Each week on Tuesday and Thursday through October 20th 540Blog will feature guest blog’s from city residents themed around gentrification. Today’s blog comes courtesy of Michael Corey; a downtown resident. Check out Michael’s blog below and be sure to register to attend 540WMain’s
Since I moved into my apartment in downtown Rochester 4 years ago, a constant question I find myself trying to answer is “who are my neighbors?”. I don’t necessarily mean who just moved in down the hall from me or the floor below, but who are the people quick to lease units in the new high end housing developments? Who are the people who have lived in my neighborhood for years, that I rarely interact with? While this decade has brought a dramatic uptick in development accompanied by a spike in population, the center city remains a fluid place – in my eyes, block to block is much more patchwork than a seamless garment. Just as I question who my neighbors are, it seems important to question who the newest projects , plans and proposals will serve. Does downtown’s future represent a place that will cater to all of Rochester’s residents?
Many of the people who have recently moved downtown cite proximity to workplaces, restaurants, bars and other conveniences as motivators. It is not a unique stance, but I am quick to admit that I enjoy having amenities close to my home – I appreciate finding live music or breakfast a short walk from my door. In acknowledging this, I try my best to realize that the things that appeal and serve me are not always the most needed or necessary. Luxuries taking priority over necessities can be one of the clearest ways to spot gentrification. This is not to say we can’t have and enjoy nice things, but a reminder to question purpose and access.
For people who might have trouble obtaining fresh produce, new restaurants promoting craft food and drink might be an afterthought. Living downtown can be a great central location for people with easy access to transportation, but surprisingly far from larger concentrations of retail and stores for those who rely on public transit. I am certainly guilty of taking comforts and amenities for granted, but being aware can at least be helpful in realizing how new developments and projects can benefit the greatest amount of people.
Being the center of the city, there will always be attractions meant to draw people from the highest income levels. There will likely be hip places meant to draw creatives and millennial’s and there will always be events and jobs that largely cater to suburban populations. These are all acceptable realities, but a concern for downtown would be becoming a place that large populations of the city’s residents only use as a place to pass through.
I often ride my bike around my neighborhood, walk when my destination is close enough, and try to take the bus when the weather is poor. I know I am interacting and passing people who have much more than me as well as people who have much less than me. In both directions, it can be humbling but a good reminder of what makes up a community. In a city that can be divided along sharp race and class lines, downtown provides an interesting contrast. Some of the cities most expensive rentals can be found within a stones throw of very dense pockets of subsidized housing. I think one of the biggest challenges going forward for the center city will be the creation of spaces that can serve this entire range of people. Be it retail, restaurants or parks, there will always be a danger that they become reserved for a small demographic of people. Even if this might be inevitable to a degree, I love living downtown because of how diverse it can be and hope that identity is emphasized as the area develops.
Michael Corey is a musician, creative and engineer who lives in Downtown Rochester.
Source: (cover and article photos) Jake Sell Hicks Photography