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Genesee Valley Park makes list of threatened Olmsted sites 

click to enlarge Genesee Valley Park  has been named to a list of 12 nationally significant but threatened Frederick Law Olmsted-designed sites. - PHOTO BY JEREMY MOULE
  • PHOTO BY JEREMY MOULE
  • Genesee Valley Park has been named to a list of 12 nationally significant but threatened Frederick Law Olmsted-designed sites.
Genesee Valley Park has been named one of the 12 most threatened Frederick Law Olmsted-designed landscapes in a new report published by a national landscape advocacy group.

The report, “Landslide 2022,” was published by The Cultural Landscape Foundation and is intended to draw attention to the parks and other sites that Olmsted and his successor firm designed, and that now face challenges, from neglect and encroaching development to loss of land.

“Olmsted landscapes are really a priceless heritage that only a few cities have to the extent that we have,” said JoAnn Beck, a former senior landscape architect for the city of Rochester who chairs the Rochester Olmsted Parks Alliance. “Only a handful have an Olmsted parks system and it’s more and more evident that these gifts from the past are absolutely important to our future, to the future of the city.”

The report found that all the works on its list were suffering from some combination of neglect, the effects of climate change, a lack of recognized historical value, and a loss of open space.

Genesee Valley Park was included in the report because of a recent warehouse project proposed by the University of Rochester that city zoning officials denied in November 2021 because necessary documents were missing from the application.

The university wanted to construct the building on a piece of land that had been in the northeast section of the park until the university acquired it in 1969. The study points out that the property has an Olmsted-designed woods.

“Nobody knew that it was private land because it still looks and functions like the parkland that it was intended to be,” Beck said. “It looks and feels and functions like parkland.”

The report, released Tuesday, noted that the property remains zoned for “expansion of academic facilities,” and speculated that the university could still pursue a project on that land. Developing the land could “result in severe detriment to scenic viewsheds from a number of crucial vantage points, including from and across the river, not to mention the forfeiture of significant mature specimen trees,” said the report.
click to enlarge A statue of Edward Mott Moore, who championed the development of a parks system in Rochester, stands at the edge of Genesee Valley Park, in front of a wooded area that the University of Rochester owns and could develop. - PHOTO BY JEREMY MOULE
  • PHOTO BY JEREMY MOULE
  • A statue of Edward Mott Moore, who championed the development of a parks system in Rochester, stands at the edge of Genesee Valley Park, in front of a wooded area that the University of Rochester owns and could develop.
That’s also Beck’s concern. She said she was grateful that the city was “on its toes” with the application, but she is concerned that the former parkland, which provides a visual buffer between the serene 800-acre park and the sprawling University of Rochester campus, could still be developed.

“The university campus was designed by the Olmsted brothers and the university has received national recognition for their arboretum and for their care of their historic landscape,” Beck said. “It wouldn’t be out of character for the university to recognize the value of this landscape along with the main part of the campus.”

A spokesperson for the university did not return a message seeking comment left Wednesday.

In May, the Preservation League of New York State included Genesee Valley Park in its Seven to Save list, citing the potential development of the university-owned lot as one of the pressures it faced.

Genesee Valley Park is one of several parks in the city designed by Olmsted and later modified by his sons, who succeeded him at his firm. Seneca Park is an Olmsted design, and Highland Park is the city’s most intact Olmsted park.

The California State Parks System, Seattle city parks and the boulevards that run through them, the Olmsted Woods at the National Cathedral, and Veterans Memorial Parkway in Rhode Island are among the other threatened landscapes in “Landslide 2022.”

Jeremy Moule is CITY's deputy editor. He can be reached at jmoule@rochester-citynews.com.

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