Douglas A. Fisher 
Member since May 5, 2013


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Re: “Planning a downtown: Rochester pictures its future

Kudos to City newspaper for its trenchant analysis of issues relating to the future of our regional core. These issues deserve strong community input, with respect paid to the conclusions.

Our Planning & Zoning Director notes that "we have to serve three categories: workers, residents, and tourism." These categories should not be considered mutually exclusive.

Rather, each of these categories should reinforce each other, making downtown more desirable for workers, residents and tourists alike. Doing this will enhance the tax base. Seeking tax base first will actually undercut tax base growth, by truncating the appeal in each of these categories.

Today’s concepts of “new urbanism” evoke the relative self-sufficiency of olden villages, where a person worked and lived within an easy walk of each other, in an environment appealing to all. “Planned communities,” such as Columbia, Maryland, followed this concept.

Downtown Rochester has this potential, if only it offered a warmer, more human, feel than the straight lines, hard surfaces and over-illumination that define today’s downtown emotional experience.

Older buildings may offer the requisite ambience, as City been foresightedly noting for many decades, as exemplified in the place-making buildings pictured. They don’t build banks like that anymore.

The Cook’s Opera House could once have been restored into an ornate, acoustically excellent 1,000-seat downtown theater for about $2 million. Contrast that with the stated $90 million cost for a downtown roadhouse theater today.

South Water Street, a winding cobblestone street between those two demolished buildings, was an appealing alternative to the normal straight city streets.

This Canaltown project would have restored components of the 1820s Erie Canal through downtown, together with related buildings of that era, with a unique resulting tourism draw. We now watch Buffalo investing in what Rochester once had first.

As noted, the core of this 19th-century riverside complex was destroyed in order to make way for a box of a convention center, which did not have to be located right there. A place for people to congregate was provided, while simultaneously removing a reason for people to come to downtown in the first place.

City landmark laws even today would not have protected this wonderful complex, given a municipal mindset to demolish. The City Code establishes that preservation will not happen on its own merits, but shall conform to external plans for the site. This rather defeats the purpose of landmark legislation.

Other good and important place-makers are routinely at risk today unless this unfortunate loophole is closed in the City Code.

City policy ought to be cherishing and protecting its worthy landmarks, instead of destroying them or allowing abutting projects to diminish the landmark experience.

By capitalizing better on such quality of live issues, city policy could better enhance its ostensible goals of serving “workers, residents, and tourism” in a manner which genuinely reinforces and benefits each of the categories.


Douglas A. Fisher

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Posted by Douglas A. Fisher on 12/08/2013 at 7:59 PM

Re: “City should turn down University Ave. project

Henry Hope Reed, who died on Wednesday at 97, pioneered the concept of urban walking tours, such that the New York Times once covered his doing this. His lessons are relevant for Rochester.

Whereas the walking tour that I gave in Victor village on Saturday focused on historical aspects of the locale's 19th-century buildings and their occupants -- such as my identifying the long-ago business in one building and the long-ago businessman's home in his nearby house -- Henry Hope Reed's walking tours were a mobile critique of his subject locale in terms of his own architectural lens.

Reed was an unabashed classicist, and rebelled against what he considered to be an unthinking contemporary treatment in adaptive reuses of historic buildings. For a half century, contemporary "updating" via adaptive reuse has been the favored philosophy in utilizing buildings of our historic architectural heritage, following the precepts of Frederick Rath, promulgated nationwide during his tenure at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Back in the day, I took one of Henry Hope Reed's Manhattan walking tours, this one wending through Greenwich Village. I recall particularly his insights into the alternate preservation philosophy embodied in the Jefferson Market Courthouse, repurposed as a branch of the New York Public Library.

While praising the conservation of the Ruskinian Gothic detailing of the 1870s structure, he railed against the blanket insertions of large single-pane window glass replacing the multi-paned window treatment originally used. He felt that it changed the entire massing of the building to have such a series of large blank spaces spread across the walls.

Henry Hope Reed's classical orientation seems to be a lonely voice today. Many in the general population have no compunction about clamoring to debase -- or even destroy -- significant architectural landmarks as they see fit, giving minimal respect to the carefully thought-through architectural vision which created the structure at issue.

Thus, a nationally-significant 1889 brewery castle was destroyed in Rochester last year for a parking lot, with the complicity of City Hall.

Many others have no problem with debasing an important National Historical Landmark locally in favor of inserting next door a 102-unit four-story apartment house looming over the carefully restored and tended historic lawn and gardens. They even support having a swimming pool abutting these historic gardens, while the brick and glass reflect the shouts of swimming children into the intended contemplative repose of the historic gardens.

Oh, sure, the apartment house supporters have their arguments, some of which may sound compelling in the abstract, but they all gloss over their implicit disrespect for the original creative vision of the landmark site which some are seeking to preserve for the benefit of posterity.

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Posted by Douglas A. Fisher on 05/05/2013 at 7:00 PM

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