  18. Tucson, AZ
  19. Raleigh, NC
  20. Boise, ID

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Blank Canvas

Rochester, for all its detractors, also maintains a remarkably passionate fan base.  This fanaticism is driven by several factors (all of which have been noted many times), including:

Beyond these factors, Rochester also offers one other key element that generates an immense amount of enthusiasm: a blank canvas.  For an undeniably creative community, the ability to be part of a revitalization story borders on exhilarating.  While citizens shape their communities all over the world, the process in Rochester is arguably one of the most alluring:
  1. Rochester is a paradoxical blend of unestablished and established.  In other words, while opportunities for rebuilding and reshaping are numerous, a strong and proven foundation exists.
  2. Rebuilding in Rochester is a not-so-subtle undertaking.  Our conversations do not revolve around a small corner at the margin of the city but rather the following somewhat conspicuous stretches:
  • The waterfront along a picturesque, northward-flowing river that bisects the heart of the entire metropolitan area
  • The waterfront abutting a Great Lake, across which lies by far the largest city of another country
  • The most important plot of land in downtown Rochester and perhaps the whole region

So let's get painting (okay, that was bad.)

Monday, August 29, 2016


A recurring theme on this blog is the statistically unfair comparison of Rochester to other cities across the country.  While Rochester comprises about 19 percent of its metropolitan statistical area (MSA), it can occasionally be compared to cities that comprise 40 percent (Raleigh), 42 percent (New York City), 49 percent (Memphis), or 60 percent (Albuquerque) of their respective MSA's.  As such, studies that depict Rochester as the most horrible city in America are not always telling a complete story.

As reported by the Democrat & Chronicle, a recent investigation performed by EdBuild attempted to identify the steepest lines of economic segregation in the country.  By looking at pairs of contiguous school districts throughout the country, the researchers could determine the borders across which there was a large disparity in child poverty rate.  The disparity in child poverty rate between the Rochester City School District and its eight bordering school districts (Penfield, Brighton, West Irondequoit, Rush-Henrietta, Gates-Chili, Wheatland-Chili, Greece, and East Irondequoit) was rather high.  In fact, all eight borders were in the top 1.2 percent nationally for this measure of economic segregation (among 33,526 borders studied.)

Before concluding how terrible, closed-minded, and intolerant we Rochesterians are, the data warrants a second look.  If the nine suburbs that make up the eight bordering school districts were part of the city, the city of Rochester would then comprise about 49 percent of its MSA (i.e. the same as Memphis.)  In such a case, what are now strict economic borders would turn into mere neighborhoods within one city.  The aforementioned study's conclusion would then read: Rochester has some very wealthy neighborhoods and some very poor neighborhoods.

Having lived in both Manhattan and the Bronx, I am confident that this circumstance is not unique.

Monday, August 22, 2016


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


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


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


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.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Beating a Dead Horse

A popular pastime of Rochesterians has been to take repeated digs at the city of Rochester.  In fairness, the city has provided reasonable fodder for such digs in the form of low graduation rates, crime-ridden neighborhoods, urban blight, etc.  Implied in the criticism of the city are several questionable conclusions, including:

  • Rochester's problem areas are representative of the region.
  • Rochester's problems are unique.
  • Other regions have magically solved problems of undereducation, poverty, addiction, and crime. 

In response to these suspect conclusions, here are a few points (that have probably appeared many times before on this blog):
  • The city of Rochester represents 19% of the metro area's population.  If we can agree that perhaps half of the city's population is living a reasonable life, the region's issues are concentrated in less than 10% of the metro area.
  • At last check, cities that share Rochester's history seem to share some of Rochester's quandaries.  As examples, Baltimore, New Haven, Hartford, St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo are not exactly known for their phenomenal urban school districts.  Nor are these cities crime-free utopias.
  • Better-branded cities can have serious problems.  The cruel reality is that cities are defined by what is occurring in the middle and at the top, understanding that there will always be rough patches at the bottom.  In cities with vibrant downtowns, predicaments are often overshadowed, which is not the same as saying that they do not exist.  For instance:
  1. Chicago: The Magnificent Mile is cool.  Leading the nation with 468 murders in 2015 is not as cool.
  2. Seattle: The home of Amazon is also home to the third most homeless residents of any city in the country.
  3. San Francisco: This model metro area leads the U.S. in most car thefts per capita.
  4. Boston: The mecca of higher education is also a national leader in hate crimes.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


Vancouver, by all accounts, is one of the world's finest cities.  Despite a mild traffic problem, the Canadian city is often recognized for its livability and quality of life.  Dense urbanity is surrounded by remarkable natural assets, giving the region a total package that is hard to match.  Add in a healthy dose of diversity, numerous transportation options, a vibrant restaurant scene, and a serious art culture, and Vancouver is pretty much on fire.  One might expect that comparing dumpy Rochester to Vancouver is an exercise in futility, but here are just a handful of ways in which our little city proves yet again that it can kind of hang with the elite:

  • The Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival holds its own against the Vancouver International Jazz Festival.
  • Rochester's rose garden in Maplewood Park (designed by none other than Frederick Law Olmsted) is comparable to Vancouver's rose garden in Stanley Park.
  • Vancouver has a vibrant public market.  So does Rochester.
  • Vancouver boasts a scenic pedestrian/biking trail in Stanley Park.  While the Erie Canalway Trail and the Genesee Riverway Trail may not quite compare, they are surprisingly serious competitors.
  • Vancouver has a Polar Bear Swim, not to be outdone by the Rochester Polar Plunge.
  • Tim Hortons
  • Canadians (Vancouver has a few more, but Rochester holds its own.)
  • While Vancouver's urban density is hard to match, Rochester is no slouch.
  • Vancouver prides itself on limiting urban highways.  Rochester prides itself on embracing and then eliminating urban highways.
  • Vancouver enjoys its beer, as does Rochester.
  • Vancouver has an extremely vibrant port, as does...okay, maybe not.  

Sunday, June 26, 2016


Part of the hardship of being a Rochesterian is sharing the state with Downstate New York.  This geographic situation generates surprisingly frequent comparisons to New York City.  Areas of comparison include anything from restaurants to cultural events to public transit to shopping.  And therein lies the hardship - Rochester gets crushed in this head-to-head matchup.  Left out of the discussion are the facts that New York City is the largest city in the U.S., one of the largest in the world, and perhaps the most diverse spot on Earth.  Its metropolitan statistical area (MSA) also happens to have a population that is around 20 times greater than Rochester's MSA, making the aforementioned analysis somewhat questionable.  In order to balance the results, I would suggest that Rochester be measured against the following MSAs, all of which are smaller than Rochester by at least a factor of 10:

  • Enid, Oklahoma
  • Dubuque, Iowa
  • Hot Springs, Arkansas
  • Pocatello, Idaho
  • Manhattan...the one in Kansas

My preliminary research suggests that Rochester has more restaurants than Enid.

Monday, June 20, 2016


As recently noted, Rochester's performance in U.S. News & World Report's inaugural Best Places to Live ranking was rather mediocre.  The ranking studied America's 100 most populated metro areas and took into account five indexes, namely job market, value, quality of life, net migration, and desirability.  Rochester's average showing was driven largely by a suboptimal net migration index and a less than stellar desirability index.  The region's grade in the other three categories was, not surprisingly, very solid.  As an example, here are the 20 best metro areas in terms of quality of life (as measured by crime, health care, education, well-being, and commute times):

  1. McAllen, TX
  2. San Jose, CA
  3. Sarasota, FL
  4. Boise, ID
  5. Fayetteville, AR
  6. Raleigh-Durham, NC
  7. Grand Rapids, MI
  8. Melbourne, FL
  9. El Paso, TX
  10. San Diego, CA
  11. Austin, TX
  12. Portland, ME
  13. Madison, WI
  14. Hartford, CT
  15. Santa Rosa, CA
  16. Salt Lake City, UT
  17. Syracuse, NY
  18. Los Angeles, CA
  19. Rochester, NY
  20. Albany, NY

Sunday, June 12, 2016

In Defense of Upstate New York

The story has been told many times: Upstate New York has oppressive taxes, population stagnation, and job losses.  We should not be asking ourselves if, but rather when, we plan to leave New York.  Every other state in the country is a utopia of minimal taxes, population explosion, and surplus jobs.

There is, however, another story that can be told:

  • In an effort to educate its residents, New York spends the most per pupil per year of any state in the country.  This spending translates into double the amount of top performing high schools than would be expected by population alone.  (In Rochester, that is actually triple.)  Locally, a town such as Brighton can provide a top 500 high school with housing prices that are below the national Zillow Home Value Index.  In other words, top-tier education is theoretically available to many.
  • The focus on education may explain why Upstate New York comprises 4 of the 20 metro areas with the most patents per million residents from 2007-2011. 
  • In an effort to provide health care to its residents, Medicaid spending in New York dwarfs that of all other states aside from California.
  • In an effort to preserve a coveted long-term asset, namely fresh water, New York State has foregone short-term gains by choosing not to embrace natural gas drilling.
  • Close to home, Rochester's second largest private sector employer, Wegmans, has proven for 100 years that a company can invest in its employees, invest in its community, please its customers, make money, and grow. 

All of the above is dampened by one key missing link: robust job growth.  Where exactly have the jobs gone? Certain local products have run their life cycle, prompting downsizing of their associated companies (e.g. film and Kodak, copiers and Xerox.)  But another factor cannot be downplayed - other states.

These other states have been able to limit their investment in education, health care, and the environment, thus maintaining low taxes which are quite attractive to business.  Even better, these other states are able to lure (i.e. steal) ideas and talent from states which have opted to invest in education, health care, and the environment.  In the absence of these other states, New York would sport its above resume and exhibit better job growth.  Which warrants the question: is New York really so bad?

Monday, June 6, 2016


Based on geography, Rochester is generally billed as small.  A six-hour drive (or less) can land Rochesterians in massive metro areas such as New York City, Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C.  Within that same six-hour radius also lie many other metro areas that might not completely dwarf but still far exceed Rochester in size - examples include Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Detroit.  It is a source of pride that with regards to education, music, art, wine, etc., little Rochester can hold its own with the best of them.  Yet it is also worth a periodic reminder that Rochester is actually not that small.  While Rochester rejuvenates itself, size-appropriate thinking will avoid underselling the region.  (Not that each individual project needs to be big, but the collective whole should match the region's merits.)  As previously noted, the Rochester metropolitan statistical area would be the largest in 19 states.  Here they are, in alphabetical order (I think):

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Vermont
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


As reported by the Democrat & Chronicle, Esquire recently released its list of the 18 Best Bars in America.  The list was constructed by well-known author David Wondrich, whose 2007 book Imbibe! is a colorful history of the American cocktail.  In the magazine's words, the 18 selected locations are part of "a highly select list of exceptional watering holes culled from more than a decade's worth of cross-country investigations, hangovers, and aspirin."  Two Rochester locations, namely Good Luck and Swan Market, made the list.  Western New York's presence was further fortified by Founding Fathers Pub in Buffalo as well as the mention of Genesee Cream Ale in a beer cocktail served by Occidental in Denver.

From the perspective of a non-grumpy Rochesterian:

  • It is remarkable that our bars/restaurants are being recognized among places in New York City, Denver, San Diego, Boston, Portland (OR), New Orleans, and Washington D.C.
  • Good Luck is eight years old and is credited with bringing the craft cocktail to Rochester.  We are fortunate to have a renewed energy that is introducing us to the latest trends and taking them to the highest level.
  • Swan Market is over 80 years old.  The intersection of new and old in Rochester is what gives the city a depth that is harder to replicate in other parts of the country.

Alas, not everyone is as excited about this recognition.  The grumpy Rochesterian (i.e. the Democrat & Chronicle comments) had this to say about Good Luck:
  • David didn't get around much.  It's the most overrated bar in town...
  • Pretension or complexity should never be confused with quality...

Friday, May 27, 2016

A Plea

Dear Grumpy Rochesterian,

At one point, many years ago, I am sure that you worked hard to make our community a better place.  Despite your best efforts, you had the misfortune of watching an urban center decline and several iconic companies shrink.  Along the way, you shoveled a lot of snow and probably paid an impressive amount of taxes.  Over time, you became disgruntled and began to occupy your time with:

  • complaining about the weather, a lot
  • complaining about the taxes, a lot
  • bashing downtown despite never actually going there
  • repeating invalid negative statistics over and over
  • predicting that every potentially positive development would fail
  • secretly enjoying the aforementioned failure
  • writing negative comments on the Democrat & Chronicle website...after every article, even the uplifting ones

While you started out as a pivotal member of the team, you're currently crushing our chemistry.  The team is full of a youthful energy that is tired of your story - it's time they tell their own story.  As such, I kindly ask that you hang up your jersey.


A less grumpy Rochesterian

Sunday, May 22, 2016


In Street Smart, author Samuel I. Schwartz describes a series of public meetings in the late 1990's in Salt Lake City entitled "Envision Utah." Salt Lake City has about 190,000 residents living in 110 square miles.  The city itself is part of the Wasatch Front, a string of cities whose core distance is perhaps 80 miles long and extends from Ogden to Provo, containing approximately 2.3 million residents.  A major focus of Envision Utah was transportation policy, and the result has been one of the most multimodal transit systems in the United States:

  • A light rail system.  Key stops include the University of Utah and Medical Center, the airport, and Amtrak.
  • A heavier commuter rail running from Ogden to Provo.
  • A small streetcar system in one of Salt Lake City's oldest neighborhoods (which is connected to the light rail system.)
  • Traditional buses.
  • Bus rapid transit.
  • A healthy dose of bike paths.
Meanwhile, closer to home, Western New York's two key cities, Buffalo and Rochester, span a core distance of about 70 miles which is home to approximately 2.2 million residents.  High(er) speed rail between the cities is occasionally proposed and often ridiculed.  In Rochester, a city with 210,000 residents living in 37 square miles (3.5 times the density of Salt Lake City), a bike share has been deemed feasible but seems unlikely to materialize.

Fortunately, our community does have a vision.  This vision entails placing a few slot machines (but no table games or sportsbook) in the heart of downtown Rochester.  It is predicted that if this vision comes to fruition, Rochesterians will be guaranteed the ability to watch impoverished and/or elderly residents smoke high quantities of cigarettes.

Sunday, May 15, 2016


Prior to moving to Rochester, I was asked many times, "Why would you move there?" After moving to Rochester, I was asked even more often, "Why would you move here?" This repeated questioning began to make me think that perhaps I needed to apologize for living here.  Further supporting this feeling was the occasional local article highlighting young professionals who chose to move (back) to Rochester, often with a standard list of apologies such as:

  • It's close to family.
  • It's good for the kids (i.e. not necessarily good for me.)
  • It's an economic decision.
With the hopes of further adopting the local culture, I have identified a new list of apologies for all of us who have lived elsewhere but have had the misfortune of settling in Rochester:
  1. I apologize for wanting access to some of the best public high schools in the country.
  2. I apologize for wanting to live in a highly educated metropolitan area.
  3. I apologize for wanting to live somewhere recognized for its wine, beer, and coffee (the cocktails are decent, too.)
  4. I apologize for wanting to live somewhere with food that is both good and affordable, somewhere with an obviously up-and-coming food scene.
  5. I apologize for wanting to live in an area known for its music-centricity, one that provides access to one of the best music schools in the country and one of the largest summer jazz festivals in North America.
  6. I apologize for wanting to live somewhere consistently recognized for its arts vibrancy.
  7. I apologize for living in a metro area that has between 1 and 1.3 million people.  Does everyone in Raleigh, NC; Richmond, VA; New Orleans, LA; Hartford, CT; Salt Lake City, UT; and Tucson, AZ have to apologize as well?
The other option is we can just stop apologizing.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Population Density

As mentioned previously, I have zero expertise in urban planning.  As such, the following should be taken with a grain of salt.

America's current "hot spots" seem to fall into one of two categories:
a) The dense, vibrant, painful-for-cars model, or
b) The not as dense, brand new strip mall, 8-lane road model

More established cities such as San Francisco, Boston, and Chicago exemplify the first model, while relatively "newer" and rapidly growing cities such as Tampa, Raleigh, and Dallas exemplify the second model.  Both models are clearly attractive to different people.

As Rochester rebuilds and rebrands itself in the 21st century, there is no debate that our bones are better suited for the first model.  In fact, despite immense focus on population loss in the city of Rochester, the city continues to have one of the highest population densities among America's largest cities.  In other words, as downtown is redone, it seems prudent to listen to the voices emphasizing pedestrians, bicycles, and public transit.  These same voices may make life for the automobile somewhat unpleasant, but the outcome could be remarkably agreeable.

Among the top 105 cities by population, here are the top 20 percent in terms of population density (i.e. population per square mile) as of 2010:

  1. New York City - 27,012
  2. San Francisco - 17,179
  3. Jersey City, NJ - 16,737
  4. Boston - 12,793
  5. Santa Ana, CA - 11,901
  6. Chicago - 11,842
  7. Miami - 11,539
  8. Newark, NJ - 11,458
  9. Philadelphia - 11,379
  10. Hialeah, FL - 10,474
  11. Washington, DC - 9,856
  12. Long Beach, CA - 9,191
  13. Los Angeles - 8.092
  14. Baltimore - 7,672
  15. Seattle - 7,251
  16. Minneapolis - 7,088
  17. Oakland - 7,004
  18. Anaheim, CA - 6,748
  19. Buffalo - 6,471
  20. Milwaukee - 6,188
  21. Rochester, NY - 5,885

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Solutions, or Lack Thereof

Every so often, we are reminded about the city of Rochester's disastrous childhood poverty rate, disconcerting educational environment, and stubborn embrace of violent crime.  The Rochester region has taken some less desirable elements and lumped them together in a select few areas.  This phenomenon is not unique to Rochester and can be noted in essentially every metro area of the country.  As mentioned many times previously, Rochester's major handicap is that it has firm geographic boundaries around the problem areas, making our performance in statistical analyses rather dismal.  To make matters worse, the problem areas are found in the heart of the region, not pushed to the outskirts as seen in "poverty-free" metros.

Given that boundaries are not going to change anytime soon, Rochester has to dig deep to find solutions to contend with its unflattering numbers.  Our well-intentioned local papers seem to place the onus on those not living in poverty to improve conditions for those living in poverty.  While everyone would love to help, here are a few statistics which show that we are already trying pretty hard, to no avail:

  • During fiscal year 2013, New York State had the highest annual per-pupil spending of any state at $19,818.  In 2013, the Rochester City School District spent $20,333 per pupil, third highest in the country among the 217 districts with over 30,000 students, and higher than most suburban districts in Monroe County.
  • In fiscal year 2014, New York State spent $54 billion on Medicaid, second only to California (though far exceeding California on a per-capita basis), and crushing more populated Texas ($32 billion).
  • Among the 51 largest U.S. metro areas, Rochester has the fifth highest rate of volunteerism.
  • Two of the highest performing elementary schools in the region speak against a problem with overt racism - Mendon Center Elementary School in Pittsford is 28% non-white, and French Road Elementary School in Brighton is 30% non-white.
Coming from someone who votes Democrat, we have to at some point accept that those not in poverty cannot help those in poverty unless some return effort is exhibited.

Monday, May 2, 2016


While Rochesterians do have a tendency to undervalue local wine, one local characteristic is impossible to overlook: the ability to whine.  This griping is usually applied to one of the following categories, in no particular order:

  • Taxes
  • Clouds
  • Any form of precipitation
  • Something that some other city has that Rochester doesn't
With the goal of eliminating other potential factors that might incite whining, here is a list of the 10 Best Cities for Cheap Car Insurance (among the 125 largest U.S. cities):
  1. Winston-Salem, NC
  2. Greensboro, NC
  3. Raleigh, NC
  4. Durham, NC
  5. Charlotte, NC
  6. Boise, ID
  7. Rochester, NY
  8. Fayetteville, NC
  9. Spokane, WA
  10. Montgomery, AL

Sunday, April 24, 2016

More on Beverages

As stated many times previously, Rochesterians have an uncanny ability to underappreciate anything and everything that is in or near Rochester.  Restaurants, parks, universities, museums...nothing is safe from the devaluing of all that is local.

A perfect example is the Finger Lakes wine region.  Mention of this wine region among the particularly pessimistic evokes unfavorable comparisons to California.  The slightly less despondent might be willing to acknowledge the strength of local Rieslings, but always with the disclaimer that the red wines are undrinkable.

Fortunately, entities with slightly more expertise are not as harsh on our local wine region.  Last year, Wine Enthusiast revealed its 10 Best Wine Travel Destinations of 2015.  Included were two destinations in France, one in Italy, one in New Zealand, one in Spain, and one in California.  Also included were the Finger Lakes?! Isn't that between Rochester and Syracuse?!

In describing the region, the magazine states that "increasingly, red varieties like Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Syrah are stealing the spotlight." It appears that the cynics among us may have to look for new subject matter.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Another Lesson from Raleigh

Rochester and the Northeast in general place a premium on the maintenance of old buildings.  Even when new buildings are built, they are made to fit the character of neighborhoods that are full of old buildings.  This noble cause of preservation helps maintain a certain uniqueness in an era when much of America looks remarkably the same.  Unfortunately, a fine line exists between preservation and obstruction.

A look around the country suggests that Americans are not nearly as interested in architecture as some would maintain.  As an example, Raleigh, North Carolina, one of the fastest growing metro areas in the country, is full of developments that might horrify Northeasterners.  Yet the area continues to be a magnet for...Northeasterners.

While I have zero expertise in zoning and urban development (for that, go to the amazing site Rochester Subway), the following seems like a logical approach to rebuilding Rust Belt cities such as Rochester:

  • If private money can pursue a new venture by reusing an old building, all parties can be content.
  • If private money can pursue a new venture that mandates the demolition or alteration of an abandoned structure, obstructionism to the point of derailing the development and preserving the abandoned structure is puzzling.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Triangle

In 1959, Research Triangle Park opened in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill region of North Carolina. Preceding the presence of this park, North Carolina's economy was sluggish at best, characterized by low-wage jobs in furniture and textile manufacturing along with an inability to retain talent produced by area universities.  In an absolutely visionary move, governmental entities worked with three key universities to create an environment enticing to private sector research companies.  These companies which would be lured to the region could then feed off the intellectual assets produced by higher education, creating a model for what would eventually become a knowledge-based economy.  The result today is one of America's fastest growing metropolitan areas.  As an example, the population of the city of Raleigh has increased from 65,679 in 1950 to 439,896 in 2014.

Despite this Hollywood ending, Research Triangle Park was not always guaranteed to succeed.  Early obstacles included:

  1. A less than stellar perception of the Southeast, which at the time was known much more for segregation and conservatism than education and innovation, and
  2. Five years of slow growth which seemed to diminish the credibility of the park.
How is any of this relevant to Rochester? As of 2015, Rochester is home to a nationwide consortium focused on integrated photonics, i.e. the marriage of light and computer chips for applications in telecommunications, health care, etc.  At the current time, attempting to ascertain exactly how this consortium might work is an impossible task.  A reasonable portion of local media coverage has actually focused on childlike bickering over which empty buildings to use.  However, despite the unknowns, there are already a few key points that Rochester can learn from Research Triangle Park:
  • Contrary to the beliefs of some grumpy Rochesterians, government, universities, and the private sector can work together to boost a regional economy.
  • Rochester's reputational shortcomings can and should be overcome.
  • The University of Rochester and the Rochester Institute of Technology are world-class universities that can easily produce the knowledge and expertise necessary for the future of this venture.
  • Expecting tangible results in six months, one year, or even three years is ludicrous.
  • If the photonics initiative has even a tiny fragment of the success of Research Triangle Park, that might be enough to fully rejuvenate Rochester.
  • Since the project includes two key local universities (as opposed to three), the word triangle cannot be used.  That said, I think we can all be happy with a line.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Walkability, Again

A large amount of emphasis has been placed in recent years on reversing decades of catering to the automobile.  The focus has shifted instead to the simple act of walking.  Although this change in culture does not correlate with economic vibrancy (economically vibrant cities in Texas are not generally known for walkability), the cultural transformation does tend to create cities that feel more vibrant.

As previously seen, Rochester is doing reasonably well in this regard.  Walk Score identified Rochester as the 22nd most walkable city among 108 cities with populations over 200,000.  Among mid-sized cities (those with populations between 200,000 and 300,000), Rochester was the 6th most walkable.  It has also been recognized as one of the most affordable walkable cities.

Here is yet more data that highlights Rochester's friendliness to pedestrians.  The following list identifies the 10 safest large metropolitan areas (populations over 1 million) for pedestrians, as measured by a low rate of vehicle-related pedestrian fatalities.  While this list is not a source of pride per se, it does indicate that Rochester has the bones to be that compact, lively city that seems to be in demand:

  1. Boston, MA
  2. Pittsburgh, PA
  3. Seattle, WA
  4. New York, NY
  5. San Francisco, CA
  6. Minneapolis, MN
  7. Portland, OR
  8. Chicago, IL
  9. Rochester, NY
  10. Cleveland, OH

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Syracuse Factor

As a lifelong University of Connecticut fan, embracing Syracuse men's basketball was a challenge, but one that I've overcome.  This year's unexpected run to the Final Four has only solidified my position on the bandwagon.  All joking aside, Upstate New York is fortunate to have an entity that provides free advertising nearly every March.  For a region that is often overlooked, having something that reminds the country of our existence can only be viewed as an asset.  Here are a few reasons why Rochesterians should continue to root hard for the Orange:

  • As noted in the past, coach Jim Boeheim is from Lyons, New York.  Lyons, located in Wayne County, is firmly part of the Rochester metro area.
  • While sports teams tend to have a markedly overhyped direct economic impact, it cannot be denied that they help with civic pride and regional branding.  They may also have a harder to measure indirect economic impact by making an area seem more desirable to at least a certain number of people.
  • Despite our governor's fascination with in-state economic competitions, the reality is that during these global times, Rochester is not so much competing with Syracuse and Buffalo as it is with other states and other countries.  A broader view of development and branding makes sense, especially given that the Rochester, Syracuse, and Buffalo Combined Statistical Areas together have about 3.1 million people, i.e. more than 20 states.  Perhaps the regional brand could be "The 2-3 Zone" as in 2 Great Lakes and 3 Underrated Cities.  Okay, maybe not.  Regardless, the growth of Syracuse and Buffalo are perhaps critical for the success of Rochester.
  • It's a good excuse to drink local beer.

Monday, March 28, 2016


Rochester is clearly reputationally challenged, as are cities in a wide swath of land surrounding Rochester.  What many don't realize is that these once great and now rebuilding cities offer the educational and cultural amenities of much better-branded locations, usually with a higher dose of urban blight, but generally at a lower cost and with less hassle.  However, to lend credibility to this blog, it has to be admitted that reputation does have a basis in reality.  While overall trends in the region are fueling optimism, reminders of our Rust Belt location are still alive and well.  Here are two examples of worrisome, though hopefully short-term, findings (and some rationalization as to why Rochester will be just fine.)

  • From 2014 to 2015, the Rochester metropolitan area lost 1,724 residents.  (Rationalization: if the data is assessed from 2010 to 2015, the metro area is still up by 2,283 residents.  Furthermore, Monroe County is still up 5,256 residents from 2010, meaning a good chunk of population loss is coming from outlying counties and not the heart of the region.  Finally, another key county to the region, Ontario County, was one of only three counties in the state to have added more new residents since 2010 from other places than it lost to other places.)
  • From February 2015 to February 2016, Rochester lost 4,400 private sector jobs.  (Rationalization: a state labor analyst found the numbers "suspicious" as they were not in line with other employment indicators.  Furthermore, as per the Democrat and Chronicle, the region (hopefully) has a few thousand jobs in the pipeline.)

Monday, March 21, 2016


Rochester dominates the category of "big-city culture, small-town convenience." The region provides a majority of what makes huge cities great while minimizing the factors that make huge cities painful.  But on (rare) occasion, a field trip to a huge city can be invigorating, and having one available can help complement life in a more mid-sized metro.  In Rochester's case, directly across Lake Ontario lies arguably one of the world's greatest cities, Toronto.  The need to drive around the lake turns a 90-mile trip into a 165-mile journey, but here are a few reasons why the occasional visit is warranted:

  • With a population of 2.8 million, the city of Toronto is the fourth largest in North America.
  • If diversity is of interest to you, the over 140 different languages spoken in the city might be appealing.
  • Along with a ludicrous number of languages comes an amazing array of ethnic food, enough to make Toronto a destination even among New Yorkers (as in New York City residents.)
  • Rochester, thanks to Buffalo and Syracuse, has easy access to the NFL, NHL, the highest level of NCAA basketball, and the highest level of NCAA football.  Toronto completes our big-time sports package by providing MLB, NBA, and MLS.
  • Spending a few hours in traffic on the Queen Elizabeth Way serves as a nice reminder why living in Rochester is phenomenal.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Ahead of its Time

While all cities are rooted in their history, few can take as much pride in their past as Rochester.  In Rochester, Frederick Douglass found an environment suitable to publishing his abolitionist newspaper The North Star, and his life inspired the country's first monument to an African American.  His friend, Susan B. Anthony, used Rochester as her home base in her fight to earn women the right to vote.  This culture of forward thinking has defined the region, and it has manifested itself in a wide variety of arenas.  A perfect example can be found in Rochester's sports history.

Two of the most important blows to the color barrier in sports have prompted major motion pictures:

  • Jackie Robinson's historic 1947 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers of Major League Baseball was captured in the 2013 film 42.
  • Don Haskins, whose Texas Western team comprised of five black starters beat all-white Kentucky in the 1966 NCAA men's basketball championship, had his story retold in the 2006 drama Glory Road
In keeping with Rochester's humility, its own contributions to breaking the color barrier in sports are generally little known and uncommonly discussed.  Yet here are the facts:
  • In 1946, the Rochester Royals of the National Basketball League, which would later merge with the Basketball Association of America to form the National Basketball Association (NBA), became one of the first teams to sign an African-American player, William "Dolly" King.
  • In 1950, Earl Lloyd of the Washington Capitols became the first African American to play in the NBA.  That uneventful event took place in...Rochester.  As Leo Roth wrote in the Democrat & Chronicle, Rochester may have been the perfect place for this integration to occur because:
  1. By the standards of the time, it was already integrated
  2. It had previously been through this process four years earlier, and
  3. In Lloyd's hilarious own words, it was too cold for the Ku Klux Klan.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Asking Too Much

Rochester, as evidenced by the data, offers:

Despite this difficult-to-replicate resume, we have a tendency to demand more.  Obviously, requesting a more vibrant downtown is extremely reasonable and essentially mandatory for the success of the region.  But beyond that, other overheard requests include:
  • Neiman Marcus
  • Chinese food on par with Chinatown in San Francisco, where 21% of residents are of Chinese ethnicity.
  • Mexican food options available in El Paso, Texas, which is as close to being in Mexico without actually being in Mexico as possible.
  • Double or triple the number of watering holes, as might be found in regions with double or triple the population.
While no one would reject these items should they appear, one has to wonder if we are asking too much? These desires may be the equivalent of:
  • Expecting a $600-per-month one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan.
  • Expecting a 10-minute commute in Washington, D.C.
  • Expecting 70-degree weather in January in Chicago.
  • Expecting people in Kentucky to appreciate science (my wife is from there so it's all good).

Thursday, March 3, 2016


U.S. News & World Report recently released its inaugural Best Places to Live rankings.  The analysis studied the country's 100 largest metropolitan areas by looking at five indexes:

  1. Job Market received 20% weight.
  2. Value, a measure of income relative to cost of living, received 25% weight.
  3. Quality of Life received 30% weight.
  4. Desirability received 15% weight.
  5. Net Migration received 10% weight.
These five indexes were then combined into an overall score which ranged from 0 - 10.  With an overall score of 7.8, Denver took the #1 spot.  With an overall score of 6.5 and a ranking of #60, Rochester's performance was, well, average.

A closer look at the analysis shows a few encouraging signals.  As an example, Rochester's position outranked major metro areas such as Atlanta, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and New York City.  Furthermore, the separation between metro areas seemed rather minimal.  With a score of 6.5, Rochester was ranked essentially on par with #52 Spokane, WA.  In fact, a slightly higher score of 6.7 would have placed Rochester at #28 along with Richmond, VA.

However, by far and away the most encouraging signal comes from manipulation of one index, namely desirability.  This index was essentially a popularity contest based upon a survey asking people where they would most like to live.  Denver's stellar overall performance was in large part due to an extremely high desirability index.  Hypothetically, if Rochester had achieved the same desirability index as Denver (and kept its other four indexes exactly the same), Rochester's overall score would have increased to 7.1, placing it alongside #8 Washington D.C. and #9 San Francisco.

What is the point? Branding and perception can make a huge difference.  So if you happen to be a Rochester detractor, PLEASE stop.  You're dragging the rest of us down.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016


One of the more amusing features of Rochester is the longing exhibited by Rochesterians for retail options available in larger metro areas.  As someone who has spent 21 years in New England, perhaps my ability to relate to such longing is somewhat limited.  New England, comprised of six states, has exactly one city with major professional sports.  The Rochester metro area has a larger population than two states in New England, namely Rhode Island and Vermont.  In fact, Monroe County alone is more populated than Vermont.  If Rochester were in New England, it would be the second largest city after Boston.  But if our yearning must continue, here are a few points about apparently important things that we lack:

  • Nordstrom, which I have never been to, is an upscale retailer that is not located in Rochester.  To be precise, it is not found in 12 states.  As a substitute, Rochester has Von Maur, which I have also never visited.
  • Tiffany & Co., per Wikipedia, is renowned for its luxury goods and is particularly known for its diamond jewelry.  I'm pretty sure Rochester has jewelry stores.
  • Louis Vuitton sells purses for around $1000 each.  Is that a good thing?
  • Prada...I thought that was a movie with Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway.
  • West Elm...actually we have that one.
  • Wegmans is headquartered here, I believe.

Sunday, February 28, 2016


Rochester, without a doubt, is the master of under advertising world-class offerings.  Whether this skill is applied to our universities, scientists, artists, or architecture, Rochester (despite some earnest efforts) has an uncanny ability to make sure that visitors and residents alike underappreciate the region.  While there is no denying some allure to fancy/new/chain-store-laden strip plazas, pop music, and beach novels, Rochester's forte is usually found at a deeper, more complex level.  The 58th Grammy Awards, presented two weeks ago, provide a perfect example.  While we don't offer Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, or Bruno Mars (although his keyboardist John Fossitt is from Rochester), we do offer Maria Schneider, Dave Rivello, and Bob Ludwig.  But who are these guys anyway? As per the Democrat & Chronicle:

  • Maria Schneider earned her master's degree from the Eastman School of Music.  She has won multiple Grammy Awards, including two this month for (a) Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album (The Thompson Fields) and (b) Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals for her arrangement of David Bowie's "Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)" from his album Nothing Has Changed.
  • Dave Rivello also earned his master's degree at Eastman and is currently an assistant professor at the school.  Rivello produced Grammy-nominated album Lines of Color which might have won Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album were it not for...Maria Schneider.
  • Bob Ludwig, another Eastman alumnus, has had a remarkably successful career as a mastering engineer.  The Alabama Shakes album Sound & Color did quite well at the Grammys, winning (among others) Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical thanks to...Bob Ludwig.
It's worth mentioning that these artists were just 3 of 7 Grammy-nominated musicians with Eastman ties.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


Rochester, with its Upstate New York/Rust Belt location, has the perfect combination of intelligence, hard work, and grit.  This formula is responsible for Rochester's perseverance and (slow) growth despite reasonably long odds.  This formula also happens to be a perfect recipe for making great coaches.  The Rochester region has an impressive list of characters who have achieved remarkable coaching success on some of the country's biggest stages.  Admittedly, a few of the Rochester ties are soft, but that shouldn't stop us from claiming the following as our own:

  • Jay Wright has taken Villanova University's men's basketball team to four Sweet 16 appearances, two Elite Eight appearances, and one Final Four appearance.  The Wildcats are currently ranked #1 in the country.  Wright's first coaching job was at...the University of Rochester.
  • John Beilein led the University of Michigan's men's basketball team to the 2013 national championship game (unfortunately defeating Syracuse in the Final Four.)  Beilein's third coaching job was at...Nazareth College.
  • Stan Van Gundy has coached the NBA's Miami Heat, Orlando Magic (taking them to the 2009 NBA finals), and Detroit Pistons.  He honed his understanding of the game while playing college basketball at...SUNY-Brockport.
  • Jeff Van Gundy, Stan's younger brother, has coached the NBA's New York Knicks (leading them to the 1999 NBA finals) and Houston Rockets.  He is currently one of the most colorful basketball analysts in the country.  He played high school basketball at Brockport Central and college basketball at Nazareth College.  His first coaching job was at...McQuaid Jesuit High School.
  • Jim Boeheim has taken Syracuse University's men's basketball team to 28 NCAA tournaments, including four Final Four appearances, three national title games, and one national championship.  Boeheim was born in...Lyons, NY.
  • Tom Coughlin has been an immensely successful head football coach in both college (Boston College) and the NFL (Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Giants.)  Under his watch, the Giants won two Super Bowls.  Coughlin was born in Waterloo, NY, and his first head coaching job was at...RIT.

Sunday, February 21, 2016


The overall purpose of this blog is to help earn Rochester the respect that it deserves.  In general, this goal can be accomplished simply by highlighting the virtues of Rochester without disparaging other locations.  At times, however, the need to deflate another area is overwhelming.  Take, for instance, the case of Texas.  The Lone Star State has been billed as America's utopia, a land with no taxes, nearly free housing, and two high-paying jobs per every one resident.  But before we all relocate to Dallas, Austin, Houston, and San Antonio, here are a few tidbits worth noting (granted many people may have limited or zero interest in these issues):

  • As of 2013, Texas, quite comfortably, had the highest percentage of residents without health insurance (27%) of any state in the country.
  • As of 2011, Texas accounted for 12.18% of the country's annual carbon dioxide emissions.  In contrast, its nearest competitor, California, which has about 1.5 times the population of Texas, accounted for only 6.42%.  New York State, despite having 6.26% of the country's population, accounted for only 2.93% of the country's carbon dioxide emissions.
  • As of 2013, Texas had 400,000 workers earning at or below minimum wage.  Its closest competitor, Pennsylvania, had 189,000 such workers.
  • Judging by the commentary in our local newspapers, Rochester apparently has a crisis of inequality.  As previously shown, Rochester is actually one of the ten least income-segregated large metro areas in the country.  If you want to see true income segregation, move to San Antonio (#1 in the country for income segregation), Houston (#4), Dallas (#8), or Austin (#10).
  • As of 2009, about 79.9% of Texas residents aged 25 and over had at least a high school degree, good enough for last in the country.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Intelligence, on a higher level

For unexplained reasons, I decided to make Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution, by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and astronomy writer Donald Goldsmith, my latest "leisure reading."  With my rate of understanding on a really good day hovering around fifty percent, I have mostly learned that there are some ridiculously smart people in this world.  Not at all surprisingly, a decent chunk of this brilliance finds itself in our own backyard.  In typical modest, understated, and under advertised fashion, Rochester's contribution to astronomy/astrophysics/cosmology is beyond comprehension (literally and figuratively.)  Here are just a few examples:

  • Optimax, based in Wayne County, specializes in small volume, highly complex optics manufacturing.  The company has participated in many NASA programs by providing lenses designed for position sensing, mapping landforms, and optical analysis.  Optimax products have been a part of Mercury Messenger, various Mars Rovers, and Pluto New Horizons.
  • A 2013 study in Nature's Scientific Reports attempted to identify the world's leading producers and consumers of knowledge in Physics.  As of 2009, Rochester ranked 18th (in the world!).
  • Adam Frank is co-founder of NPR's 13.7: Cosmos & Culture blog.  He is an occasional contributor to The New York Times and has written two books, The Constant Fire: Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate and About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang.  His research involves the development of advanced supercomputer tools to study the formation and death of stars.  Adam Frank happens to be a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester.
  • Until recently, Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity had one unverified prediction: the presence of gravitational waves.  As it turns out, about one billion years ago, two black holes collided, causing massive ripples in space-time which were detected on Earth...a few months ago?! But how did scientists even know what these gravitational waves would look like when they found them? This critical knowledge was provided by earlier mathematical and simulated predictions performed by none other than the Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation at RIT.