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Friday, 26 January 2007
The war on downtowns
Topic: urban issues

Just got back from the final report to the community by participants in the Downtown Rochester design charrette. The whole process was great, and I was glad to take a small part in it.

I think many of the ideas that were floated - including the development of new residential tracts (with, hopefully, sufficient affordable housing to meet real folks’ needs and prevent ueber-gentrification), the addition of pedestrian-friendly features, and sensible recovery of badly used public spaces like the Inner Loop – will come to fruition, though it might take longer than most of us would like.

But that’s the rub. Though the charrette (see is undeniable evidence of how much local energy is available for reclaiming the area within and adjacent to the Inner Loop, the lack of state and national urban policy, and the funds to back up the latter, will keep holding us down. I hardly have to tell you why. The nation’s most notorious multi-trillion-dollar campaign is directed elsewhere – almost anywhere else, in fact, but America’s cities. We are all New Orleans now. Or in another sense, and to some small degree, Baghdad.

Not to trivialize what’s happening in Iraq. I just saw an AP report about US military servicemembers being kidnapped and shot to death January 20 by so-far-unidentified insurgents wearing American uniforms. This tragedy obviously has its elements of farce – I mean, so much for vaunted “security” arrangements at US installations, and for Iraqi military effectiveness. But there’s some irony, too. How many times have we heard about gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms as they committed some atrocity against soldiers or civilians? Of course, we’ve been expected to believe that these gunmen had stolen the uniforms for a disguise – instead of the more likely conclusion, that they wore Iraqi army uniforms precisely because they were in the Iraqi army.

So what do we think now? Was there some collusion that helped the men posing as US military to gain entry and seize their victims? And just as important, was there some skullduggery that kept the facts of the January 20 kidnapping and murder hidden from the American people till after the Commander-in-Chief gave his State of the Union? (Can’t wait to read tomorrow’s papers.) When we’re trying to sort out the lies, we need to start at the top, with the incumbent Great Prevaricator.

We should all stand for a moment of silence in solidarity with the peace marchers who'll be in Washington tomorrow. As I write this, a half dozen buses are preparing to leave from MCC. I wish all the freedom riders well - and I'd be with them if I weren't committed to the Northeast Organic Farming Association meeting in Syracuse this weekend. Which is a form of peacemaking, too, I guess.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 22:57 EST
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Sunday, 28 January 2007 - 19:22 EST

Name: "Charlie Roemer"

I agree.  Our resources are depleted in Iraq.  But even if we were flush with cash we would have difficulty re-building our city.  We do not have a shared vision.  In fact we don’t even have access to the same information we need to create that vision.

Just as the war in Iraq lurches along without any real visual awareness of its horror.  I don’t know anyone in Rochester who has a clear idea of what we want in our city.  We lurch along with various schemes for soccer stadiums, baseball parks, entertainment complexes and an Italian supermarket.

I think that the war in Iraq would be over by now if television showed us the carnage during our breakfast meal.  The vision of a country torn apart for no good reason other then misguided American politics would force us to stop.  Why don’t we have these pictures in our minds?

I am glad that fellows like Jack Spula are involved with planning the future of the city.  But just as we need to see truth in Iraq we need to see the vision our leaders have for the city. Liberal moral thinkers like Jack will have an uphill fight if they don’t understand that our corporate /civic leaders do not have a vision for the city.  The leaders rely on the principles of consumer economics to decide what projects go forward.  Corporate bottom line thinking leaves little room for ideas that have little or no money making impact.

Up until world war two our foreign policy had a certain organic character.  We tried to fight for the right things and we followed some basic principles of public behavior.  We could see ourselves in the world and knew who we were.

It is no longer a clear view. 

Up until WW 2 our cities also grew with some organic predictability.  I don’t think the Eastman Theater or the Dental Clinic was built because civic leaders saw money to be made.  In fact many of our civic accomplishments were built because someone had a vision they wanted to share with others.  Even more mundane venues like Front Street, the Central Market, and Mt Hope Cemetery grew because they appealed to the shared vision of many citizens.

This does not happen very easily now.  Usually we have a few moneymen interested in making investments that try to persuade politicians to join them in building a success.  The vision is not organic. It is as if some corporate Photoshop trickster has dickered with our collective vision.I don’t know what the answer is.  Iraq will implode before we have a photo that gets us out of there.  The city will probably try to build some gigantic structure to prove that we still have a soul.  But some of us will try to come up with a vision that will capture our imagination and energize both the money class and the dreamers can see a future.  Keep it up Jack.

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