Downtown Rochester’s Image Crisis

A few days ago, I was doing a live report across the street from the Liberty Pole. I saw a woman carrying a briefcase being escorted to a parking garage by the “red-shirts,” paid guides and security patrols funded by the downtown business district.

Has it come to this?

I hate when people say “perception is reality” when referring to the safety of downtown Rochester. It really isn’t. Statistically, downtown is the safest part of the city. That’s probably because no one is around after dark, but it’s still true.

I loathe admitting this, but statistics don’t matter so much right now. The city has a perception crisis on its hands, thanks to a few pretty bad realities.

First, Monroe Community College decided to move out of the Sibley Building. Safety was clearly a huge issue, with the college president citing police calls for service. (Of course Sibley has more calls for service; there are more people there. Also, there’s no way of knowing if those calls for service will follow MCC over to the new site.) Anne Kress also talked about women feeling unsafe and being groped and harassed near the Liberty Pole. That’s totally unacceptable and indeed not a safe environment.

When Bob Duffy was police chief, he closed the downtown police section through consolidation. Then as mayor, he closed Midtown Plaza, which turned the Liberty Pole into a hangout for teens and loiterers. The city’s solution was to put up an ugly police trailer and portable toilets. Police on horseback patrolled when school let out. Fighting among youth and loitering continued.

Now MCC has devastated the city’s image by so loudly proclaiming Main Street to be unsafe. MCC bluntly told the city perception is reality.

Second, Genesee Brewing Company CEO Rich Lozyniak doesn’t plan to open the brewery’s proposed visitors center and restaurant in the evening hours because of the neighborhood’s safety. The brewery is not exactly “downtown,” but it’s directly across from High Falls and just north of the Inner Loop. Lozyniak said two of his late-shift employees were mugged over the summer. He wasn’t taking a chance guests would be similarly accosted.

Lozyniak’s decision is understandable, but it’s frustrating to the city’s cheerleaders.

I haven’t seen this much angst about safety issues in the city since the decision to build the soccer stadium off Lyell Ave. That actually is a troubled neighborhood. In the years since, we haven’t heard of any soccer fans becoming crime victims. Yet there are people who still won’t go to games because of the stadium location and the perception of safety.

I’m not sure of a solution beyond development that brings lots of people to our center city, creating such diversity and activity, everyone is comfortable – and safe.


7 responses to “Downtown Rochester’s Image Crisis

  1. Rachel, I think it is either naive (doubtful as we’ve interacted too much online at this point) or too darn nice of you to point out the most obvious cause of this “image” problem: bigotry (not racism, which is a separate but related issue that even experts on privilege conflate with bigotry.)
    I am sure that every one of the filed complaints about groping were completely legitimate I’ve experienced it first hand on the RTS. However, I am wondering just how prevalent that problem is. Also, I have had far to many experiences with white friends, acquaintances and family members that discussed the “safety” issue in not-so-very-well disguised language: “How can you live around THOSE people”; “the TEEN AGERS downtown worry me.” Somehow I suspect all those teenagers look alike in their minds.

  2. I don’t doubt racism is involved in some people’s perceptions of the city. But it’s hard to measure and not fair to paint everyone with reservations about downtown as racist.

  3. Wait, people seriously have guards walk them to their cars?

    • Yes. That’s actually a function of the red shirts. Women, especially, want to be escorted to the garages north of Main after dark.

    • Escorts to cars are quite common in all sorts of neighborhoods. Especially for women after dark (or even just after business hours). It’s been done just about everywhere I work including the suburban malls (for our staff working late nights) and it’s done at all the local colleges, most of the hospitals, and just about everywhere that has large parking facilities and their own security. I’m quick to condemn mindless fear and paranoia, but it’s a reasonable precaution given the statistical frequency that women waling alone in garages, parking lots, etc. experience annoyances or serious crimes.

  4. PJ, escorts aren’t needed if there are a lot of people around, which you would hope would be the case at 5 p.m. on Main St.

    • I agree that you would hope more people would be around at 5pm on Main St. But you will need considerable further development before the alleys, lots, and garages have enough consistent foot traffic to feel truly safe in my experience. I see a lot of skepticism about escorts and “safe ride home” programs from guys like nerdofthunder all the time, who think they’re either a complete waste of time or mean that the area is some sort of Mad Max style postapocalyptic wasteland. I think a lot of people don’t realize how common these sorts of programs are or understand the thinking behind them. It took me a while too, when I started in security before I really appreciated it, since as a 6 foot plus male my perspective is quite a bit different.

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