Neat Stuff Happening in Geneva

1.  Tonight (June 8, 2013) there is a Musical Porches event happening in the Founders Square neighbourhood.  See the GNRC website for more detail.  Speaking of which, didn’t the GNRC do a great job re-designing their website?!  Kudos to them!

2.  A fabulous new issue of Geneva-13 has just been released. Keep your eyes peeled around town for a copy.

3.  Our pals over at Love Geneva have declared June the “drink local month“.  I don’t know about you, but I will do my best to support our local businesses.

4.  There is an exciting article in the Finger Lakes Institute newsletter about the new community design center (FLI-CDC).  Led by Cari Varner, Instructor of Architectural Studies at Hobart and William Smith, the FLI-CDC will get rolling this summer by looking into green infrastructure best practices for historic districts and examining the 5&20 corridor (near Wegman’s).

Personally, I’m really happy that the 5&20 corridor will be explored and that new ideas for improving its overall management and design will be considered. As someone who occasionally walk-shops along that street, reducing the amount of signage and improving informal pedestrian trails are at the top of my own wish list for that street.

photoThis is a photo of some of the signage along the 5&20 corridor.  The McDonald’s sign is considerably shorter than many of the McDonald’s signs in my hometown, but the new plaza sign is a little on the big side, isn’t it?

I can’t wait to see how the program unfolds.  Good luck and congrats to everyone involved in this project.

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Why Porland isn’t Easily Replicable

For anyone interested in cities, Portland, Oregon, is the model to follow. The Pearl District is world-famous for its redevelopment of old warehouses into a funky downtown neighbourhood. The city boasts legendary coffee, hip hotels and even a tv show called Portlandia. There is free transit downtown and a gondola to one of the universities. Portland is home to real estate agents that specialize in finding homes for people who cycle and don’t own cars. There are food trucks, community gardens, green buildings, tent cities, neighborhood repair projects and on and on. In short, it’s a hub of city-building innovation.

Can we simply import these ideas to Geneva and hope that they take root? If we build community gardens and hip coffee shops will young people flock to our region and help us to rebuild our economy? I wish it was that easy.

The foundation of Portland’s success is the urban growth boundary (UGB), which was established by state legislation in the 1970s at the behest of a coalition of environmentally-minded local citizens and politicians. The UGB acts like a container for urban sprawl, prohibiting the region from developing farmland and growing ever-outward. The effect of the UBG on real estate is that the value of land inside the boundary increases significantly. Redeveloping unused sites within the city, building houses on smaller lots, or infilling vacant land become more economically viable options when land is scarce. Without a UGB, land on the urban fringe is often the cheapest option for building new homes and so the housing market typically moves outward instead.

As a result of increasing the density within the existing footprint of the region, Portland has been creating a more walkable and pedestrian oriented built environment. It is the dense, walkable built environment that creates opportunities for new businesses, community groups or ways of living to flourish. In short, the growth boundary set the stage by limiting the options for car-oriented, mall-based living.

Obviously, this is an oversimplification on my part. It’s not just about density and walkability. But those are key pieces of the equation. Any city that wants to embrace and build a uniquely urban community needs to reverse the economic incentives for sprawl and figure out how to encourage more people to get out of their cars.

Garden Walk Rocked

This weekend was the Garden Walk along Washington Street. Folks opened their yards to anyone who wanted to drop by and explore the garden. It was amazing to see what some people have done with their yards — there are flowers, fruits and veggies, places to sit and relax, ponds, statues and more. In addition to exploring the gardens, we really enjoyed running into friends along the way. We stopped and chatted, walked to another house, chatted some more and carried on. What a great way to spend the morning.

The other highlights from the event include the tree map that identifies some of the trees along Washington Street and the display hosted by two HWS students depicting a proposal for rebuilding the cemetery gate.

Oh and there is one more thing. We picked up a copy of Bloom, by artist Kevin Harwood. Bloom is a charming Illuminated Magazine about Geneva. Read more here.

20120624-164026.jpg20120624-164037.jpg20120624-164052.jpgA big thank-you to the organizers and volunteers who made the Garden Walk happen.

Fantastic Sustainability Lecture

Catherine Tumber, author of Small, Green and Gritty, is going to be speaking in Geneva as part of the HWS Sustainable Community Lecture Series.  Yay!  Patrick Cullina, former Chief Horticulturalist for the amazing High Line park in New York City and Professor Josh Cerra from the Department of Landscape Architecture at Cornell will also be speaking.  Double yay! 

The whole thing is going down on April 2 at 7 p.m. at the Cracker Factory (I keep meaning to write a post about the Cracker Factory.  For now, check out this blog post from The Scout).

Nice architecture but terrible streetscape

There are some beautiful buildings in downtown Rochester. And the Genesee River runs right through downtown. And yet to be downtown is somewhat unpleasant. This streetscape is totally lacking. There are lots of parking lots and buildings with no commercial on the ground floor, which means that you can walk for blocks without passing anything in particular. There seem to be no coffee shops, no grocery stores and no place to shop at all in fact. It’s a bit tragic.

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