Blog, General

The Two Rochesters

I recently spent time in San Antonio TX. While the city’s most well-known tourist draw is the Alamo, once there, it’s the RiverWalk that tends to captivate. In the downtown area, it’s a creative, stunning array of cafes, shops and parks along the San Antonio River. It then stretches about 8 miles north and 10 miles south, connecting to four 18th century missions. Integrated into this is an ingenious flood control system. The people display immense pride in this enormous achievement. How, I wondered, did they ever manage to get buy-in from all the municipalities along the path? What is the key to the unity of purpose that this achievement represents? So I dug in a bit.

The city of San Antonio (around 1.4 million people) accounts for approximately 70% of its metropolitan area population (around 2 million), the highest % for any city in the country! This means that the vast majority of people who live in this region have a very tangible stake in what happens IN the city. And so they can coordinate and fund much more readily a significant project like the RiverWalk. They perceive an interconnectedness, a shared interest and a shared future.

That led me to ask:  Where is Rochester in that ranking? Our city population (about 210,000) is just 20% of our metropolitan area population (about 1.1 million). We rank below the national median of 25% (Miami is lowest at 7%). “White flight” and business flight have contributed to the city’s shrinkage and the area’s growth.


So what? I dug in further: This condition has been termed “underbounded”. Cities in this condition face a much more difficult financial challenge, with a shrinking tax base and, maybe more importantly, a disconnected identity.

I’ve heard the contention: “There are really two Rochesters”. Allowing gross generalization, they would be:

  • The Crescent: The SW, NW, and NE City neighborhoods, characterized by very high rates of poverty and a concentration of people of color.
  • The Suburbs: which could include the eastern neighborhoods of the City (such as Park Ave. and Browncroft); the resurgent residential downtown would fit this Rochester as well.

This disconnected identity has many faces, e.g.:

• We suburbanites don’t vote for city leaders
• We don’t share many governmental services
• We might rarely encounter city residents
• Separate school districts insure that our kids don’t know each other
• We adults don’t know each other
• We have our festivals, they have theirs
• We come into their territory to take advantage of the space – but when we do, people of color are notably few (JazzFest, Clothesline, etc.)

This led me to another measure of this city/suburban and Black/white separateness: By at least a half dozen research measures I’ve studied, the city of Rochester is one of the most segregated communities in the country.
One example: Our city itself is 42% African-American. None of the surrounding 20 townships has an African-American population above 12%. A handful stand at 1% or less.

Again, so what? What is this about? What does it mean? What does it cost – us and “them”? What difference might it make if the City of Rochester actually encompassed the County of Monroe (730,000 or 66% of the metropolitan area)? Would it matter if we fully shared government, taxes, schools? Or is the racial divide so deep that we would still find ways to remain separate and unequal? History gives evidence that we white folks find ways to maintain the separation – some subtle, some ingenious, some diabolical.

In the end, this is not about creating a Rochester RiverWalk. This is about a mentality that keeps us living in isolation from each other, a separation that in the long run is damaging to all.

Suggested Reading:

Article: Link: “The Color of Law: Housing law history: how the government created ghettoes”

Report:  “Hard Facts:  Race and Ethnicity in the Nine-County Greater Rochester Area”  August 2017 Report from ACTRochester/The Community Foundation

Suggested Action:

Notice how this separation plays out in your own life, in your work, in your community.  Seek specific occasions to bridge the gap.  Visit the Baobab Cultural Center 753 University Ave.  Talk with your neighbors, your co-workers about this divide.  Ask what they see, what they think.

16 thoughts on “The Two Rochesters”

  1. I’m just catching up on Frank’s blog today. I think everyone has a responsibility to help others and work to make the community a better place for everyone. We do these things in our own way — some efforts make a big impact on a lot of people, while others may help one person at a time. Either way, those efforts should not be disparaged. We each have to listen to the voice of God and determine how best to fulfill His plan for us. It’s easy to get discouraged or feel helpless at the magnitude of all the problems in our world, at least I sometimes feel that way. However, I focus on the work that I feel called to do, and I continue to pray to God to guide me. Thank you, Frank, for facilitating these thought-provoking conversations.


  2. Frank – Very interesting. Imagine if Monroe County had a sense of urban solidarity instead of scapegoating dynamic between suburbs and city. Mayor Johson focused on the sprawl issue during his time as mayor and then ran for county executive. What was the reward for bringing up this issue – dog whistle pac man ads. The suburban GOP used race fear of a city takeover of the county to keep Johnson out of the County Office Building. The winner in that race? Maggie Brooks. And we know how that went.

    The other thought that comes to mine with waterway development is the question about who benefits and who pays. Before I get excited about San Antonio I’d want to know whose voices were at the table during the planning, was anybody displaced as a result of the development and who benefits from the economic activity. And of course, what was the racial breakdown for all of that. Here in Rochester development all too often perpetuates the current power dynamics. We’ve seen it on Mt Hope, Brooks Landing and up in Charlotte (the Charlotte example was also a case of NIMBYism which should raise a few eyebrows).


    1. Jon,

      As you probably know — with regard to discussing the historical and ongoing existence and concrete manifestations of individual, institutional, and structural racism — I am adamant about specifics and clarity relative to what’s-what and who’s-who. Thus, when I saw your comments above, my mind shifted immediately to the thought and question of what’s missing from your statement?

      For example, in order to avoid unclear abstraction, I would have added the following to your second sentence: “Imagine if [a critical mass of white people in] Monroe County had a [real] sense of [metropolitan] solidarity [,which many of them spew phony rhetoric about all the time] instead of scapegoating dynamic between [people of the] suburbs and city.”

      Additionally, it was NOT mainly “the [so-called] sprawl issue” that led to RACIST “dog whistle pac man ads,” and subsequently, the largest landslide-victory in the history of local, County Executive politics. INSTEAD IT WAS IN FACT MAINLY THE IDEA AND ISSUE OF SCHOOL DISTRICTS CONSOLIDATION that lead to the landslide — period. Also, the final polling-numbers in that particular election highlighted the likelihood that “race fear” extended far beyond the”suburban GOP.”

      The bottom line is that the overwhelming majority of wealthy and middle class, white parents in particular (be they Republicans, Democrats, or what ever) — have always made it clear that they are not willing to allow their children to attend schools with large numbers of poor, black and brown children. In fact, wealthy and middle class people of color have also generally chosen to educate their children separately from the poor, black masses.


  3. I could take a long time to fill in the specific details about action steps my husband and I take that have helped improve life for friends and acquaintances – trans, black, disabled, etc. – as a result of what we have learned, and the ways we each work to address institutional racism, and to encourage others we encounter to learn and act as well. But instead, I will simply say that we do much more than learn, we translate that learning into actions that make a difference at least some of the time. And given the nature of this topic/issue, while our personal impacts may be tiny, and not able to satisfy/sooth Mr. Eagle’s rage, I think it is more helpful to assume good will and an interest in strengthening each other’s actions, rather than assuming ignorance, stupidity or naivete among those who participate in this dialog just because we are white.


    1. Ms. Bleeg,

      Again, it’s —

      1) “specific action steps” that you have allegedly taken, which resulted in significant, concrete measurable Change and/or improvement regarding the tripartite beast an illness ( );

      2) “specific ways [you] work to address institutional racism”;

      3) “specific ways [you] translate that learning into actions that make a difference”

      that I’m interested in reading about. All else is simply super-hyper, ultra-liberal rhetoric and noise — period.

      This is definitely NOT about being “able to [so-called] satisfy/sooth Mr. Eagle’s rage.” By the way — was “rage” intentionally chosen as one of those trigger words for white folks, i.e., to elicit fear, trepidation, caution, etc… — you know — ‘the old, tired, worn-out, angry-Black-man-card? If so, it doesn’t work with me — since I am not one of those negropeans ( ) who tucks his tail and feigns passivity in order to make white folks feel comfortable. On the contrary, i believe (as did the Late Malik El Shabazz) that any Black man, woman, or child born and/or raised in the thoroughly racist, white-supremacist-based U.S. of A., and knows his or her history, and is NOT angry, or filled with so-called “rage” — is out of his or her cotton-picking-mind — period. White folks ought to be grateful that Black folks are in control of our so-called “rage,” or really RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION.

      It’s easy to tell that — not only do you “think it is more helpful to assume good will and an interest in strengthening each other’s actions,” but you also apparently believe that you have a hegemonic-monopoly relative to understanding how such efforts ‘should’ or ‘must’ look — YOU DON’T.

      As it relates to absolutely unsubstantiated, fallacious conjecture regarding the idea that I am “assuming ignorance, stupidity or naivete among those who participate in this dialog just because [you] are white” — is your thought and belief — not mine. That sprung forth from your mind — not mine. Own it.


  4. FRANK, YOUR SO-CALLED “SUGGESTED ACTION,” I.E., “Notice how this separation plays out in your own life, in your work, in your community. Seek specific occasions to bridge the gap. Visit the Baobab Cultural Center 753 University Ave. Talk with your neighbors, your co-workers about this divide. Ask what they see, what they think” — WILL ACCOMPLISH WHAT & WHEN???


      1. Frank,

        Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m glad that you created the Blog. In fact, I’m going to send a link to our large list, and ask people to join the dialogue, and yes I am absolutely, unequivocally convinced that if we are serious about impacting the tripartite beast and illness ( ) — in significant, concrete, measurable ways (in our life times — as opposed to the distant bye-and-by) — we absolutely MUST build a viable mass movement — not because I say so, but that is what the historical record bears witness to. Indeed “recruitment” is an absolute necessity, but what (specifically) we recruit people to do matters.


  5. Why living in Irondequoit is different. When I moved back to W. Irondequoit in 1990, and since then helped my three chuldren purchase homes here, two left (Webster/Victor) I remember conversations with sevral realtors. One stated Irondequoit was a community at “risk”. Of course meaning urban creep – gues what that means? Others stated not to live south of Titus Ave. due to the “urban creep” that is already going on. I actually moved back to Irondequoit because I wanted my son to live in a diverse town, although it is not as diverse as I thought except socio-economically. So this racist ideology is certainly alive and well here. So let’s build a WALL!
    Anyway…my other point about living on the West side of Ironequoit is that getting to downtown requires you to go through the city – St. Paul, Clinton, Portland, Goodman, etc. Not really, you can drive around it, but I choose not to.
    So I see what poverty is like, particularly in the Northeast neighborhoods. So the ACT report comes as no surprise – not much has changed in 28 years, let along 7. And I couldn’t agree more with Frank. And I can thank Frank for getting me more involved in my own little way to do something about it.
    Thanks for the blog – I’ll be a frequent commenter. Don’t get me started on the Rhino’s stadium!


    1. MR. BRADY — YOU “can thank Frank for getting [you] more involved in [your] own little way to do something about it???” WHAT (SPECIFICALLY) ARE YOU “DOING ABOUT IT,” AND SPECIFICALLY — WHAT IS THE “IT” THAT YOU’RE REFERRING TO???


      1. Howard,
        My role isn’t in the Church or Education it is in business. I sent you information on why I am missing our next MAMA class. That is what I am doing. Helping to create jobs, opportunities for those who never had one and doing my part to return ownership of businesses, homes etc. to people living and committed to the neighborhoods where they live.


      2. Mr. Brady,

        When you say that your “role is in business” — I assume you mean that you are attempting to impact the tripartite beast and illness relative to the zillions of ways in which it is manifested “in business.”

        When we consider long-time, entrenched, historical, MASSIVE unemployment among Black and Brown people (at least twice the rate of white folks) — “creating [a few] jobs, opportunities for those who never had one” — does little to impact the SYSTEMIC, STRUCTURAL AND INSTITUTIONAL BEAST. In my humble, but staunch view — the age of benign gradualism is no longer acceptable. We need a jobs program that would resemble the post WWII Marshall Plan in Europe (regarding scope, breadth, and intensity).

        Lastly, I have no idea of what (specifically) is meant by “doing [your] part to return ownership of businesses, homes etc. to people living and committed to the neighborhoods where they live.”

        H. Eagle


  6. I have been saying for years that Rochester is an amazing place to live for people who are white and middle or upper class – outstanding opportunities for education, arts, culture, health care, nature, and more. And this is true whether you live in the city or the suburbs. However, if you are a person of color, or poor, or especially if you are both, a different reality exists. Through Spiritus Christi Church, and through my husband’s work with formerly incarcerated people and those dealing with substance abuse, we have seen first-hand the unbelievable challenges those of color and those living in poverty have experienced at every step in their lives. In my former work settings I also saw revealed in private moments some unbelievable racism in the attitudes and actions of white people of privilege. An action step I think anyone can try is to get to know one or more individuals who come from a different socio-economic or ethnic background. Find out what their lives are and have been like, get to know them as real individuals instead of as stereotypes. It transformed me in many ways – and I am grateful for these changes.


    1. MS. BLEEG — WHY DO YOU THINK “getting to know one or more individuals who come from a different socio-economic or ethnic background. Find out what their lives are and have been like, get to know them as real individuals instead of as stereotypes” — SOMEHOW REPRESENTS SIGNIFICANT OR MEANINGFUL, SO-CALLED “ACTION STEPS” (AS OPPOSED TO JUST REGULAR OLD ORDINARY HUMAN INTERACTION)???



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