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