This From the Field Feature is courtesy of Hannah Davis, the founding director of Flower City Folk and a professor of practice in the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Individualized Study. Learn more about this project’s progress on Instagram at @flowercityfolk and Facebook at www.facebook.com/flowercityfolk.
Downtown Rochester is undergoing major changes, and Monroe County’s new folklife program, Flower City Folk, is documenting the process.
Since 2014, local government has worked towards removing the Inner Loop, a sunken highway encircling our urban center. When it was constructed, this roadway created a physical divide between bustling residential neighborhoods and the stores, businesses, restaurants, and schools that local community members relied on. Now, community members are working to reunite those spaces.
The development is happening slowly, quadrant by quadrant. Its southernmost quadrant, where ground broke in 2014, now features a major expansion of the Strong Museum, several new apartment buildings, and improved infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians. These changes bring a mix of praise and ire from community members. Some appreciate these glossy updates; others are dismayed by their exclusivity. The apartments are too expensive for the people who most need additional housing options, they say. “Who asked for that?,” someone wondered out loud to me.
The next stage of redevelopment will happen in nearby South Marketview Heights. Hinge Neighbors, an organization founded by artist Shawn Dunwoody and activist Suzanne Mayer, is trying to ensure that this stage is more collaborative and community-oriented. To document community members’ experiences and desires, as well as the neighborhood itself, Hinge Neighbors contracted a cultural resource survey from The Landmark Society of Western New York and Flower City Folk. We’ve been specifically tasked with conducting oral history interviews.
In the year and a half that’s passed since we began this work, I’ve met with dozens of people to discuss their experiences. Opinions differ, but everyone speaks with fondness about this special place. They recall growing up with yards full of fruit trees, working and going to school with close friends and family, and delighting in the small joys that a close community offers its members, like congregating at a local bakery’s backdoor with friends in hopes of getting a free cookie. They also agree that construction of the Inner Loop, compounded by economic decline in the ‘70s and ‘80s, changed the neighborhood. This redevelopment, they say, is an opportunity to make things right.
Official plans for redevelopment are still in flux, but we’re honored to collaborate with community members to bring about positive change.
Featured Photo : Hannah Davis interviews Tony Apollonio, a longtime resident of South Marketview Heights, as a part of an ongoing effort to document the stories and experiences of community members affected by the development of the Inner Loop. Photo by Arturo Hoyte.