It's a Two-Way Street

In the hierarchy of streets, alleys are the ultimate in utility. In an ideal world, access to the interior of a traditional city block would be limited to no more than two to four alley access points. With garbage services, delivery truck parking, and utility services neatly tucked behind the stores, the remaining perimeter of the block can be dedicated to interactions between businesses, customers, and passersby.

Traditional alleys are 18-ft wide; two-way streets. As such, activities within an alley can peacefully carry on with limited regulatory signage. If an alley is temporarily blocked from one end by a delivery truck, a person can simply go around to the other end to access their destination. Motorists and pedestrians work together in harmony with gentle glances and polite waves to create order. Congestion, honking, and anger are not often observed in alleys. One vehicle moves over a little for another to pass, or slows down a bit to allow a bicyclist to set the pace. The very design, activities, and occupants of alleys regulate vehicle speed far better than any speed limit sign or police presence could ever. Chaotic, but smart.

Rochester is blessed with a north-south alleyway system in many of the contiguous central business district blocks, creating a network of access and connectivity important to economic activity and traffic flow for motorists and pedestrians alike. The alley blocks between Broadway Ave South and 1st Avenue West, running from Peace Plaza south to the fire station, represent one set of alleys that service many of the important functions noted.

Downtown Rochester 100-500 Block West Alley "Chain"

Downtown Rochester 100-500 Block West Alley "Chain"

A peculiar oddity exists within this chain of alleys, a mystery unable to be explained through recent conversations with the City Engineer.  At some point in the past, the alley between 2nd Street SW and 3rd Street SW was converted to a one-way, with appropriate regulatory signage to support this designation.

North Exit to 200 Block Alley

North Exit to 200 Block Alley

So what is the effect?  Here is a pictorial quiz: what do you notice about the below photo of the 200 block alley that you do not see in the other three blocks?

200 Block Alley Looking North

200 Block Alley Looking North

Answer: Parked vehicles. Illegally.

And frequently (as in, all the time), every day, for periods much longer than the 30 minute sign regulates.

How can this be explained? Are the parking enforcement staff simply ignoring this one block, or forgetting it exists? Probably not.

Is this alley block wider or narrower or in some other way designed or engineered differently? No, it is 18-ft wide just like the others.

Vehicles are consistently observed parking in the 200 block alley (behind Old City Hall, City Market, etc), because it is signed as a one-way but has the exact same dimensions as the other alleys. Explained another way, a motorist observes two lanes of pavement, acknowledges to themselves that only one “lane” is dedicated to through traffic, and decides that the other lane can be used for parking. Free parking. Why pay a meter out front when you know there is a parking lane in the alley with free parking?


A proposed skyway traversing the 300 block alley from 318 Commons to former Paine Furniture will require two structural piers to be placed within the 18-ft alley, presumably along the edge. Effectively this will narrow the alley by several feet somewhere behind Paine Furniture. Marching in step with road design manuals, the City Engineer checks the design tables and makes the determination that the the 300 block alley shall be converted from two-way traffic, to one-way due to the narrowed lanes. 18-ft alley = two lanes.  Anything narrower, two vehicles cannot possibly pass.  Orderly, but dumb.

Design Rochester supports minimal to no alley signage or regulation. Alleys should not be signed as one-way, even if that is what the engineering design guidelines suggest given a narrower lane dimension. Local control and individual decision-making supersedes the need for excessive signage and regulation. Let humans figure it out on their own -- we are capable and should be allowed the opportunity to prove it. Allow the parking regulation staff and police to focus their resources on more pressing issues that truly impact finances (checking parking meters) and people’s lives (speeding over 30mph, which really does not ever occur in an alley).

We challenge the city to remove the one-way signage from the 200 block alley, and maintain the two-way status of the 300 block alley even after the bridge piers are placed. Prototype it for 30 days. What outcomes might you expect during this pilot? Will chaos ensue beyond the levels today? Will there be speeding, vehicle crashes, and pedestrian deaths? Likely not. We believe this will also cut down on the free parking occurring daily in the 200 block alley. Parking is of high value in the downtown core, and we should seek to eliminate (not by regulation but by design) any free parking opportunities.

Active Streetscapes and the Role of Mayo Clinic

One of the most paradoxical aspects of the downtown Rochester ecosystem, is the relationship between Destination Medical Center (DMC) and Mayo Clinic.  It is quite the dichotomy.  On the one hand, Mayo Clinic is DMC.  They were the ones responsible for its inception; the ones who felt compelled to act and create DMC.  The ones who ultimately advocated to the local voters and state legislators for its institution.

On the other hand, Mayo Clinic and DMC want different things.  Mayo Clinic is fundamentally a hospital and as a part of that typology, they need to control all aspects of a building.  The design decisions--all the way down to the type of flooring--carry with them health care implications, and thus, the campus is extremely inward focused.  From HVAC systems to anti-microbial finishes, what happens inside the Mayo Clinic buildings are finely tuned.  For DMC, they want activation, vibrancy, vitality, and the entropic environment that makes cities such exciting places.  These places are wholly uncontrollable outside of the hermetically sealed buildings on campus.     

But quite frankly, the Mayo Clinic is running out (some would say has run out) of space.  Demand is at an all time high since supply is low.  As a result--as the saying goes--beggars cannot be choosers.  And so many spaces currently leased/occupied by Mayo Clinic are not in the most ideal locations.  In particular, the ground floors of buildings that front the most urban streets.


What would happen if all Mayo Clinic office space was vacated on the ground level of buildings surrounding the Second Street SW and First Avenue SW intersection?

This epicenter of activity for the Mayo Clinic and the "Heart of the City" (home to Thursdays on First), is currently dominated by commercial office space.  In urban design parlance, this is considered a passive use.  In contrast, an active use consists of retail, restaurant, or services that promote a high amount of pedestrian interaction.  The NE corner of this intersection is a perfect example of active uses (Eagle Drug Store, Essence Skin Salon).  However the SW, SE and NW corners are all populated with ground floor space occupied by Mayo Clinic.  Private offices and conference rooms most of which have the shades all but permanently drawn.  

The amount of untapped potential that exists in this node of the downtown core is wasted on windows with shades drawn, a lack of entrances, and narrow concrete sidewalks in need of expansion and activation. The base of these buildings should relate to the human scale and allow for interaction between indoors and out. Ground floor uses and retail activities should spill out into the sidewalks and streets to blur the distinction between public and private space. Preferably, active ground floor uses that create enriched experiences along each street for both pedestrians and motorists. Sidewalk activity has been shown to slow vehicular traffic to make pedestrians feel safer when crossing the street.

Image from the DMC Development Plan showing areas highlighted in black slated for "active ground floor uses"

Image from the DMC Development Plan showing areas highlighted in black slated for "active ground floor uses"

Consider what might happenif Mayo Clinic decided to sublease all of their space on this one intersection to other uses, or left entirely to occupy less demanded square footage: the impact on Rochester's downtown core would be minimal, but the precedent that such an action would create could formalize additional development down the street through the Urban Village and future University of Minnesota Rochester campus. We should be so lucky to have a downtown with these visions of complete streets that are vibrant, accessible, convenient to public transit, linked to surrounding neighborhoods, safer and healthier.

Arguably, this Mayo Clinic condition, or trend, or precedent, or rut....has a much greater effect on the decreased vibrancy of our streetscapes than the skyways ever have.  

Or put another way, the skyways are here to stay, but why don't we make the street a more compelling place to be instead?

9 Ideas to Help Implement DMC Visions

Rochester is lousy with plans.  We have vision documents and planning studies all around us.  Yet we are mired in the weeds trying to figure out how we can possibly implement much of what is depicted in these prognosticating documents.   So as the year ends and most websites and media outlets use the "end of year countdowns" to lure readers, we decided to do one of our own.  No celebrity break-ups or epic fails here, just straight forward advocacy.



Rochester suffers, in some respects, because it does attract a cosmopolitan populace.  The many citizen transplants and trailing spouses who live in Rochester have moved from other larger cities or urban areas or they have the means to travel around to exotic ports across the world.  This leads to unattainable comparisons: "I was at this place in New York City," "There was this cafe in San Francisco," "In the warehouse district of (insert any city name)."  The problem is that we cannot be compared to those cities. We don't have a strong transit system or anything close to the population density that those other cities have.  We have to stop comparing Rochester to Minneapolis, Chicago, or any other city with more than twice the population. 


Currently the City of Rochester doesn't have a dedicated, and independent, planning department.  They have a shared department of planning with Olmsted County, which is so understaffed and underfunded that they can't actually perform any long-range planning.  Furthermore, there have been grievances and thus task forces established to improve our development processes.  And we have been hearing an ever-increasing chorus for workforce housing.  All of these issues fall under the heading of Community Development and it is long overdue for Rochester to establish a Community Development Department to facilitate coordinated efforts toward growth and development issues in the city. 


Because Rochester doesn't have a planning department, we often overlook the strong linkage between development patterns and transportation.  Granted, there is some understanding that land use and transportation are interdependent, but the rationale for approving or denying project proposals does not take into account this symbiotic relationship.  We need to do a better job of tying the planning department review to a transportation/transit review and give priority to projects that locate themselves with existing or new connections to transit systems.  When you read about a developer proposing an "affordable housing project" at the furthest reaches of town (55th Street NW and 18th Ave NW) you HAVE to understand the burden that places on those inhabitants due to a lack of transportation options.


There is more surface area devoted to streets (public right-of-way) than all of the public parks combined.  This fact is not that unusual, in fact in most cities this disparity is further amplified by larger population and employment centers which choke out most green space.  We have a Park Board, consisting of seven appointed individuals who govern over the policy and stewardship of our vital public lands.  But what about the even larger amount of public land devoted to streets?  That area is monopolized by our city traffic engineer and public works department with zero oversight by the public.  When a street is reconstructed, who from the public is allowed to weigh in on the design, the pedestrian amenities, the amount of space devoted to cars as compared to people? If we established a public commission (analogous to Planning, Parks, even Historic Preservation) then we have a greater assurance that our public spaces, are designed for everybody.


If a public commission for Public Works is a bridge too far, then at least hire someone with the skills and expertise for designing streets.  Designing streets is very different than engineering roadways.  Traffic engineers are hard to argue with.  They seem to have impenetrable data and facts that point to safety and comfort.  But they are using outdated platitudes which ignore the impact that humans have on the use of streets. Having an urban designer on staff creates a counterbalance to the engineering perspective which excludes human beings from street design.  Streets are more about economics than engineering, and so different strengths are required to fully complete each design. 


The Emergency Room relies on triage to assess and prioritize every case that walks in the door in order to maximize their finite resources.  We can and should do the exact same thing for our urban areas.  Not every street can support wide sidewalks, on-street parking, bike lanes, and permeable pavers.  Or more to the point, if they did, it wouldn't solve the other missing elements that limit that street's efficacy.  In some ways it is the inverse of the ER.  The patients who are the worst off, should be put on hold, and the patients who are closer to health should be improved with the least amount of effort.  It is more like the battlefield triage where the term first was coined: the worst off must sometimes be sacrificed for the greater good.  Targeting resources on the best streets, corridors, and districts leverages maximum impact.  Leave the big box stores for another year or decade.


If we want the private market to get serious about making large investments in urban areas to see the kind of visions of DMC come to fruition, then we have to initiate a market solution.  Right now, the market dictates where growth occurs.  Where land is cheap and there are relatively few regulations, development is booming.  Downtown--where land prices are high, abatement issues exist, and zoning makes it effectively impossible to do anything--there is not much happening.  If you set a policy that brownfield sites and/or infill redevelopment projects will automatically go to the front of the line for regulatory approval, you may create incentive for developers to target those areas first.  It takes a LONG time to get through the system (Planning, Building Safety, etc.) and to be assured a "front-of-the-line" pass for certain geographic areas may translate into saved time (= money).


Currently our City/County large scale planning documents use models for growth and for traffic.  These models project into the future.  The traffic models project an increase of 2%, each year.  Compounded.  Forever.  The result is that Civic Center Drive (that bisects Kutzky Park and is virtually impossible to cross on foot) is planned to be widened by one more lane on each side.  Because of projected traffic.  Traffic projections need to be thrown out.  Because induced demand (or the increase in traffic due to greater capacity) will never alleviate traffic congestion.  What eliminates traffic congestion is a reduction in the amount of people driving, not widening the roadways.  We need to wise up and realize that there is no need for traffic projections.


There is no such thing as free parking.  Parking is subsidized by someone, either a property owner, tenant, or municipality.  Even on-street parking (by using a meter) does not take into account the true value of parking.  It costs a quarter to park in a spot at 11:50am right before the lunch rush; and it costs a quarter to park in the same spot at 2:15pm during siesta.  Demand is far higher at 11:50am, and parking pricing should reflect that demand.  When we actually place the true price of parking on the public then we can really see the importance of investing in transit systems and alternative modes of travel.  To park closer to a downtown hot spot, or to park at peak time, ought to cost more.  This is not revolutionary, RPU charges you more for using power during peak times.  The additional money generated by such an action can be reinvested back into the public realm to improve the overall environment for downtown and other urban areas once we stop wasting it all on providing free parking.  

A Bridge Too Far?

What is the best way to "close the loop" in the downtown skyway system?

Decisions regarding transportation are often determined by ease and simplicity (read: efficiency).  The problem with efficiency is that it can exist at the expense of design.  When it comes to the downtown skyway and subway system, the decisions of routing have been made by businesses and the City in the interest of efficiency.  However, it is important to remember that skyways have an impact on the activity of the street and the overall aesthetic perception of residents and visitors.  Wouldn't it be better to create a skyway system that served the needs of its users but did not sacrifice the feel of streets and architecture?  

Okay, so the news broke today that the long anticipated connection from 318 Commons to the former Paine Furniture Store is imminent.  Whether you agree with the decision or not, the next logical progression for the downtown skyway is to cross Broadway south of 2nd Street.  This would effectively "close the loop" that exists surrounding the downtown core.  Once the "Skyway to Nowhere" was constructed, this connection became a determinant of real estate speculation.  This crossing of Broadway on the 300 block from the City Center building through the former Paine Furniture store building (or a new building in its place) would continue into the UMR residence hall and finally to the expansive 3rd Street parking ramp connected to the BioBusiness Center.  How efficient is that?

Free Market of Street Level Foot Traffic

Monopolized Foot Traffic

But, and this is the but that we care about, this would impact the buildings on either side of Broadway that have some vestige of historical architectural character and, because of the scale of the buildings, dominate the streetscape.  This is the most efficient route, but shouldn't we mind the gap?

Another option: The skyway system currently runs through the Holiday Inn building on the east side of Broadway before terminating at the most beautiful free conference space in all of Rochester.  The reason for having the skyway in a hotel makes sense for the tourism industry and for the convenience of patients accessing Mayo facilities.  On the west side of Broadway is another hotel, Hilton Garden Inn, which also has a dead end section of skyway for the same reasons as mentioned above.  Wouldn't these two businesses prefer to close the loop to increase traffic through their hotels and to provide a quicker and more convenient access to downtown buildings?  These two buildings are also more than 6 stories tall which makes a skyway connection more in scale with the street.  They are also relatively devoid of architectural character and definitely nothing of any significance. 



As is true in real estate, the more expected a project becomes, the more expensive it can become to realize.  Closing the loop across Broadway on the 300 block requires a property owner to front a 1/2 of the cost of a new skyway in addition to purchasing the Paine Furniture building and any renovations or complete redevelopment.  That makes a already high priced piece of real estate even more cost prohibitive.  In contrast, the 200 block has two established businesses with existing skyway legs and would only require they front 1/4 of the cost of a new skyway to increase the vitality, viability and accessibility of their respective businesses. 

As downtown continues to develop, keep an eye out for future skyway connections, building redevelopments proposals, and streetscape improvements that emerge from the DMC Development Plan implementation.  Then compare the reality to what was proposed and critically analyze how we are doing when it comes to urban design decisions.  We should care more about our built environment than we seem to. 

Crossing Broadway

Engineers have all the tools needed to design a Broadway that is safer for everyone, including those most vulnerable who do not drive. Will they choose to use them?

The Fortunate Reality

Planning is underway for Phase 4 of the 2nd Street SW reconstruction. Pending anticipated funding, this phase will include reconstruction of 2nd Street SW from Highway 52 to 11th Ave SW (near Virgil’s Auto). This segment is sure to be one of the most complex phases given the limited right-of-way available, with local businesses along the north side, and the Mayo Clinic Hospital - St. Marys campus on the south side.

The primary objective of the project is similar to that of previous phases, which is to replace deteriorated pavement, concrete sidewalks, curb, and gutter, and potentially address any known deficiencies with underground piping infrastructure. 

Secondary objectives may include improving safety and efficiency for the diverse modes of transportation present through this segment, including pedestrians, automobiles, bicyclists, city transit, and private shuttles, buses, and taxis.

A key observation through this segment of 2nd Street SW is the level of pedestrian activity. It is not uncommon to observe pedestrians crossing the street from the hospital over to one of the many local business across the street. Among numerous other active commercial uses, the flower shop, restaurants, hotels, and coffee shops all rely a great deal on foot traffic from patients, staff, and guests of the hospital. Pedestrian crossings are both structured and unstructured - marked and unmarked. Exiting directly north out of the main hospital entrance leads one to a safe and convenient signalized pedestrian crosswalk leading directly across the street to the destination shops.

A less structured crossing example would be the frequently observed staff or visitor exiting the east hospital doors and walking mid-block straight across to the Caribou Coffee.

In the wintertime cold, the most common way of doing this is FAST!  Pedestrians will always choose the most direct route, especially during cold winter months.

Due to the frequency and volume of pedestrian traffic crossing 2nd Street SW throughout all hours of the day, a perception exists that this roadway is very unsafe for pedestrians. Drivers clutch their steering wheels even tighter and slow down as they navigate this segment, expecting that at any moment a pedestrian will dart out in front of them. Given this frequency of “jaywalking,” certainly there must be accidents all the time.

The data tell another story.

From the MnDOT Office of Traffic, Safety, and Technology

Pedestrian-Vehicle crash data from for 2004-2013 by type:

11 crashes

0 - “K” Fatal

0 - “A” injury crashes

9 - “B” injury crashes

2 - “C” injury crashes

0 - PDO injury crashes

MnDOT provides the following infographic to explain the types of injury crashes:

It’s not uncommon for perception to not align with reality; after all, perception is reality. However, the actual reality based on data is that this segment is relatively safe for pedestrians (an average of basically 1 injury per year).  In fact, counter-intuitive as it may seem, the very presence of pedestrians, and the perceived risk on behalf of drivers, encourages drivers to slow down (thus improving safety).  Most who are familiar with this street segment would likely claim to observe relatively moderate speeds through this segment - 30 mph or less. At the same time, most users would also claim that this segment operates with a high level of congestion. Furthermore, pedestrians tend to pay more attention when “jaywalking” or crossing at an unmarked crosswalk than when crossing at marked locations.

When re-designing a street, traffic engineers are tasked with prioritizing competing objectives.

How does an engineer design a roadway that both improves pedestrian safety but also reduces congestion? Traffic engineers have worked for decades to find a solution, but perhaps a solution just doesn’t exist. It seems that after thousands of projects just like this one, only one of two competing objectives may be achieved, almost always at the expense of the other. For all local street projects, the most vulnerable user should take precedence in design. A thousand fender-benders are far more acceptable than just one pedestrian fatality.

Traditional project objectives such as the two listed in the above table tend to be subjective. It is impossible for a design engineer to objectively measure the success or failure of “reducing vehicle congestion” without a benchmark of current-state data. Engineers tend to be quick to jump to “solutions” based on hunches and previous experiences prior to thinking critically about what, if any, problem exists and identifying appropriate objectives based on real data analysis (a.k.a. design-thinking). Data is messy and takes time and effort to gather and evaluate.

Before even starting the re-design of 2nd Street Phase 4, the following data should be gathered and evaluated to use as a baseline for measuring improved performance:

-       Single-occupancy vehicle counts

-       Public/private transit bus/shuttle counts

-       Pedestrian counts

-       Bicycle counts

-       Average vehicle speed across entire segment and sub-segments

-       Average vehicle Level-of-Service (LOS) at key intersections

-       Average pedestrian Level-of-Service (LOS) at key intersections

-       Average/Peak-Hour vehicle travel times

Once the appropriate current-state data is collected, measurable performance goals can then be set based on the above metrics.

Statistics show that the risk of pedestrian death increases exponentially with speed:

Based on the above graphic and the desirable pedestrian use of this segment, Design Rochester proposes the following measurable project performance objective that should guide all design decisions:

20 mph Design Goal Speed

During the design process, numerous decisions will need to be made including:

-       How many vehicle lanes are appropriate?

-       Are dedicated turn lanes are appropriate and where?

-       What is the appropriate vehicle lane width?

-       Will on-street parking be maintained?

-       Will curb bump-outs be installed?

-       Will street trees or other buffer zone infrastructure be included?

When uncertainty exists in answering any of the above questions first ask the question, “does this design element help achieve a 20mph design speed?” A “yes” answer will assure both the design engineer and the public of an intentional positive, reliable outcome.

For the 0.4 mile segment between Highway 52 and 11th Avenue, the time delay difference between an average speed of 20 mph and 30 mph is just 24 seconds. Is 24 seconds of anyone’s life worth more than the 40% increase in risk of death?

A design speed performance goal is both measurable and achievable through proven and effective implementation strategies. Any design decision which does not or cannot support the 20mph average goal speed through the segment must be considered dangerous and should not be considered for implementation.

Do the Math

With the potential for a large influx of state dollars arriving over the next 20 years, Rochester’s challenge will be to think critically about the financial productivity of our places.  It is imperative that the investments we make into public infrastructure in the near-term create a platform for long-term prosperity.

In today’s development world, a substantial amount of public infrastructure is required to support a typical new private development – sewers, roads, curb, and stormwater ponds to name a few.  The developer pays for this required infrastructure initially through various development fees, and then the infrastructure is turned over to the city (you!) after a warranty period to sweep, plow, repair, clean, manage, and otherwise maintain.  This is the long-term maintenance obligation to which the city (taxpayers) agrees at the onset of a private development project.  We’ll talk more about this liability in a future blog post, but for now let’s start with an analysis of the productivity component of this complex infrastructure puzzle.

Prior to the 1940s, most cities developed as compact, mixed-use places of living and working. Buildings were constructed incrementally as business owners grew their wealth over time.  An example of such a traditional development pattern is the 300 Block on Broadway South. This traditional city block is home to local favorites such as Press Coffee & Tea, Kathy’s Pub, Bilotti’s Pizza, and Kruesel’s Antiques, along with a recent redevelopment, 318 Commons, and the C4 Creative Salon. The original buildings on the block are astute with character and flexibility, some in better shape than others, but each with their own strong form and function.  Ownership has likely changed hands dozens of times over the 100+ years these buildings have stood. 

This “Traditional Block” includes 17 tax parcels and encompasses approximately 3.2 acres of land.

This “Traditional Block” includes 17 tax parcels and encompasses approximately 3.2 acres of land.


Total Size = 3.2 acres

Total Land + Building Value per Acre = $6,588,938

Annual Property Tax Revenue per Acre = $176,949

Development patterns changed dramatically after the 1940s.  The advent of zoning regulations that separated land uses, in parallel with rising automobile ownership, required families to drive to places of work and shopping.  An early example of this development style is Miracle Mile Shopping Center on Highway 52, originally developed in the early 1950s.  Miracle Mile was ideally located adjacent to established neighborhoods and also the main highway, providing easy access for shoppers travelling from near and far; the prototypical "Strip Mall,"

Miracle Mile shopping center includes two tax parcels, and encompasses 12 acres of land.

Miracle Mile shopping center includes two tax parcels, and encompasses 12 acres of land.


Total Size = 12.0 acres

Total Land + Building Value per Acre = $869,883

Annual Property Tax Revenue per Acre = $31,991

Lessons learned from the 1950s and 1960s developments like Miracle Mile resulted in further refinement of the zoning ordinance to require minimum parking standards. This coupled with the era of "Big Box" stores that consolidated multiple different business types (grocery, department store, furniture store, electronics, etc.) exacerbated the land consumption trend.  The 41st Street NW commercial district that houses Target North represents a modern example of the predominant present-day development pattern, and is reflective of today’s zoning ordinances.

The Target North shopping district includes 15 tax parcels and encompasses 64.4 acres of land. (Photo Credit: Ryan Companies US, Inc)

The Target North shopping district includes 15 tax parcels and encompasses 64.4 acres of land. (Photo Credit: Ryan Companies US, Inc)


Total Size = 64.4 acres

Total Land + Building Value per Acre = $614,626

Annual Property Tax Revenue per Acre = $22,553

The following table summarizes the value and property tax revenue per acre for each of the three development styles.

The value per acre of a traditional block in downtown Rochester is nearly ten times the value of the 21st century shopping center. TEN. TIMES.  The property tax revenue generated by a traditional block is seven times greater than that which is generated by the 21st century shopping center.  And for those of you thinking, sure – you take one of the most densely developed blocks in all of downtown for your study.  Yes, that is true.  But while all other similar traditional blocks may not currently have such high value and productivity, there exists the potential for higher productivity, whereas the future of the 21st Century does not.  

Why doesn’t this potential exist?  Our current zoning code would not allow for additional density – and therefore, value – within the 21st century development.  There are building height maximums, minimum setbacks, and minimum parking requirements that cap the value of the new developments.  But more importantly, the separating of uses indicative of this zoning method prevents a diversity of use types in these areas, let alone the same building.  Thus it is far more difficult for the places developed under current zoning regulations to ever increase in value without going through an exhaustive process of some combination of zone changes, incentive developments, and variances.  We have basically regulated ourselves away from the ability to build highly productive places through our zoning regulations.

The traditional block is far more resilient and flexible due to both zoning and building form.  If one business was to fail, a new business, housing, or retail establishment could take its place (either within the same structure or a new structure to replace it).  If Home Depot fails, what will take its place?  Is the building flexible enough to accommodate something other than home improvement goods?  Or some similar big-box typology?  Could it be torn down and something larger and more productive built in its place?  Not likely.  If the zoning code even allowed it to be converted to residential housing, would it be a desirable place to live?

The cost to provide fire and police services to the 21st century development is higher than that for a traditional development.  When the 318 Commons building was built in the traditional block, the fire department did not ask to build a new fire station or otherwise request to increase their budget, nor was the development a factor in the police department’s request for a new precinct on the north end of town.

Another very recent example of an extraordinarily productive place is the proposed 22-story mixed-use tower at Broadway and East Center Street.  The current construction estimate hovers around $110 million dollars.  A 0.5-acre site that will have a value of $220 million dollars per acre and will likely produce hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual property tax revenue will demand very little in the way of new infrastructure.  Police and fire already serve this block, as well as roads and sewers.  This is not to discount that new, greenfield developments are not productive in other ways – certainly there are factors such as sales tax revenues that add to the productivity calculations.  We must demand that these calculations be made and considered prior to making such massive infrastructure investments with public dollars.  Do you suppose that calculation took place when we committed ourselves to the 65th Street interchange and subsequent Menards (Further) North development?

In the past, local projects have been able to rely on state and federal dollars to support a portion of the infrastructure and service costs for new developments.  In today’s world of quickly shrinking state and federal funds, this is no longer the case.  We will soon be forced to think more critically about how we invest our local dollars; how to become a more resilient community, getting as much done today as we did yesterday, except with less.  In light of that, and the future only bringing more belt-tightening, we are obligated to change our spending practices and invest only in the most productive places.

Would Rochester choose to build this today with exclusively local dollars; with no state and federal subsidies?

Would Rochester choose to build this today with exclusively local dollars; with no state and federal subsidies?

Rochester has seen many decades of robust growth and success.  If we want to continue to maintain that level of success during the next 20 years and beyond, we must focus our investments on the places of greatest productivity.  At Design Rochester, we ask for your ideas on how and where to build productive places.  Where are the best opportunities for redevelopment within our current service areas, and what types of services would you like to see these places provide?  How can you get the things you need without large sums of up-front public dollars and additional maintenance liabilities?

A Park-and-Ride Too Far

For many years, the City of Rochester operated a public transit park-and-ride located along 3rd Avenue SE across the street from Bethel Lutheran Church in Slatterly Park.  The agreement between the City of Rochester and Bethel either expired or was discontinued on January 2nd, 2014.  Fast forward to this past City Council agenda which included an item recommended by the Transit and Parking Division to enter into a new 15-month lease agreement with Bethel, except the proposed parking lot would instead be located on the east side of 3rd Avenue SE—directly south of the Church building.

Under the agreement, Bethel provides up to 100 spaces for persons to park and ride the City bus into the downtown. The Lease is based on set amount of $1,000.00 per month. The system revenues cover the cost of the parking lease. The spaces are available Monday through Friday, 6:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. Bethel provides for all lot maintenance including snow removal.

Bethel Lutheran Church located in the Slatterly Park Neighborhood is a strong institution with a large and growing congregation.  Approximately 10-15 years ago, a large addition to the church was built.  With growing demand for convenient access to the front door, the church acquired numerous adjacent residential properties to the south, demolished the structures, and paved a 274-stall surface parking lot. 

Proposed Bethel Park-and-Ride Location

Proposed Bethel Park-and-Ride Location

Parking Lot Today (View North from 9th St SE)

Parking Lot Today (View North from 9th St SE)

What was once a block of about a dozen single family homes—producing thousands of dollars of property tax revenue each year—is now a tax-exempt, impervious surface lot used sparingly each week.  According to the Olmsted County property tax records, the underlying land value of two parcels that make up the 2.72 acre parking lot is $772,000. This land value alone would typically produce in the range of $10,000-$20,000 in annual property tax revenue, notwithstanding its current tax-exempt status.  Add some buildings, whether residential or commercial, and the tax revenue generation would be far greater.  The tax exempt, non-revenue generating status of this parcel, combined with its unproductive land use as a parking lot, and further proposed subsidy of $12,000 per year as a park and ride, will cost the City of Rochester tens of thousands of dollars per year.

Now one cannot fault Bethel for looking for ways to create some source of revenue off a portion of their land which remains vacant each weekday, but since this issue was brought before City Council, and they are charged with setting public policy, should we (the city) be taking such actions to create (and subsidize) a downtown park-and-ride lot? 

Bethel Lutheran Church abuts the boundary of the Rochester Downtown Master Plan (RDMP) study area and is not technically inside the boundary.  That being said, the arbitrary demarcation of “downtown” is less as important as the recommendations that apply to the land areas consistent with the characteristics and context of downtown.  Thus Slatterly Park, Kutzky Park, Historic Southwest, and Eastside Pioneers Neighborhoods should take note of these recommendations even if they reside comfortably outside of “downtown.”

RDMP Study Area Shown Dashed

RDMP Study Area Shown Dashed

The RDMP specifically addresses the issue at hand.  Among other things, it provides a comprehensive assessment of transportation in Rochester.  Park-and-rides were specifically addressed in the chapter titled “Mobility.”  In no uncertain terms, the RDMP states:

Through the use of park and ride lots and remote parking, transit already plays an important role in reducing the amount of parking in downtown, especially parking devoted to the long-term storage of vehicles. It is recommended that the City…build on the success of the park and ride and remote parking programs by providing clearly marketed, high-frequency transit connections from these locations to downtown…
…parking in the downtown area, such as the Fullerton Lot, is encouraged to be accommodated remotely and replaced by higher and better land uses.

Have our civic leaders forgotten that the RDMP was adopted by the City Council in 2010 and cost more than a half million dollars to develop?  What would be their rationale for ignoring this recommendation?

As the plan states, park-and-ride lots represent a very important tool in solving a city’s transportation challenges.  Regional commuters are provided opportunities to drive to the edge of Rochester, park their car in some public or underutilized private parking lot, hop on a bus that provides direct transport (meaning none or very few other stops) to a downtown hub of workplaces.  The goal of a park-and-ride is to relieve congestion in the downtown area by reducing the volume of vehicles impacting the limited downtown facilities – the streets, lots, and ramps.

The Fullerton Lot, mentioned in the RDMP excerpt above and owned by Mayo Clinic, has both similarities and differences with the Bethel Lot. The Fullerton Lot is a privately owned and operated employee park-and-ride facility for a private business. The proposed Bethel park-and-ride is also a privately owned lot, but which the City is proposing to lease for use as a publicly owned and operated system.

There are also geographic similarities between both the Fullerton and Bethel Lots.  They are both considered downtown park-and-rides, as both are located within walking distance to downtown.  Some who park at Fullerton do walk; others hop on the privately operated shuttle.  The RDMP recognizes the nature of both lots as downtown locations and recommends replacement of downtown park-and-rides to a remote location.

Through development of remote park-and-rides, the downtown lots are incentivized to redevelop to a more financially productive land use (often referred to as highest and best use), or at least at a minimum not supported via a city subsidy to remain a parking lot for the foreseeable future.  Being a charitable organization, Bethel Lutheran Church and their parking lot currently benefit from tax-exempt status, reducing its likelihood of redeveloping.  A city park-and-ride contract will only serve to further disincentivize redevelopment of this potentially highly-productive land.

A final point that must be made is that Bethel Lutheran Church maintains property rights that currently allow them to lease out their parking lot privately at a market rate, something that many downtown businesses (and churches!) do to generate some revenue from underutilized parking spaces.  A bus stop and shelter already exist at the site – with or without the lot being established as a “official” city park and ride. The photo below shows the bus stop sign and shelter along 3rd Avenue SE.  Anyone today is free to park in a nearby on-street parking space, walk to this bus stop, and hop on for a quick jaunt to downtown.  A city subsidy is not needed for this already available transportation offering.

The Slatterly Park Neighborhood Association representatives were made aware of the proposal and asked for the agenda item to be continued to a future hearing to allow for discussion with staff and council on the proposal.  A wise decision since the Imagine Slatterly Vision Plan (adopted by City Council in 2012) is in concert with the recommendations of the RDMP and promotes a more walkable neighborhood.  That vision is incongruous with a park-and-ride concept in their neighborhood.

Design Rochester hopes that City Council will give this issue some serious thought.  Especially considering that numerous approved planning documents recommend against this practice.  Any of the points below can be used to reinforce this argument and we would advocate for their inclusion in the ensuing policy debate.

  1. A downtown park-and-ride is inconsistent with the adopted Downtown Master Plan.
  2. Use as a park-and-ride disincentives redevelopment to a more productive use.
  3. Creation of such a park-and-ride promotes additional traffic into downtown, increasing congestion along 3rd Avenue SE.
  4. A city bus stop already exists at Bethel Lutheran Church on 3rd Avenue SE, with plentiful nearby on-street parking to allow parking and riding to occur free of charge
  5. The land would become double-subsidized with both tax-exempt status and income from City budget

Ma Riviere

Inspired by our three part series on the Zumbro River (click here for Part IPart II, and Part III), French film maker Jean-Francois Malibu supplied us with this short film based on his own reflections having been born and raised in Rochester.  Many thanks to him, or as they say in French, "merci beaucoup."  

The Doughnut Effect

The recent move chronicled by Jeff Kiger of the new adventures of old Old Navy may have scrolled past your gaze without much thought.  On the surface the story seems benign as a national retail chain decides to move to a new location.  However, the news of this move struck me as a perfect example of The Doughnut Effect.

The Doughnut Effect has several different meanings and implications, but the chief principle is the hole in the center surrounded by a delicious treat around the periphery: this being a metaphor for the centrifugal force of urban abandonment on 20th century cities.  With the growth of American cities (not just American cities but evidenced most clearly by them) there was a migration to the suburb.  This migration in search of newer, larger, and/or more affordable homes left many inner cities "hollow" and devoid of population and vitality.  

The situation was exacerbated by another symptom of the suburb, the creation of the Edge City coined by author Joel Garreau.  With large population concentrations now around the periphery of cities, suburbs began to take on the properties of urban areas thus eliminating the need to travel back into the city center.  The characteristics of edge cities are most detrimental in towns of a certain size, worse for smaller ones and not as harmful for large ones.  For some reason, there is a scale of major metropolitan areas that turns these more into nodes or neighborhoods that can create unique identity and character--primarily because of their inclusion of residential land uses in their infrastructure.  Where there is no residential use in the equation (think confluence of two highways or strip mall aesthetics) the effect is significant.  Smaller cities are more susceptible to this phenomenon and Rochester is no exception.

Enter Old Navy, not an intentional scapegoat, but illustrating the Doughnut Effect's most terrifying present-day byproduct: a new hollow ring of what used to be considered the doughnut's frosted goodness.  You see, now that suburbs--or edge cities, or whatever you call them--have been a staple of urban planning for nearly a half century, if you want to recreate the doughnut effect you are not voiding the city center, you are leaving the former periphery whereby leaving a concentric ring of emptiness in its place.  So by "leap frogging" from one commercial strip or big box complex to the next, you are literally leaving thousands of square feet (and hundreds of vacant parking spaces) to sit and decay.  In the curious case of Old Navy, this need to move out occurred in only 10 years.  

This is profound.  The continued migration of stores and businesses to Shoppes on Maine (or Rochester 2.0) explains by its very nickname the effect it is having: burn and start again.   This is not the Chicago World's Fair where we intend our buildings to last but a short time.  Or is it?  If that is the case, then what can these vacant big box buildings be re-purposed as?  Should they be demolished and turned back into natural landscape, a la Detroit?  

It seems a matter of public policy, as much as design, to determine how to stop the Doughnut Effect and subsequent ring rot.  How much is the City of Rochester spending on that new 65th Street interchange again?

Another Answer, Man

Chances are by now you have driven through the "new and improved" intersection at Highway 14 and US 63 (Broadway).  From the bicycle lanes travelling east-west on Hwy 14 to the landscaped berms highlighting the four corners, the design is just a little off.  I guess it is what you would expect from a largely DOT-designed intersection at the confluence of two highways, but Rochester's downtown is done a disservice by this banal, vehicular dominated crossroads.  

Even the Post-Bulletin Answer Man noticed things were a tad askew when he responded to a reader's question this week.  What Mr. Man didn't highlight was the overall narrative of this design and what is says about how we prefer our intersections to look.  In that way, he did not see the forest for the yarrow.  

A potential alternative design possibility for this intersection is one that brings disparate modalities back into balance.  Because as anyone who has tried to cross this intersection can attest, the pedestrian is completely negated in favor of the automobile.  This seems odd considering a downtown neighborhood (Slatterly Park) is directly adjacent and Soldiers Field with it's connection to the vast bicycle trail network runs alongside the opposite corner.  Taking into account a commercial hub on the third corner and a public school on the fourth and you have literally disjoined people from business and education.

Craig Ruhland--landscape architect, urban designer and former Rochester resident--has another approach.  His design tries to bring things into balance where pedestrians can cross at a more manageable scale, bikes are incorporated, and public art and green space are used less to block sight lines and more to calm traffic.  It highlights the lack of these elements in the current design and over-dependence on accommodating the car first.

Plan Graphic Close.jpg

As with most compromised designs, the better alternative isn't as far from reality as you would think.  Next time, better collaboration between DOT, Public Works, Public Health, BPAC, Neighborhood organizations, and community leaders can ensure that better balance is achieved in our street and intersection design.  

For now, Craig's images evoke an environment that is more pedestrian-friendly, pedestrian-scale, and ultimately pro-pedestrian.  Maybe this is in reaction to the pro-vehicle reality today or maybe it is wishful thinking of someone who has often wondered about crossing the road.  Either way, it is a glimpse at an alternate future.  And on the verge of US 63 changing ownership from the State to the City, perhaps more intersections will be redesigned and this may help to kick-start those conversations.  

Thanks Craig!

You can't spell photography without Fibonacci...kind of

Odds are that if you have been exploring with your Nikon or on vacation with your Canon you didn't bother to use the Fibonacci spiral or golden ratio to assist in your photography.  However, without knowing it, you may have indeed used the timeless art of dynamic composition and visual tension.  What you may not have realized is that the art of photography can be enhanced by the science of mathematics and ratios.

This all dates back to a long time ago with a guy named Fibonacci.  And since I am neither a history major nor an aspiring "buff" I will spare you the details.  The gist is explained by several great articles on both the Fibonacci ratio and the underlying rule of thirds  herehere, andhere.  

Take a quick look through them if you have a chance to explain the theory behind this compositional cheat sheet.  I know that with my most recent iPhone I have turned the grid feature on to aid in the exact ways that these articles suggest.  

Something to consider the next time you marvel at a beautiful photograph or Facebook profile picture.

Chia City

CH-CH-CHIA! Chia City is all the rage!  And as with all fads; hurry now or you will miss out!

The simple pleasures of urban living are easy to recognize but are often difficult to plan for.  The corner coffee shop with a pleasant barista who knows your order by heart each morning.  The shady spot around the corner from your office where you enjoy reading a book in the summer.  The quiet street lined with boutique retail stores and places to eat where you spend a Saturday strolling your son.  Each of these pleasures relies on circumstances well beyond our control...and therein lies the great disappointment of designers.

While I subscribe to the philosophy and thinking behind smart growth and new urbanism as much as the next turtleneck wearing architect, I have noticed an increasing trend to plan cities as instant built environments complete with mature trees, fully occupied housing units, and businesses thriving from their consistent local patrons.  The problem with this Utopian fantasy, is that cities do not "appear" like Brigadoon and there is no special peat moss mix to add to a piece of farmland and turn it into a livable neighborhood.  Cities evolve.  That is not to imply that you cannot plan for growth or even use master planning principles to shape a city environment, but ultimately the design of a place will be a product of its evolution.

Dubai Master Plan | Singular in Concept, Rigid in Execution

Dubai Master Plan | Singular in Concept, Rigid in Execution

Chicago Master Plan | Singular in Concept, Organic in Execution

Chicago Master Plan | Singular in Concept, Organic in Execution

The best that you can hope for in a master plan or design is the include the infrastructure necessary for growth in and around the skeletal pieces.  Especially with the volatility of economies and the rapid shift in how people "do business," the City dynamic as we once knew it may be entering a new epoch, one without a clairvoyant image of how it may look.

In the end what is required of designers is critical thought as to the patterns of urban living that are tried and true and that provide an appropriate framework for diversity of uses, options, opportunities, and amenities.  With each design, proper criticism should include: what happens if it does not all get built? what happens if it is widely successful and outgrows its constraints?  How will it appear differently in 50 years?

I once heard a statistic that 98% of the urban built environment remains the same from year to year.  That means that only 2% of a given city is brand new.  So instead of envisioning broad brush solutions that anticipate instant rewards and instant success, how about designing an urban master plan to occur 2% at a time?

Trader Woes

Almost a year after the opening of Rochester's first Trader Joe's, the bloom is nowhere close to falling off the Joes, I mean rose.  Every time I frequent the Trader I find it to be a hive of activity both inside the store and out.  Unfortunately, the Trader Joe's experience is almost always hampered by a problem encountered in the parking lot.  Whether it is someone inadvertently playing a game of chicken or careening through the stall lines, or trying to leave the lot at the exact perfect time the light changes when there are no cars queuing; there is always a chaotic mess of vehicles. 

I think the reason for this scene ripped from Lord of the Flies is due to the fact that when the stores both opened, there were no major design improvements done to the parking lot as compared to when Linens 'N' Things and World Market used to occupy the commercial building.  The parking lot is essentially a large slab of concrete with a couple of light poles.  All navigational signage has eroded away and the striping is the only semblance of order that remains.  Now throw shopping carts, and children into the equation, and you have a free-for-all of Eric, I mean epic proportions.

Trader Joe's site.jpg

How could it be designed better?  Let’s start with actual medians dividing parking aisles.  These will help to delineate space and provide a way to have landscaping (read: trees) and places to walk out of the way of traffic.

Follow that up with some organization of the traffic flow in and out of the site.  Having cars waiting to enter the large intersection right by where the main parking lot empties means that during red lights there is gridlock.  This is exacerbated by the retail strip mall that is just to the east that also has a parking lot dumping cars into the intersection. 

When entering, it might be helpful to bring Trader Joe’s patrons right into their parking lot with a right turn only one-way aisle.  This pulls all of those Trader Joe’s patrons out of the flow of traffic.  Then you can pull them further away from the intersection by pairing an opposite one-way aisle adjacent before allowing them to turn left to exit.  

All of the handicap parking stalls could be lined up against the building frontage and wide pedestrian aisle with different colored concrete or pavers will help to slow the traffic where pedestrian and vehicle interface. 

All of this should combine to make a more pedestrian-friendly parking experience, and a more enjoyable shopping experience.  Virtually any changes, from a design standpoint would be an improvement, because frankly as it is currently designed the situation Chucks.

Design Without Barriers

If you desire a new approach to design, consider the application of Universal Design and its relevance across all sectors.  Universal Design is about breaking down barriers, either physical or mental, perhaps even cognitive.  It is design that is intended to produce products, buildings, and environments that are inherently accessible. 

This may sound simple, but it can be quite difficult to achieve.  In fact, the best examples of Universal Design are designs that rarely register on your radar screen over the course of a day.  These designs simply work.  Subsequently, I firmly believe that universally designed objects and spaces often translate easily to able-bodied individuals as well as children and the elderly.

Being confined to a wheelchair or not having the ability to see with perfect vision are challenging realities for many people.  Simple tasks such as entering a building or using a bathroom are fraught with potential problems and barriers.  More specialized disabilities such as hand or arm amputations can inhibit even the most mundane of acts such as opening a wallet or purse, or putting on a pair of glasses.  We take a lot of the world around us for granted from a design and functionality standpoint.  Even the latest gadgets and technological advances are unintentionally establishing further barriers between those who cannot perform "eTasks" or "iTasks" and those who can.  A generational divide as well as a physical divide is imposed.  

Compare those to a simple crosswalk signal button?  This design achieves all of the goals of Universal Design by way of the improvement in technology.  

Last year in Rochester, 2nd Street SW was torn up and under construction for almost the entire summer to make way for a new and improved pedestrian-friendly streetscape.  Despite it’s obvious flaws (sparse street tree locations, lack of bike appropriations, railings that block pedestrian street crossing, etc.) the depressed curbs at the major bump out locations are great examples of Universal Design. 

The mundane and ubiquitous curb cut has many manifestations, from the flared to the sharp-edged ramp.  But these depressed curbs offered complete uniformity to the ramp and allows approach from all different directions.  As an able-bodied pedestrian, I find these to be easier to navigate, and as a designer, I think they are more aesthetically pleasing than a typical curb cut.

Take a closer look at the world around you, and envision it both from your perspective and that of someone with a disability, or medical patient, or a grandparent.  How could it be improved?  Where is the design opportunity?  Now do something about it.  Act on that impulse or highlight the great design that is overlooked every day for its simplicity and usefulness.  We can all strive to be more inclusive and empathetic.  And just a little bit goes a long way.

Mini-Park = Parklet

If you have never heard of a parklet before, I will attempt to explain.  If it sounds familiar, you may have heard about it under a different name or heard of PARK(ing) Day which strives to envision what a parking stall can be if not simply devoted to the storage of vehicles.

In the fundamental sense, a parklet is an alternative use for a parking spot.  It can occur in a parallel or angled parking stall and can be as permanent or temporary as you like.  Often they are designed to be more permanent as store owners, businesses and/or cities see their implementation as a better land use than parking.  The movement has spread through the larger urban cities in the U.S. including New York City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.  In San Francisco they have even been added to Google Maps if you are interested in frequenting one while on vacation.

One of the best explanations of the principles behind the parklet movement is this one from the Pavement to Parks program also located in San Francisco:

public rights-of-way make up fully 25% of the city’s land area, more space even than is found in all of the city’s parks. Many of our streets are excessively wide and contain large zones of wasted space, especially at intersections. San Francisco’s new “Pavement to Parks” projects seek to temporarily reclaim these unused swathes and quickly and inexpensively turn them into new public plazas and parks. During the temporary closure, the success of these plazas will be evaluated to understand what adjustments need to be made in the short term, and ultimately, whether the temporary closure should be a long term community investment.

This simple concept--designing an alternative use for a roughly 8' x 22' parking stall--has tremendous potential and limitless ways of executing.  Below are some amazing examples of what a little more design time can produce (Top: Walter J. Hood, Bottom: Rebar)

We instantly new that this concept could be tested In concert with the Rochester Symphony Orchestra & Chorale Coda event that takes place at the Riverside Building.  While it didn't make it in time for the last outdoor Coda event at the beginning of September, we strived to get it completed for the ARTWALK held September 29th.  

If you couldn't make it out for the ARTWALK in downtown Rochester recently, you missed out on the reality of Rochester's first ever parklet installation.  It was constructed and installed at the Riverside Building on 4th Street SE by members of the Design Rochester.  Below is a sequence of photos depicting it's installation which only took 25 minutes. 

Despite the incredibly windy conditions that evening, the parklet displayed potential.  The Riverside Building doesn't have the need to expand cafe seating, but it is easy to imagine other businesses downtown desiring to increase their boulevard space in the warmer months to increase space, and add to their appeal.  We are optimistic that further partnerships can be formed to leverage this first proof of concept into larger scale and more frequent installations throughout downtown.

LEED for People

USGBC Unveils LEED for People, Granola Hits Record Price.

The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) took another step toward complete monopolization of the green building rating system with the August release of the LEED for People pilot program. Building on the tremendous success of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) brand and identity, the USGBC hopes to take a quantum leap forward in the certification and evaluation of the green lifestyle.

“This is exciting, I’ve long wanted to know just how ‘green’ I was being but I had no subjective criteria to benchmark myself against,” exalts San Francisco resident John Edmundson. With the release of LEED for People, average citizens can “certify” their ability to live with a light imprint on the Earth. Craig Somersby from the USGBC describes, “It is one thing to say that you are living a sustainable lifestyle. It is quite another to create a prescriptive, quantification rubric to certify that it is so. THAT is the true basis for generating increased revenue for our organization.”

The LEED for People pilot uses the same well known system to label the levels of completion: Platinum, Gold, Silver and Certified. The level of completion is determined by a point scale with a total of 60 points available in 5 categories. The broad categories that cover the everyday lifestyle include Food and Waste, Energy Consumption, Hygiene, Clothing Materials, and Proselytizing.

Verification, a central tenant of the LEED system, is integral to the certification process. Once registering with the USGBC to begin the LEED for People program, one needs to hire a personal consultant known as a Provider. The Provider’s job is to explain how to live more green. This can be in the form of personal anecdotes or charming stories, as well as websites that they found and thought were “interesting.” The Provider will be involved from registration through certification at a typical cost of their annual salary based on their education (recent quote approximately $25,000). The Provider works hand in hand with a Certified Rater who will actually be following the registered individual around on a daily basis to confirm the compliance with the requirements. They keep with them a large tally sheet to check off the categories and the total number of points. The Rater will be involved once a preliminary checklist has been created and work with the individual until certification, if they approve. This cost can range anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 depending on the level of certification.

Critics of the LEED for People pilot point to the excessive fees and the reliance on two separate consultants for the purposes of verification. This process requires the individuals expend money up front with the hope of receiving credit upon completion. Jack Wilson of Boulder, Colorado complains, “I was pursuing LEED Platinum and in the process of gathering my fecal waste, but my Rater took off in his SUV to quickly drive-thru McDonald’s. Then, after I had buried my waste in recycled cedar mulch and spit, he told me that I shouldn't have used a plastic bag because it would not biodegrade and therefore I could not receive any points!”

While the new program will work through a study period of two years, the final program will be sure to incite anger, verbal abuse, and a new charge among the Liberal Left to prove the need for comprehensive sustainable lifestyle mandates from the government.

Bruegger's Boogie

If you haven't been to the subway in the U.S. Bank Building, then you have never been to Bruegger's Bagels at the base of the escalators, on the opposite side as Daube's.  I happen to be a big fan of their bagels, and in the fall they have a seasonal coffee that is very tasty.  Their space layout, however, may be one of the most poorly designed in the entire subway; most likely a product of adaptation.  

The design problem is nothing that can't be overcome, in fact, the movement through the space happens to be patterned after an old-fashioned ballroom dance.  I happen to be a dance aficionado and I took the liberty of transcribing the steps required to achieve success (ordering, paying for, and receiving food and beverage).  It may look complicated--in full disclosure it is a more advanced dance--but with a little practice, you too can be bouncing to the Bruegger's Boogie!  See the diagram below and the sequence description.

Brueggers Boogie.jpg
  1. Start (at least I assume this is the starting place as it is nearest the elevators and escalators).

  2. Proceed to the counter.  Bow to the server.  Look awkwardly for the menu before realizing that you are at the wrong station!

  3. Circle to the right, swing those hips.

  4. Watch out for the column! Sashay to the left.

  5. Exchange glances at the patrons as you slide past their tables.  Don't knock any glasses!

  6. Come to a stop, wait for the line to pass (turn to the side to slide past any larger patrons if necessary).  You're almost there!

  7. Move along against the wall and turn to face the menu.  Now wait your turn.

  8. Step forward at the call, place your order.  Then left over right, again left over right to answer any questions that they have about your order.

  9. Come to a stop and left, right, left.  Wait your turn and pay for the meal!

This can be performed with a partner but it becomes increasingly difficult.  Only a seasoned veteran or a frequent Bruegger's patron should attempt. 

Now bow to your partner, you're done!

An Example (or Two)

If you have not yet read the three acts of our most recent post on embracing the river, be sure to check it out in the Forum section.  For those of you who have been following, I would like to point out two examples of brand-spanking new programmed events that attempt to capitalize on the river as part of our urban context.  

Coda Logo-Blue.jpg

The first is an event sponsored by the Rochester Symphony Orchestra & Chorale known as Coda.  This musically themed event was inspired from direct participation in the river design charette.  Jeff Amundson, Executive Director of the RSOC, immediately recognized the potential in snuggling up to the river and activating the space that is directly adjacent to it.  As the RSOC's offices are located in the historic Riverside Building with a convenient patio space on the east side overlooking the Zumbro River, it was the most logical place to start.  

The event which ran the last two evenings of Thursday's on First began at 8:00pm as folks were leaving 1st Avenue.  On the patio at the Riverside Building was a jazz trio playing from 8:00pm to 11:00pm.  A full service bar was set up with beer, wine, and spirits and plenty of tables and chairs spread around the area both along the riverwalk and on the patio.  The first two events were a major success and the RSOC intends to continue the Coda event throughout the year, though not directly tied into TOF.  If you happened to miss out, don't worry, a repeat performance is likely to occur yet this month on September 29th...

Which brings me to the next example which is the renewal of an event that has been dormant for a couple of years.  The ARTWALK sponsored by the Rochester Downtown Alliance.  This fall, ARTWALK is making a comeback more inspired and with an indirect, subtle homage to the river corridor.  The Rochester Downtown Alliance along with downtown merchants and local artists present an evening ARTWALK;

"Enjoy the fresh air while you experience all the art and culture that downtown has to offer"

This time around the focus is heavily on the art and artists that are working to make the event a success, but the negative space that connects all of the various locations covering 14 blocks of downtown will enhance the experience in a way that only an urban setting can.  The first event will take place September 29th from 5:00-9:00pm in the evening and feature both artists' work on display as well as a tour through downtown along the river and through the alleys that together form the cognitive experience of being in Rochester's downtown.  

Both of these examples are a great first step toward embracing the river in our downtown.  They can hopefully springboard into other arts and cultural events, entertainment, dining, sports & leisure, and many more attempts to activate and energize the riverwalk.  Please spread the word if you think others might also appreciate participating in these or other events and mark your calendar for events such as these in the future to help increase our vital urban river corridor!