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:
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Manhattan...the one in Kansas
My preliminary research suggests that Rochester has more restaurants than Enid.
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):
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?
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):
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...