Thursday, August 7, 2008

Re-Enliven Downtown Rochester: Gauging the Genesee Crossroads Park

Rochester is a very interesting city from economic, cultural and architectural viewpoints. A city started as a 100-acre tract by a Southerner has grown to be the Imaging Capital of the World. The city has a fascinating history of being a flour city, then the “flower” city, the hometown for the Cunningham Carriage Company to modern technology giants like Xerox and Kodak. Being one of the earliest American boom cities, Rochester has also garnered a rich cultural heritage. Its inhabitants include migrants from all of America, and immigrants from Europe and Asia. Architecturally, Rochester’s charms, unlike some of the other American bigwigs, lie not in imposing structures in downtown but in residential settings as the city hosts a plethora of historic neighborhoods exhibiting the coming of age of contemporary American architecture.

In the recent past, though, Rochester, much like many other American boom cities, has suffered from the changing trends and global shifts of the economy. As a result, the once-ebullient downtown looks a pale shadow of itself. I have been working as an intern with the Landmark Society for the past two months. Along with two other interns, I am involved in conducting a survey of the Rochester inner loop buildings, built in the period of 1930 to 1970. The survey introduced me to some fascinating spaces in and around downtown Rochester.

One such space very close to my heart is the Genesee Crossroads Park, the urban park behind the First Federal Building on Main Street. Deplorably, in the current day, this park is completely abandoned and is home only for the homeless. The seemingly inconspicuous park, in my opinion, has much potential to become the heart of activity of downtown.

The plaza has a very interesting design, and if the connectivity of this park with the Aqueduct Park across the street is reinforced, this park can become the focal point of Main Street and Downtown Rochester. The park is designed as a sunken plaza right next to the Genesee River. A semi-circular arrangement of charming stone steps provides an amphitheater-like feel. The Sister Cities Bridge connects the Clarion hotel to the plaza. The central space of this plaza is most fascinating with a view of Clarion hotel and Riverside Convention hall to the east, Andrews Terrace housing on the north, and the marble-laced Federal building on the south. This urban park could be the anchor of downtown and serve as a seasonal activity center of the city.

I took my husband to this park on a bright Sunday afternoon and saw no sign of activity except a homeless man using the seating area as a bed. I remember that this park was used as a site for food festival a month ago, but otherwise it is not used for any events. I could visualize this park as a bustling activity center. It can be used for events like game shows, outdoor dances, concerts, markets and all the outdoor festivities.

I read the post by Rebecca and could relate to it. I spent two years studying in San Antonio and visited Austin frequently. I could visualize the park to be a miniature temporary version of La Vilita village, where artists had their studios, shops and restaurants. The Genesee Park could in fact be used as a platform for art shows. The work force of Rochester is committed to discovering a new place for Rochester in the technology landscape. It’s time we make similarly dedicated efforts in developing its future cultural fabric.

Posted by Nimisha Thakur, one of the Landmark Society's "Recent Past" Interns


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