by Dom Nozzi
Rochester New York is considering the rectification of a colossal blunder the City committed in its past. The City is considering converting its “Inner Loop” grade-separated highway into a more livable, humanized boulevard.
For several decades, the Inner Loop highway has hobbled and otherwise obliterated the city, as well as its town center neighborhoods and retail. Like town center freeways across the nation, the Inner Loop has drained much of the lifeblood out of town center Rochester.
Current leadership is now admirably recognizing that, and has commissioned plans to reverse the mistake the City made long ago – a mistake in which the City ruined itself by building the Inner Loop. Ironically, the earlier motivation to build the Inner Loop with huge sums of public dollars was based on the thinking that the freeway would “revitalize” Rochester.
We now see quite clearly that it has done the opposite. Rather than revitalize Rochester, the Inner Loop has played an enormous role in destroying Rochester.
My family lived in a downtown Rochester home in the early 1960s. Just as I was entering first grade, my family moved to the very car-happy Rochester suburb of Penfield. I lived in Penfield until I started college at age 18 (1978).
I know suburban Penfield much more than downtown Rochester. My friends and I hardly ever visited downtown Rochester after the family moved to the suburbs — so I don’t have a lot of informed knowledge about what has happened or why. I have since come to learn that downtown is an awful place to live in or operate a small retail business.
Today, I am curious to know whether any friends or family who remain in the Rochester suburbs have any awareness that the millions spent in Rochester to build the Inner Loop was a main contributor to the ruin of downtown and its quality of life.
I suspect not.
My mother, for example, convinced my father to move our family from our downtown home to the suburbs largely because of the high crime rates. Today, over 40 years later, she remains adamantly opposed to EVER moving back to a town center location (even though it would, in my opinion, be very important to do so as my parents lose the ability to drive a car).
Why is my mother so strongly opposed? I think it is because her experience living in downtown Rochester has left her (permanently?) convinced that town centers inevitably produce high levels of crime – crime so rampant that residing in such a place is intolerable.
For my parents and many in their generation, the decision to flee was based on a realization that quality of life in town center Rochester had become wretched. I am sure that my parents had no idea that Rochester highways such as the Inner Loop were the primary causes of the downfall of the quality of life in town center Rochester. For those in their generation, the motivation was the “white flight” being induced by low- income conditions and crime. Indeed, many in that generation probably remain convinced to this day that the highway construction was one of the few GOOD things the City engaged in. To this day, my parents have little awareness of the downwardly-spiraling role that highways have on the health of a city.
I think many in my parent’s generation have similar attitudes. The fear of town center crime burned into their memory will make it unlikely that a meaningful percentage in their generation will re-locate to the town centers – even after the highway disease infesting cities is healed by removal of the highway infection and the sickness is transformed into health-producing people-friendly rather than car-friendly corridors.
Regardless of whether older generations will or will not be motivated to move back to town center living, however, I strongly believe that cities throughout America need to join Rochester in recognizing the pressing need to dramatically improve their economic, community, and neighborhood health by removing these costly “expenseways” and replacing them with rejuvenating, sustainable streets and boulevards.
Our quality of life and overall sustainability depends on it.
Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.
Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com
My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607
My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:
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