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Imagine Rochester: After the conversation

Imagine Rochester: After the conversation

It is certain, I think, that the best government is the one that governs the least. But there is a much-neglected corollary: the best citizen is the one who least needs governing.
— Wendell Berry

As a community we have oversaturated the market with public engagement. Every week there are a handful of opportunities join a “conversation,” “community forum” or “share thoughts and feedback” on a project or issue. They all attract similar audiences of people in Rochester who are plugged into certain issues – DMC, development, neighborhoods.

Imagine Kutzky is not immune to this critique. In response to the interest in developing 2nd Street SW across from St. Marys, we have held two community engagement forums for people to come share ideas about how they would like to see this neighborhood grow and change. Like many similar forums in Rochester, we were reacting to events and hoping to raise the issues with a broader audience than the 8 members of our group. 

While we learned a lot about people’s thoughts on tunnels and a desire for more retail in this area, our biggest takeaway was actually that we’ve ‘jumped the shark’ on meaningful community engagement in Rochester. More than studying, planning and prototyping, the people we talked to wanted to see something happen. These conversations we are having focus on big issues: hotels, tunnels, grocery stores and apartment buildings. Yet community members want to see local shops, restaurants and amenities. They are less interested in redesigning the area for a certain market and more interested in developing the community; two very different things.


So what comes next? When we began this editorial series our goal was to talk about urban design related topics and how they impact Rochester. Turns out people are less interested in the nuances of on-street parking than they are about how the changes coming to Rochester are going to impact them, as individuals. What has stood out to me, more than anything, is that people feel this work is all for someone else. Tunnels are for patients. Hotels are for visitors. Yet the success of DMC depends on growing this community – the people who live and work here every day. 

As organizations and small businesses get forced out of downtown, who then is it being designed for? If hotel owners and Mayo Clinic lead design projects, who are they being designed for? The people, who are the foundation and the very determinant of success, have been resigned to endless conversations and not often a seat at the table where decisions are made. 

Imagine Kutzky believes that what comes next is action (absent of months of planning). In order to create a city that attracts, retains, supports and inspires its citizens, there needs to be action. We need to protest when we aren’t being heard. We need to try new things and invite competition. We need to free citizens from overregulation of government. We need to test the waters and see if we fail or succeed in trying to find what will make this city the place we all imagine it can be. 

Jesse Welsh is a member of the nonprofit advocacy group Imagine Kutzky.

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