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Thursday, 7 June 2007

Dear DISSIDENT Readers:

Here’s some vital information about bulldozers that are doing great damage – much more serious than what’s happening here in Rochester, of course. Join with outstanding Israeli activists like Jeff Halper and stop the dozers in their tracks - and help build a peaceful and just Middle East.

[from the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions, 01 June 2007]


Announcing ICAHD's Campaign to Rebuild Every Palestinian Home Demolished Over the Next Year

Dear Friends,

As we enter the 40th year of Israeli Occupation, a note of urgency has entered into our struggle to end it and, with that, to press on to a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis. ICAHD has long warned that Israel's unilateral expansionist policies spell the doom of the two-state solution. Given, however, the unwillingness of Israelis, the international community and, it must be said, most of the Palestinian public to entertain an alternative solution, we are lending our unqualified support, on this 40th year, to the global campaign to end the Occupation once and for all, totally and immediately. We fully join the worldwide chorus of voices in declaring: ENOUGH!

The Campaign to Rebuild All Palestinian Homes Demolished Over the Next Year

As part of its contribution to the global campaign against the Occupation, ICAHD is announcing the launch of a campaign, in partnership with ICAHD-USA and ICAHD-UK, to rebuild each and every Palestinian home demolished by Israel in the Occupied Territories in the coming year – about 300 homes, batei sumud, "houses of steadfastness" against policies of transfer and dispossession. With funding coming mainly from Jewish donors appalled by the Israeli government's house demolition policy, ICAHD is able to mount this major challenge to the legality, morality and even self-interest of the monstrosity that is the Israeli Occupation. This represents a timely and appropriate intensification of ICAHD's ten year struggle against the Occupation and its most cruel expression, the demolition of Palestinian homes – 18,000 since 1967.

Returning to the Place Where the Occupation Began

In fact, the very first act of the Israeli Occupation in 1967 was home demolitions. On June 11th, as the Six Day War was drawing to its close, more than 135 Palestinian families in the historic Muslim Mughrabi Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City – the vast majority refugees from 1948 – were roused from their beds in the dead of night to watch in horror as Israeli bulldozers summarily destroyed their homes and the quarter's two mosques, all in order to create an open plaza in front of the Western (Wailing) Wall. It was an operation that had nothing to do with either the war or security, but to create the first of thousands of "facts on the ground" intended to make Israel's control of the Occupied Territories permanent. In the wanton and illegal razing of the Mughbrabi Quarter, Hajja Rasmia Tabaki, an elderly Palestinian woman, was killed when her home was demolished on top of her. She became the Occupation's first victim.

This June 11th, ICAHD will return to this site where the Occupation began in order to announce its rebuilding campaign. Joining with the remnants of the Mughrabi Quarter's residents who remained scattered throughout the Old City, we will together remember the tragic events of that night 40 years ago, an important gesture of Israelis taking responsibility for their government's actions. We will also sign a petition calling on the UN to implement Security Council Resolution 252, adopted in the wake of the quarter's demolition (termed "urban improvement" by Israel's UN Ambassador), which "Urgently calls upon Israel to rescind all such measures already taken and to desist forthwith from taking any further action which tends to change the status of Jerusalem." We will then walk from the Mughrabi Quarter to the site of a demolished home in the village of Silwan, where we will commence our building campaign.

We Need Your Help!

Our campaign will succeed only if we can mobilize world public opinion. We need groups and individuals throughout the world to place ads in their local newspapers, even if it is in local religious or community publications. This can be done before or after June 11…

ICAHD-USA is currently producing an ad for the New York Times which will be ready in the next week. If you would like to have a copy or would like more information regarding the campaign in the USA, please contact ICAHD-USA at, 919-277-0632.

And, of course, we always need financial support, especially for ads and other materials necessary for keeping our campaign in the public eye as it develops.

ICAHD will launch the campaign with help from you, our supporters in Israel and abroad. But monitoring its progress is equally important. This opposition to Israeli government policy will not go unanswered. We will only succeed in challenging the Occupation if public attention is focused on our nonviolent resistance and, at every turn, our supporters throughout the world mobilize public opinion and their governments. Together we can cause the unjust structure of Occupation to collapse, thereby releasing the Israeli and Palestinian peoples to find a just and sustainable resolution to their more than century-old conflict – and the world as a whole to move on to address the grievances of the wider Middle East, thus bringing a measure of hope, stability and reconciliation.

In Solidarity,

Jeff Halper (ICAHD Coordinator) and Lucia Pizarro (International Coordinator)
Israel Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD)
PO Box Jerusalem, Israel
email: info[at]

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 11:04 EDT
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Wednesday, 6 June 2007
No sense of history
Topic: urban issues

The Duffy Administration has opened a new front in its campaign to unravel Rochester’s historical fabric. Along with the real bulldozers taking down hundreds of old houses in the Crescent (“decrepit,” Mayor Bob Duffy calls them, a word never attached to even the lowliest and shakiest structures in trendy areas like Corn Hill), there now are figurative bulldozers taking down the intellectual structure of local history. Specifically, Duffy wants to downsize – effectively, to eliminate – the office of City Historian. To save around $50,000 a year, the mayor would ruin an institution that’s distinguished this city for decades and given the whole Community of Monroe a vital sense of self.

I’ve had my disappointments with this institution, for sure. Neither the late Blake McKelvey nor the current historian, Ruth Rosenberg-Naparsteck, has produced the kind of radical historiography that turns me on. For that, we’ve all looked to the excellent work of labor historians Jon Garlock and Linda Donahue, not to mention primary sources like Emma Goldman’s autobiography.

But really, Mister Mayor! What you’re doing to the Historian is comparable to what the county has done to the parks system: set it up for slow decline. Just as the county saved a few bucks by not hiring a professional arborist, you’re proposing to save a few nickels by demoting Rosenberg-Naparsteck and, in a sense, outsourcing the job. You’ll end up impoverishing Rochester and degrade one of its biggest attractions: a cultural base that’s exceptional among mid-sized cities.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 10:38 EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 6 June 2007 12:56 EDT
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Saturday, 26 May 2007
Civilized destruction
Topic: urban issues

Lately it seems I can’t make a Saturday morning Public Market run (bike, actually) without encountering some fresh disaster of neo-Urban Removal.

This week’s dark chapter unfolded on Union Street, just south of the viaduct that separates the Market from the neighborhood around the old Eastman Dental Center. Specifically, at Union and Augusta Street, I discovered that a potentially significant 19th-century brick house, one of a pair, had been torn down. Barely a shard remained on the leveled corner lot. (You can see what the building looked like at, in the image captioned “Emergence of Forgotten Neighborhoods.” It’s the building on the right. And while you’re visiting the website, check out all the good offerings from the Design Center.)

Many times I’d thought of how the two houses, both long vacant, could have become a commercial adjunct to the Market, which really is only steps away. Now at least half of the possibilities have been lost.

So what the hell is happening in this town? Whether the demolitions are part of City Hall's plan to "downsize" neighborhoods in the Crescent (i.e. remove inconvenient structures and impose lesser population densities on what become faux-suburban streetscapes) or disconnected, lightly regulated private plans (like the reconstruction of the Genesee Hospital site, which began by obliterating a 19th century building at Monroe and Alexander), the onus is on the Duffy Administration.

I think highly of Bob Duffy as a person, but honestly, his crew is responsible, directly or indirectly, for a lot of bad stuff. Today City Hall is failing to nurture the creative brainstorming that must precede law- and policy-making. Rochester never was very sharp in this regard - the city depended too much on the kindness of robber barons - but now it's got no edge at all. But I guess that’s what we should expect from an administration dominated by likes of Tom Richards and Carlos Carballada, business types who are temperamentally incapable of leading an urban renaissance worthy of the name.

I wouldn’t be so peeved if I hadn’t just confronted the Rite Aid plan for Monroe and Goodman (see below). If City Hall continues its policy of developer-appeasement, two things will come to pass: Our community will lose more and more of its heritage, and the neighborhood and architectural advocates who’ve achieved critical mass in just the last few years will get discouraged and drop away. Then the bulldozers will be working overtime.

This has got to stop.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 13:41 EDT
Updated: Monday, 28 May 2007 14:37 EDT
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Wednesday, 23 May 2007
Civilization and its discontents
Topic: environment

I had a great ride through Scottsville, Rush, and Henrietta yesterday. It was almost as if my bike took over and was steering me down the Genesee Valley Greenway and then over to the Lehigh Valley Trail; but if that’s so, it’s because the bicycle is the kind of natural machine that seems animated, in the most basic sense of the word – ensouled, if I may take back a word from the perverted vocabulary of the anti-abortionists. Yes, there’s some element of soul-force, to borrow a word from Gandhi, that is translated into pure motion.

Not that my ride was totally transcendent. I found challenges to the spirit here and there. First, the Greenway is still suffering from an “improvement” made some time ago: the surface, an old cinder railbed from which the rails and ties had been removed many years ago, was scraped down to remove a shallow accumulation of dirt, grass and weeds. The scraping not only removed some soft material that cushioned the ride; it also dislodged many clinkers that had been long buried. The latter, some of them big as a fist, now litter several miles of the trail south of Ballantyne Road. And this makes for a bouncy ride, even if you’re using wide tires.

I’m not complaining too much. I understand that the Greenway depends on volunteers and member donations, and it’s tough for even the best organization to keep up with the demands of a 90-mile trail. But I wonder about transportation priorities. For state and local government, trail maintenance and upgrade costs would be a drop in the bucket, compared to what’s spent on highways and streets – yet it’s like pulling teeth to get adequate funding for trails and other non-motorized facilities. (An egregious example: despite its high reputation, the Greenway still lacks a vital bridge over a railyard just south of the airport. This lack forces riders out onto Scottsville Road, whose heavy truck traffic and general scuzziness will intimidate many inexperienced cyclists.)

Later in my ride, I came to a sign just off Fishell Road that said a central portion of the Lehigh Valley Trail would be closed between late May and early July. Here you have another common predicament: a trail declared off-limits precisely at the time it would draw the most users. Okay, there’s construction going on. But if work gets behind schedule, as frequently happens, the trail could be out of service for practically the whole summer. If situations like this come up on the highways, strings get pulled and things are taken care of fast – but if you’re talking about a trail, like, who cares?

The rest of my day continued these themes. Back in the city at last, I went to a meeting at the Monroe Y about the latest plan to plunk a new Rite-Aid on the corner of Monroe Avenue and South Goodman Street. Somehow the developer has gotten City Hall to cave, and soon we could see the Monroe Theater, all but its façade, get bulldozed, along with the three-dozen-unit apartment building at the corner. And what would we get in partial compensation? Another freakin’ big box drugstore and gobs of parking spaces. Not too long ago, Buckingham Properties, a ubiquitous developer, wanted to restore the theater as a performing arts space and complement it with new residential units and storefronts. The plan had the backing of neighborhood activists, too. Now the city has told the activists and preservationists to get lost. Well, some cities these days are greening; Rochester, under the increasingly dubious Duffy administration, seems to just be courting the green stuff – that is, City Hall now views any investment in urban neighborhoods as inherently good, no matter how dumb or ugly the project, or how much social and financial disinvestment it will ultimately produce.

Speaking of which, did you see that Buckingham Properties, in its new manifestation, tore down the former Raj Mahal building, an 19th century brick and frame structure on the northeast corner of Monroe and Alexander? The screwballs don’t even have a construction plan for this add-on to the Genesee Hospital demolition-derby; they were just clearing the site and are now angling for proposals. The poor corner has lost the last of its urban character. The four corners sport a utilitarian fire station, a Dunkin’ Donuts, an Arby’s, and a pile of rubble. Thanks for nothing, BuckProp.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 23:00 EDT
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Sunday, 13 May 2007
Wrongs of spring
Topic: environment

News comes that Wilmorite has teamed up with Rochester Institute of Technology to bring light unto the darkness of Jefferson Road. Now there’s a corporate marriage made in heaven, or more likely in a location due south.

The happy couple, which share prime responsibility for the long decline of the Genesee River-Red Creek watershed along the Brighton-Henrietta border, have launched a so-called “Collegetown” on 60 acres (now owned by Wilmorite) at the northeast corner of the campus, near the corner of Jefferson, John Street and B-H Town Line Road.

On May 1, as if to heap dirt on the very notion of spring as natural rebirth, the heavy equipment arrived to put the long-gestated plan into action. Within a few days, what remained of fallow pastures, including some significant hardwood stands, had been scraped clean of life.

It was sickening to see the rich soil bulldozed into high berms along Jefferson Road, soil that had been untouched for decades and thus was ripe for real development - as, say, part of an organic educational farm or a wetlands study area.

All over academia these days, you hear pious talk about “sustainability.” Collegetown is just one piece of evidence that in institutional terms, this is just hot air, the moral equivalent of a greenhouse gas.

A sheaf of permits from the Department of Environmental Conservation will minimally protect some of the beautiful wetlands on the Collegetown site – I say minimally because the uplands, paved and chemically landscaped, will feed a steady diet of toxic substances into whatever wet areas remain. Instead of being preserved as habitat for amphibians, reptiles, waterfowl and small mammals, the wet areas will turn into mere retention ponds.

You can see the result at the fringes of Marketplace mall or at RIT right now. The other day on campus, I passed a roadside “pond” that occasionally attracts geese and ducks; the water was a deep, almost painterly blue-green – I assume this was the result of run-off from the sports arena just uphill. (You often see the chemicalized ice scrapings from the arena piled at the edge of a nearby parking lot.)

I should also mention that the County of Monroe Industrial Development Agency is providing $7.9 million in tax breaks over the next ten years for the project. In a recent Democrat and Chronicle story, reporter Matt Daneman repeated a claim that Collegetown “is expected” (by whom?) to pump $10 million in tax revenue into local government coffers over the same period. Daneman made no attempt to figure if some or all of that $10 million would have been collected anyway. And he certainly made to attempt to discover what the manifold value(s) of a 60-acre preserve might be – over many decades, and well beyond dollars and cents.

Some are claiming that Collegetown will bring energy benefits by offering RIT students and staff an alternative to driving down Jefferson Road for a burger and fries. But the site is a long haul from the action – roughly a half mile from even the nearest portion of the RIT/NTID building complex. So most of the target patrons will end up driving over there anyway. Besides, there’s plenty of room within the developed areas of the campus for the kind of services Collegetown will provide. But of course, putting services there, within a pedestrian framework, won’t put cash into the Wilmorite account.

Such a shame. The Collegetown site had so many green possibilities until the white-collar destroyers descended. All RIT and Wilmorite (and COMIDA) needed to do was nothing – that is, to leave the site alone. But they just had to get their hands dirty.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 21:37 EDT
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