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Tuesday, 4 April 2006
We're all Parisians now
Topic: economy
During the run-up to the Iraq invasion, the French took a beating from chickenhawk conservatives and big-business liberals alike.

The rants took this basic form: How dare those foreigners contradict our great and wise leaders (here I refer not to George Bush or Dick Cheney – that would be stretching the joke past the breaking point – but to Colin Powell and others who supposedly had “credibility” and basic moral instincts)? Why can’t they be team players? They’re so mysterious; it must be some cultural quirk, an ingrained stubbornness, a pious exceptionalism. Surely there can’t be actual reasons for such contrary behavior.

Now the chick-cons and bb-libs are at it again. But this time the object of their cluelessness is the inspiringly unending series of French rank-and-file protests against the “CPE,” the odious measure that would take away basic job protections from younger workers.

Again, our clueless classes blame it all on French idiosyncrasy. But as even some of the domestic business press is saying, it’s clear the French are struggling against something all too real and threatening – the imposition of American-style labor rules, like the “work at will” regime that condemns working people of all ages to the kind of social insecurity that many Europeans rejected decades ago.

The protesters deserve our support. They understand that their government, carrying water for capital, has its eyes on a further prize: the incremental “casualization” of labor, to be sold over the coming years as one after another adjustment to achieve “competitiveness.” Which, of course, is better known as “the race to the bottom.”

It’s no exaggeration to say the protesters in Paris and elsewhere across France are acting on American workers’ behalf. If Chirac and de Villepin carry the day – at the moment they’re flogging a softer version of the CPE, but the people in the streets aren’t taking the bait – the American labor movement will suffer a real setback. We’ve got enough on our hands already, not only with the massive loss of jobs (cf. GM/Delphi and many others) but with the relentless attacks on labor organizing, again even by those posing as “liberals.”

Maybe justice will prevail and the CPE and the government that floated it will fall. Then we can hope – and work actively – for a westward domino effect.


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 21:06 EDT
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Friday, 31 March 2006
QUERY: What about Genesee Hospital?
Dear all: It's been announced that, after lengthy behind-closed-doors negotiations and wheeling-dealing, Genesee Hospital on Alexander Street will be semi-demolished by a new owner, the ubiquitous Buckingham Properties. As outlined in the Democrat and Chronicle, BP plans to level most of the north half of the parcel and convert it eventually to residential. This will mean the loss of the oldest (ca. 100 years) of the buildings. More seriously, it means there will be even less chance we'll get Genesee back as an urban hospital serving the most vulnerable. I know there are many factors involved, though, so I'm putting the question to you. Should we get the Save Genesee campaign back on track, or what? (Click on the "post a comment" link directly below.) Thanks for your ideas. -Jack

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 17:14 EST
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Thursday, 30 March 2006
Crossing guardedly
Topic: urban issues
Excuse me for being obsessed with transportation issues. But I think this vital piece of the human rights agenda doesn’t get enough ink.

Anyway, the bad news keeps on coming. I just read in the D&C about a fatal accident – two teenagers, brothers – at what I know to be a lethal intersection just outside of Marion, Wayne County. At this busy spot, east-west traffic must cross a high-speed stretch of Route 21. Sitting there at the stop sign, you realize how easily you could be blindsided.

You ask yourself, why is there no traffic signal here? Well, replies your Inner Realist, the funding that could provide such things usually gets channeled to higher-profit ventures. Like Rochester’s Renaissance Square, which just got a $36 million boost to its sorry career. It all goes to prove the counter-adage: Necessity is the child of invention.

Meanwhile, in my own back yard, and along the bicycle path to my teaching gig at RIT, there’s another intersection crying out for change.

The following message, which I sent a couple months ago to an RIT online response service, tells the story:

”[Dear Pres. Simone:] Are there plans to improve conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists at the intersection of Jefferson and Brighton-Henrietta Town Line roads and John St.? The busy intersection now is equipped with some upgraded pedestrian signals, which are fine, but there's only one demarcated pedestrian crossing [i.e. on the west side of the intersection] where there arguably should be four.

“Crossing such an intersection, particularly after dark, can be intimidating and dangerous, as you can imagine, and the conditions surely don't encourage non-motorized commuting to campus. Can we expect improvements at this intersection, as well as on the now-substandard walkway on the south side of Jefferson Road, east and west of John St.? Thanks for responding.” (Note that the existing pedestrian signals were installed to accommodate people using the recently-opened Lehigh Valley Trail, North Branch, which roughly connects the University of Rochester to the RIT campus and points south. The signals look like state-of-the-art, and they’re highly visible, but they seduce walkers and bikers onto pavement occupied by cars and trucks stopped at the red light.)

Quite properly, RIT staff forwarded my email to the New York State Department of Transportation. Here’s the DOT’s response, delivered to me via rit.edu:

“The segment of the Jefferson Road project which includes the John Street/BHTL Road intersection is the fourth and final stage. It involves improvements to facilitate traffic flow as well as improvements to pedestrian and bicycle facilities. Specifically, new sidewalks would be constructed on both sides of Jefferson Road and bike space would be provided adjacent to the curb on both sides. Unfortunately due to funding limitations, construction is not scheduled until 2013.

”Regarding the current pedestrian facilities, we realize that a crosswalk for Jefferson Road on the west side of the intersection was omitted when the road was repaved. We had already planned on correcting this as part of our annual pavement striping contract for the 2006 season. The stop bar will be moved back to provide room for a crosswalk to line up with the existing multi-use path. It is our opinion that striping crosswalks for the east and north legs of the intersection is not warranted since there is no sidewalk system to connect to on the north side of Jefferson Road. These will be provided when we construct our project in the future...”

I can’t help noticing a few things. First, the much-needed sidewalks serving the Jeff-Town Line-John St. intersection won’t materialize for another seven years, assuming the funding comes through. By that time, Renaissance Square, now hardly more than a gleam in the blinkered eye of the bourgeoisie, will be showing its first signs of age and the business types will be tut-tutting about “under-utilization.” And over at the outskirts of Marion, a bunch more “accidents” will have occurred.

Second, for years to come, the lack of marked crosswalks on the north and east flanks of the intersection will remain an obstacle - and may tempt some people to take risks.

Looking over the scene the other day, I realized that pedestrians going from, say, the RIT campus to MacGregor’s Grill, which sits on the north side of Jefferson a couple hundred yards east of the intersection, will have to hoof it a long distance east or west of their destination to find an actual legal crossing.

The "great circle route" may work great for transcontinental air travel, but for pedestrians this sort of thing generally means "you can't get there from here."

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 14:44 EST
Updated: Friday, 31 March 2006 08:24 EST
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Friday, 17 March 2006
No room at the inn?
Topic: preservation
I was watching the TV news a few minutes ago. Channel 10, I think. (How smoothly the local stations blend with each other.) It hardly needs to be added that I wasn’t expecting to be inspired. At least it was a nice lull before dinner.

Then an image came up that made me look twice. Not an accident scene or anything like that. It was nothing more than an old brick building – the town of Chili’s Stagecoach Inn, right at the corner of routes 33 and 259.

You may have heard about a developer’s plans to build a Walgreen’s big-box drugstore on the site the inn now occupies. More precisely – and here I’m extrapolating from other corner parcels that have been taken over by CVS or Walgreen’s or another chain – the plan must be to “convert” the land under the old inn into a parking lot, with the store itself set well back from the roadway. (The generous set-backs mandated by contemporary building codes bear witness to how smelly, noisy, and dangerous modern public highways and streets have become.)

It’s good to see a Chili-based group coalescing to save the inn. The latest news reports say the group will ask the developer – the Illinois-based Maude Development company, according to the Democrat and Chronicle - to adjust their site plan so the inn can remain standing. Maude Inc. is not tipping its hand. And Chili town government is basically out of the picture: the town board has okayed the deal, and the building has no landmark or historic status –though at the age of 190, it should automatically qualify for some protection.

You might have heard Charleston, SC, mayor Joseph Riley speak here a few months ago. Riley has led a very preservation-minded mid-sized city for quite a few years, and more than most civic leaders he understands the currency of older architecture. On Bob Smith's WXXI show, Riley was asked to comment on Rochester's Renaissance Square concept, in particular the plan to demolish several old buildings (one of them dates back to 1855) at the corner of East Main St. and Clinton Ave. I don't recall Riley's exact words, but in essence he said that in Charleston, any 150-year old building would be preserved as a matter of course.

Things are different in our backyard, where despite years of consciousness-raising, the old "urban removal" philosophy still makes the occasional strong showing.

On March 17, I wrote to town supervisor Tracy Logel about the Stagecoach Inn. She responded quickly, and I give her credit for that. But basically she gave the issue a pass. She said the building’s owner didn’t seek any protective designation for it. And she commented more generally that people are “granted the right to buy and sell” what they own. “By law we cannot stop [the developer],” she said.

This story isn’t done yet, though. I’m hoping the good folks in Chili will organize effectively and stop the destruction. They don’t have much time, but to judge by the news, they’ve got lots of energy.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 18:53 EST
Updated: Monday, 27 March 2006 19:36 EST
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Sunday, 12 March 2006
Water and sprawl: the pipes are calling
Topic: environment
You may have read in City Newspaper this past week about a new report the local Sierra Club just released on water systems and their relation to sprawl. The report is part of an ongoing Club educational initiative about the potential downside of the Monroe County Water Authority’s geographical expansion of service.

The report’s premise, one long promoted by activist and Club officer Hugh Mitchell, is that extension of infrastructure encourages developers to tear up farmlands and woods for new subdivisions and malls. The evidence is all around us, unfortunately.

The City item leaves out some basic information; for one thing, it neglects to say that I wrote the report for the Club. More seriously, there’s no response from the Water Authority. Also, the URL for the Club website, where the report is now available, was left out.

So for the full scoop, go to http://newyork.sierraclub.org/rochester/ - you’ll find the link on the homepage. And while you’re surfing, check out the whole environmental picture, including other items about sprawl, at the area’s premier eco-site, http://rochesterenvironment.com.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 14:14 EST
Updated: Sunday, 12 March 2006 14:15 EST
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