Carnival @ Seneca Lake Park

Last night we went for ice cream down at the lake and discovered that there is a carnival happening this weekend. Looks like a lot of fun.

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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.

Does it matter if HWS has an office downtown?

Yes, it does. I recently noticed an HWS office sign downtown on Main Street. I really think this is a great idea for a number of reasons:

  • the more people working, living and shopping downtown, the more vibrant our Main Streets will become;
  • working downtown means that employees can use their lunch breaks to walk to places to eat or do errands (e.g. post office, public library);
  • there is one less vacant storefront;
  • I think the university is leasing the space, which means that the building owner, in turn, is paying property taxes (note: typically, universities are exempt from local property taxes), and;
  • it seems to me that there is something symbolic about extending the built environment of the campus into the heart of the city. I know that there are loads of great campus / community initiatives, but there is something about a bricks and mortar presence that strikes me as pretty powerful.

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HWS Sustainable Community Development Lecture Series

The HWS Finger Lakes Institute is presenting another greater lecture series about sustainable development. The first lecture is tonight and covers two very important issues in upstate NY – the reuse of vacant land and active transportation. This is going to be an excellent event if you can make it.

February 18: Our Built Environment
Susan Cosentini, New Earth Living and Michael Governale, Rochester Subway
7pm at Warren Hunting Smith Library, HWS Colleges

March 11: Energy and Waste
Khristopher Dodson, Environmental Finance Center at Syracuse University

April 8: Science and Technology’s Role in Sustainability
Rob Englert, Ram Industrial Design, D-Build, and Adirondack Firestone Company

April 22: Sustainable Community Development In Action
TBD

Seneca Falls Still Matters

I’ve been living in Geneva for a year and a half and I keep meaning to write a post about Seneca Falls, NY.  I was reminded of this intention when Obama referenced it in his Inauguration Address this past week.  Here’s what President Obama had to say:

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth. 

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began.  For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.  Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well….

I was very touched by these words and I was reminded that we still have a ways yet to go.

So what’s the deal with Seneca Falls?  Not 15 minutes from Geneva, the first women’s rights convention was held 165 years ago in 1848. Organized by five women, all of whom were familiar with the antislavery movement and four of whom were Quakers, the convention attracted 300 participants and resulted in the Declaration of Sentiments.  Signed by 100 men and women from the convention, the Declaration states unequivocally that all men and women are created equal.

photoToday, there is a Women’s Rights  National Historic Park commemorating the events that took place in Seneca Falls and celebrating the ongoing movement toward greater equality.

In 1847, just prior to the Seneca Falls Convention, Elizabeth Blackwell was accepted as a medical student at Geneva Medical College (now Hobart and William Smith Colleges).  She became the first woman to practice medicine in the United States.  Another pretty amazing achievement that took place right here in the Finger Lakes.

Until I moved to this area, I was not familiar with these details of history.  I am thankful for the memorials and public art that have at prompted me to learn about the past in this region.  And, of course, I am thankful for those who fought for justice and for those who continue to do so today.

What is Geneva’s walk score?

Walk Score is a website that measures the walkability of a neighborhood based on the number of consumer destinations within walking distance of a house.  Scores range from 0 (car dependent) to 100 (most walkable).  Geneva’s walk score is 85, above Rochester (63) and Canandaigua (77) but on par with NYC. Obviously, certain parts of Geneva (or any other community) are more walkable than others, but the walk score is nonetheless an interesting metric to give you a relative sense of how Geneva compares.

Walking matters for a whole range of reasons, including better health, fewer carbon emissions, saving money on transportation costs, saving money on road repairs, etc.  CEOs for Cities published a paper a few years ago about the link between walkability and housing values.  Since Geneva is looking to maintain or improve its housing stock, encouraging a walkable community seems like an important piece of this equation.  I’m honestly a little surprised that Geneva scored an 85.  I’d like to celebrate this achievement and at the same time, find ways to further improve the pedestrian environment.

What does the City spend money on?

The City of Geneva’s fiscal year is the calendar year.  This means that fall is the time of year that the City Council considers the 2013 budget.

I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the 2012 budget to see what kinds of things the City spends money on (in general terms).  The top three expenditure areas in 2012 were police (30%), fire (17%) and streets and highways (12%).  Total expenditures amounted to approximately $15 million.  Just as a reminder, water and sewer both have their own operating funds and aren’t included in this analysis (also recall that water and sewer are typically paid for through user fees rather than property taxes).

Table: City of Geneva, General Fund Expenditures, 2012

Source: City of Geneva, 2012 Budget Introduction, page 14

Three more reasons to LOVE Geneva

I am slowly coming out of summer hibernation and have a whole bunch of AMAZING things to highlight.  Check this stuff out:

Geneva Photo Walk:  Join local photographer Kevin Colton on October 13, 2012 at 4 pm at HWS for a free Photo Walk of Geneva.  For more information or to register, please visit the worldwide photo walk website.  This event brings together a bunch of things that I really enjoy – walking, photography and Geneva!

Love Geneva The facebook page for this group describes Love Geneva as “an independent, grass-roots movement supporting economic and social sustainability in Geneva, NY”.  This past weekend they organized a cash-mob and encouraged folks to show some love to local hardware store, FA Church.

Bicycle Astronomy:  According to the website, “the idea of Bicycle Astronomy is to pair a long-tailed cargo bicycle with a telescope and run sustainable, spontaneous star parties around the city.”  Living on the west coast I thought I had seen every kind of bike imaginable.  But I was wrong.  I had yet to see a star bike toting a telescope around town.

How innovative is this stuff?  I love that all three initiatives are pedestrian-oriented (the hardware store is in our little walkable downtown).  Gooooo Geneva!

Edible Geneva

There are several wonderful places to eat in downtown Geneva.  I love walking downtown for food and drinks at one of the locally-owned, independent restaurants or pubs.  I’m really impressed that there is so much good food in such a small city.  I’m also impressed that these businesses are choosing to set-up shop in our walkable and quaint downtown.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the downtown, but it’s no longer the commercial core of the city.  I think it’s important to support these businesses if we’d like to eat local food and create viable downtown communities.

Let me tell you — I am not the only fan.  Edible Finger Lakes has recently published an article highlighting many of the good eats (and good peeps!) in town.  Some of my personal favourites include the following:

  • Leaf Kitchen: local, organic, lots of veggie options and a Canadian chef(!)
  • Red Dove: local, organic, fab beer menu and great space
  • Dallywater’s: delightfully British, beautiful window seats and fantastic food and teas
  • Pure: yummy Indian food including lots of veggie options
  • Mircoclimate Wine Bar: Finger Lakes and international wines in an unpretentious and super hip space

In addition to these restaurants, Geneva is also home to other food treats including normal bread and the Geneva Farmer’s Market.  All in all,  not a bad place to eat.

Ideas Geneva

Wowza!  The City of Geneva has launched ideasgeneva.com. This initiative encourages folks to come up with “ideas for improving the quality of life in the city.”  How cool is this?!

I can’t wait to see what happens with this!  I also can’t wait to try and come up with some ideas of my own!  Last year the NYT featured the “white dinner” in Paris — how cool would that be?!  Oh the possibilities…..Apologies for all the exclamation marks in this post….