Archived entries for Rochester

Spring is almost here!

I’m all set with this cold weather. Next week we spring forward, so sunny skies and flowers in bloom must be right around the corner. Today I tortured myself by looking back at old photos of warmer weather and found this cool close-up shot from Rochester’s spectacular Highland Park that I took a few springs ago.



eastman_house_march2007I picked the right weekend to come to Rochester: the weather has been spectacular, and I’ve been able to go out and reshoot many of the architecture photos I took four years ago. The shot to the right is from this afternoon on the west facade of the George Eastman House, aka the International Museum of Photography and Film. The museum has a fabulous exhibit going on right now of David Seymour photos.

While in Rochester I’ve been able to spend plenty of time checking out my favorite old haunts: Spin Caffe, Spot Coffee, Cibon, Esan Thai, Tilt, a very sad Muther’s, and a new joint I’m in love with: Solera, a wine bar in the emerging South Wedge part of town.

The more things change in Rochester…the more they stay the same. One thing I always find weird about visiting western New York is that the faces don’t seem to change much. The same people I saw in bars seven years ago are still the same ones I saw last night!

Proof they talk funny in Rochester

Since the first day I set foot in Rochester, I said that locals speak funny. No one believed me, but now I have proof. According to today’s Democrat & Chronicle, “We may not know it, we may deny it and we might even be embarrassed about it, but a Pennsylvania linguist insists we talk funny in Raachester.”

Mayor kills ferry

rochester_ferry_0111Two weeks into his first term as mayor of Rochester, Robert Duffy last night made the decision to pull the plug on the Rochester to Toronto fast ferry, which zoomed across Lake Ontario in 2 1/2 hours. “The City of Rochester will no longer be in the ferry business,” he said.

The service began just two years ago, and was plagued from the start with missteps and fluctuating ridership, but opponents of the mayor’s decision say it’s too early to cancel a service that hasn’t had a chance to prove itself yet.

Toronto David Miller is among those who disagreed with the move, saying, “It’s too bad. The ferry was a good thing for Toronto. This is a waterfront city and the ferry provided an opportunity to bring travelers here from all over the northeastern United States. It’s a regrettable development.’’

The best part of the ferry’s run was not the service — which for speedy drivers like me did not cut the travel time between Rochester and Toronto at all — but rather the media circus it created. Jan Wong of the Globe and Mail started the trend a few years back with a searing travel piece on Rochester: “The good news is that Torontonians are getting an exciting new car ferry,” her piece declared. “The bad news is it’s going to Rochester.” In the middle of the excitement, I had this op-ed about Rochester to offer.

The things you find!

The other day I found an old disposable camera that I had kept in my car during college for those moments when one would come in handy. Today I finally had the photos developed out of sheer curiosity, and unfortunately, few photos actually came out. But among the poor shots there were two portraits: one of me and one of my friend Julie at the crest of Cobbs Hill Park in Rochester. I pieced the two together in Photoshop to create this shot. Julie, unlike me, knows how to smile in photos. I just pose for them.

Searching for Jesus?

jesus_on_a_treeIt turns out he is on tree bark in Rochester.

“Call it a cry for peace, a test of faith or a random act of nature, a tree growing on Rochester’s North Clinton Avenue so far has attracted several dozen believers who say they see the image of Jesus Christ on the tree’s trunk.”

“I see it clearly,” said Yomaira Otero of Rochester, who stood in the pouring rain Tuesday with six members of her family to see the tree. She spoke in Spanish to her relatives and pointed out the facial features, including the beard of bark she saw. “He looks like he’s sleeping.”

Doug Mandelaro, a spokesman for Rochester’s Roman Catholic Diocese, said he “wouldn’t dare to comment on someone else’s moment of inspiration or religious experience. Religious experience is and always has been a mystery and very personal.”

Ferry flop

The relaunched fast ferry across Lake Ontario to Toronto that has been heralded as the saviour of Rochester’s beleaguered economy lost $4.2 million in it first two months back in service. The problem-plagued ferry’s staggering losses are surely a blow to boosters who see the city as anchoring the eastern end of a vast, international metropolitan area stretching from Rochester to Buffalo and on to Toronto.

ImageOut starts this week

mostly_unfabulousEach year, one of my favourite trips is toImageOut, the Rochester Gay & Lesbian Film & Video Festival. It is one of America’s biggest, with 41 programs spread over 10 days beginning this weekend.

Friday’s opening night film, “The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life Of Ethan Green,” the live adaptation of the syndicated comic strip of the same name, is basically the story of my life. And hunky star Daniel Letterle will be at the film, which is being screened at the very cute Art Deco Little Theatre.

The premise is thus: Do you sometimes wonder why you cannot find a decent date when you believe you are quite a catch? And are you getting tired and frustrated with the gay dating scene? Meet Ethan Green, a charming and adorable 26-year-old professional assistant, who cannot seem to hang on to a relationship despite all the men willing to give him a try. He considers himself unlucky in love – a claim anyone who knows him will quickly refute. They’ll all be glad to tell you the real problem: that Ethan cannot compromise, and that he is afraid to love and be loved.

How not to destroy Rochester (again)

roch_subway_tunnel2Last week the New York Times ran afeature on Rochester’s plans to fill in its abandoned subway tunnel to save the cash-strapped city money. I don’t normally revisit stories I’ve written about, but the sheer volume of email I’ve received about this story, as well as my own feelings on the matter, allow me this one exception.

Since running a brief snippet on the subway plan, I’ve heard it all: There have been spectacular under-table allegations that a city councillor may financially benefit from the fill. There have been claims that this is really just a staggering political dogfight between would-be mayoral candidates with disparate visions for a revitalized Rochester. (I even heard claims, however far-fetched, that in a less democratic city, one might suspect some vote-buying is involved in this Tunnel Tale.)

Regardless, the tunnel-filling plan is a problem for a whole host of reasons, not the least disturbing of which is the city’s inability to realize that if they seal off the subway, they will only be committing one more in a series of grave missteps that have contributed to Rochester’s fall from American boom town to blighted downtown in the past half-century.

rochester_viaductRochester is unquestionably one of the nation’s best examples of the failures of 60s- and 70s-era urban renewal. Take the Inner Loop expressway, for instance. Heralded as a savior for Rochester when it was built, the highway ended up cutting off the business district from the rest of city, Grand Canyon-like. Even in daylight, downtown can feel eerily deserted thanks to the foresight of previous politicians. The area has never really recovered; whole swaths of razed land still lay empty. Forty years after its construction, eyes roll and heads wag at the mere mention of the elevated and sometimes-sunken roadway that courses around downtown.

And now comes controversy over the proposal to fill in the long-unused subway. Never mind that legitimate concerns have been expressed over the structural integrity of the city’s roughly-sketched plans (picture slumping streets and cost overruns). Will the vision of this generation’s leaders also cost the city dearly? In another 40 years, if Rochester fills its subway and rejects the hopes of the preservationist camp who want a museum or a bike trail or even a new light rail line, there is no doubt that the city built by George Eastman will once more be shaking its head.

The subway plan is but one in a whole host of options aimed at bringing back life to a moribund downtown. A major development called Renaissance Square is also planned and is being trumpeted as a modern-day fix for many of Rochester’s woes, especially transportation. The centerpiece of the $230 million Renaissance is an underground bus terminal, with a new campus for Monroe Community College and a new performing arts center also in the works. But why the plans for downtown investment make no mention of incorporating the old subway (somehow? anyhow?),  certainly its most unique asset, is anybody’s guess.

roch_subway_tunnel3Rochester residents are well-known for their preservation zeal, especially for old homes and historic sights. Now they have thrown their support into saving the subway, but you probably would not know that from the Times article, in which the writer seemed to downplay the number on the “Chill the Fill” side.Subway Erie Canal Revitalization, a group of thousands of community leaders from all walks of life who object to the city’s plans ÷ and no doubt to the inaction and grandstanding of politicians eager to get past this fall’s mayoral and city council elections ÷ presented a petition with 3,014 names to Rochester City Council on August 9, two days before the Timespiece ran. But there was no mention of that. They also hosted a recent walk-through of the tunnel that attracted over 300 curious Rochesterians, but that was not really mentioned, either.

Some took offence to the Times’ reference to Rochester’s crime rate, viewing it as an unnecessary jab at the city and unrelated to the tunnel project. Tangentially, though, itis related to the tunnel, but not everyone thinks this way and the Times certainly did not. Poor urban planning of the past has played a hand in making Rochester one of the country’s most economically and racially segregated cities, devoid of life downtown, with the crime to boot. Will these problems persist with this next urban renewal/cost-savings measure?

In the local Democrat & Chronicle recently, columnist Mark Hare gave his take on why the city shouldn’t fill the subway, even if plans for its reuse are, at the moment, completely up in the air. He said simply, “If we can save this piece of history, maybe it can become a piece of the future.”

The gracious architecture of Rochester: a preservation success story

Rochester wants to bulldoze its subway

rochester_tunnelRochester, best-known as the center of the world’s photographic industry, is believed to be the smallest city to ever build a subway ÷ then abandon it. Though Rochester is in the vanguard of historic preservation ÷ its urban estate district is one of the best preserved historic neighbourhoods in America ÷ plans have been hatched by the city to fill in the tunnel running through downtown Rochester, through which the city’s subway ran until service was suspended in 1956. And even the New York Timesis talking about it!

Not many people know about the subway ÷ I went to college there and didn’t even know about it ÷ and city officials were probably hoping that might help in their efforts to seal the tunnels. But since preservationists, including a group called Chill the Fill, caught wind of the proposed plans, they have been lobbying the city to forgo the $21 million fix and instead turn the 1.7 miles of track into a museum or light-rail line.

• Images: the beautiful abandoned subway of Rochester, New York

Let’s try this again

ferry_busclassThursday marks the relaunch of a high speed ferry service linking Toronto to Rochester, across Lake Ontario. Keep your fingers crossed that this time it sticks around. Since its launch last year, the ferry has been plagued by operational and financial challenges as well as rich political strife — not to mention the chatter among thousands of skeptical Torontonians who wonder why they’d ever want to sail over to Rochester, the third largest city in New York.

In the autumn of 2004, the ferry, which had been widely touted as the saving grace for Rochester’s miniscule tourism base, abruptly shut down service after just three months plying the waters, citing major financial problems. Even before then, though, it had its launch delayed when the ferry rammed a pier in New York City during its delivery then barely fit through the locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway en route to its new home port. The City of Rochester purchased the ferry at auction earlier this year and contracted with Bay Ferries, the operator of ferries in the Canadian Maritimes, to run the ship. “The Cat” aims to fly across the lake in about 2 hours and 15 minutes, which is comparable to the most recent Sebastian White drive from Rochester to the T-Dot (but a drive that should really take at least three).

Poor Punctuation on City Signage


Walking down Park Avenue in Rochester, N.Y., the other day, I came across these signs. Anyone who knows me well knows that there are few things in life I find more unattractive than misplaced apostrophes. These adjacent signs were identical until I ripped the bad apostrophe off the second one. The whole block had variations on the theme; I don’t think I saw two signs that had apostrophes — or the necessary lack of them — in the right places

Ferry Delayed Again

It’s beginning to feel a little bit like the Ten Plagues of Egypt for the new Toronto to Rochester fast ferry. Yesterday the City of Rochester, which purchased the high speed catamaran after its first operator abruptly ended service last year, said unforeseen software issues have delayed the ship from returning to Rochester from a shipyard near Niagara Falls where it was being readied for service. The ferry was expected to relaunch service on June 17, but that date is expected to be pushed back until June 30.

Rochester and Buffalo smoggier than NYC

Despite the widespread belief that New York is the smoggiest place in the Northeast, a new report from the American Lung Association says that upstate New York is worse off, largely because of its location downwind from Midwestern industrial centers. Despite the smog, both Rochester and Buffalo are two of my favorite places.


The fast…if very delayed…way to Toronto

spirit_of_ontarioAfter the initial suspension of service last fall on the Rochester to Toronto fast ferry after just three months in the water,service resumes on the route June 17. The high speed catamaran, which was bought this spring by the city of Rochester, will be renamed The Cat, and will slice its way across Lake Ontario in less than 3 hours (which is as long as it takes to drive around the Golden Horseshoe!). It will be operated by the same company that runs ferries between Bar Harbor, Maine, and Yarmouth, N.S.

In the piece, “A Ferry Bad Place,” the (humorous) columnist Jan Wong wrote excitedly about the prospect of a new ferry link to T-dot. She pointed out, “The good news is that Torontonians are getting an exciting new car ferry. The bad news is it’s going to Rochester.” Her comments sparked outrage in Rochester, and the jibes flung across the Lake and in newspaper op-ed pages for weeks to come.

At the time, I added my own contribution to the debate, the piece, “Rochester-Toronto Civic Clash Unnecessary.”

Lake Ontario Fast Ferry to Restart

In a big boost to the economy of western New York, the City of Rochester todaypurchased the Spirit of Ontario fast ferry that ceased operations last year after only 11 weeks of service. The city has incorporated the Rochester Ferry Co. and expects the ferry to again be plying the waters between Rochester and Toronto by the beginning of summer.

Official Rochester Ferry Co. web site (City of Rochester)

Rochester and Alfred

Boston was becoming a little crazy this week, so I headed west and had a great time in Rochester with the motley crew of Jules, Kevin, and Alan.  I don’t have any post-margaritas, post-sake, post-wine photos fit for posting, so I’ve put my Alfred girls below instead (thanks Brighid for the shots).  It’s been a year since graduating college, and coming back to Rochester was real deja vu.  It feels like home, and always makes me wonder whether Boston is really all it’s cracked up to be.


I could rent one of the Rochester’s fanciest penthouses for about the same $1200 I pay to share an apartment in Boston.  I’m a big fan of Rochester, but that’s also because I took the time during college to discover many of the city’s best kept secrets.  To me, it’s not a faded rust belt city but a vibrant city with spectacular parks, museums, restaurants, and cafes.  Though much of the inner-city itself is very poor, the suburbs like Pittsford and Brighton boast some of the nation’s highest median household incomes.  Rochester also has a little sex problem, which I studied in college.

This weekend was Senior Shows at Alfred.  It was great to see so many friends and professors, especially the sociology crew.  I spent some “quality time” with Becca (pic no. 3 above) and Alison (pic no. 1) and Brighid (all 3 shots). In some ways, it was a bizarre homecoming.  The place seemed changed, but we’re all at different points in our lives now.  We all seemed more enamoured of the Terra Cotta Coffee Company than the bar at Manhattan West.  Everyone has a vastly deep connection with each other, but after a year apart, we also seemed like strangers to each other.  Read my Alfred Sun essay about the weekend.

Strolling the aisles of mega Pittsford Wegmans, as every returning Rochesterian must, was a blast.  It’s considered the best grocery store in upstate New York, and being in one of the wealthiest towns in America, has the best of everything.  Every time I visit Weggers, I fret that we don’t have them in Boston.  They are a shrine to good food and good living.  I still have my Shopper’s Club card; it’s a treasure that I will keep forever

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