Richardson site up for historic study

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Business First of Buffalo – 12:34 PM EDT Wednesday, August 22, 2007
by James Fink

Calling it a major step in the redevelopment of the historic H.H. Richardson Towers complex, the Richardson Center Corp. has retained a nationally recognized architecture and engineering tandem to develop a “Historic Structures Report.”

The report could serve as the blueprint for the oft-discussed plans to renovate the vacant, late 1800s Richardson towers that dominate the Delaware District skyline.

Goody Clancy, a Boston-based firm that has overseen the restoration of several other Richardson-designed buildings including Boston’s fabled Trinity Church, and New York’s Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, the same firm that oversaw renovations of another Richardson project — the New York State Capitol Building in Albany, will jointly work on the report. The firms were selected from a competitive process run by the Richardson Center Corp. Financial terms of the contracts were not disclosed.

“We have a project of national significance and consequently we attracted firms from throughout the country,” said local architect Clinton Brown, head of the Richardson Center Corp. selection committee. “Buffalo’s historic architecture is well known and highly regarded throughout the preservation community. The opportunity to work on a H.H. Richardson-designed national historic landmark is a major draw, clearly.”

The Richardson Center Corp. was created last year by then-Gov. George Pataki to oversee and chart the future of the acclaimed, but long-vacant twin towers. Henry Hobson Richardson designed the towers in 1870 for the former Buffalo State Hospital.

Goody Clancy and Simpson Gumpertz & Heger will conduct a series of interviews and public sessions that will provide input for the report. The complex has the potential to serve as a major economic engine for the Delaware District and Elmwood District, once fully restored. The report is due back by late this year or early winter.

“The ‘Historic Structures Report’ is the foundation for all future work in the redevelopment of a historic building,” said Jean Carroon, Goody Clancy principal preservation architect.

Bridge Collapse and National Priorities

Footage courtesy of WCCO, via YouTube.

This tragic collapse is a metaphorical one (watch the collapse here http://www.ifilm.com/video/2879212/subchannel/viralvideo). I’m disturbed by the Minneapolis bridge collapse. Each year, I show my students a program called “Collapse” that was produced about 10 years ago and it shows how poor design leads to disasters just like this. The video unravels each disaster and the cause of each is revealed to be some simple engineering oversight, like bolts that were manufactured improperly (Tacoma Narrows Bridge), or too few drainage ports (Kemper Arena).

Undoubtedly the NTSB and other agencies will investigate the cause of the Minneapolis bridge collapse, and undoubtedly, the cause will likely be something simple, and will — in time, become a ‘closed’ case. While the case may be closed in engineering terms, the case may never close for the families affected by this disaster.

As I write this, a bit of speculation regarding vibration from a passing train contributed to the collapse.

That’s unacceptable.

The US infrastructure is crumbling. Last month I took a train from Zürich, Switzerland to Schwarzenberg, Austria. The train trip of about 135km, cost US $40, and took percisely 3 hours and 43 minutes on a comfortable and safe train. Each station was either amazing or charming, and each had basic services, a news stand, and working toilets, and was in good repair. The train (operated by DB, the German rail service in conjunction with SBB and ÖBB, the Swiss and Austrian train services respectively) was on time, and arrived at each stop as scheduled. Amazingly efficient, considering the number of actors involved, and the cross-border nature of the journey.

In contrast, this past week, I was a passenger on an Amtrak train from Rochester, NY to Westport, NY. The 311km journey (longer) cost US $56 (cheaper per mile), took 6 hours and 47 minutes (about 27% slower per mile), and was 2 hours behind schedule. The stations were desolate, ill equipped, poorly staffed, dirty, and one (Rochester) did not have working toilets. Amazingly inefficient, considering the number of actors involved. What was perhaps most distrubing was the condition of the infrastructure immediately adjacent to the train — really old, literally crumbling, and poorly maintained. In fact, the last 25 miles of the journey, the train could not exceed 20mph because the signals on that stretch of track were “out”.

So why does our train system suck? That’s a long and complicated answer, but it’s part of a larger answer concerning the national infrastructure. I would envision a conversation on a national level that heavily relies on regional alliances of states to work together to undertake innovative public works projects. For example, one of the reasons domestic passenger service is so poor in this country is because AMTRAK leases use of the tracks from the freight company CSX that owns them. Naturally CSX trains have priority on their own track. Seems a little backward, but I digress… Why not design interstate roads with railbeds along the center, rather than a grassy median? States could lease the use of this track to regional transit authorities to run commuter rail service and private companies could lease the track to provide competitive passenger rail service. The immediate payoff would be substantial and could be measured not only in terms of dollars, but also in terms of declining greenhouse gas emissions.

Similarly, I envision a national network of high speed interstate toll roads with excellent and complimentary customer service (towing, fix-a-flat, etc.) and driver assistance (like VDOT’s 511 program in Vermont), with excellent food services, roadside motels, shopping, local farm vendors, and other stops in enhanced service plazas along the way. I drive between Rochester and Buffalo quite frequently (usually once a week or so) and the poor winter maintainence of the Interstate 90 is an abomination. In fact, at least twice in recent memory, I recall people (many people) spending the nights sleeping in cold cars because the roads were not clear enough to pass. Though the Thurway Authority can employ thousands to collect nickels and dimes for driving on the road, and there are cops galore just waiting to pull you over for going 67 in a 65 zone, it never ceases to amaze me that they can’t seem to have more than one or two people out plowing or maintaining that same stretch of road at any given time. Why not charge a higher toll to provide what would seem to be essential services like snow plowing and maintainence?

Clearly our transportation system is, as Harry Reid noted today, on the brink of disaster. It’s our civic responsibility to call upon our legislators and elected officials to use our tax dollars to support the civil infrastructure, and not the civil infrastructure of countries on the other side of the globe. As we saw yesterday, the answer is thinking creatively, and proactively as simply “maintaining” the roads, bridges, and systems that were built 50 years ago isn’t a solution.

Branding Rochester

From Branding Strategy Insider:

July 20, 2007

Place Branding: Rochester, New York

I recently led the first phase of the effort to brand my hometown, Rochester, New York. I’d like to share my thoughts on this ongoing process.

Like it or not – we are branded. Whether intentionally managed or not, brands exist in the minds of people to whom they should matter. I most often hear the following associated with Rochester by people who don’t know the city: snow, Kodak, downsizing, economically struggling Upstate city, long winters. These are not the words or phrases most of us would want associated with Rochester at the top of people’s minds. Take snow for example. Snow is not so bad if you are Colorado or Utah. And, we don’t get nearly as much snow as Buffalo or Syracuse. And, it is great that Bristol Mountain is only a half hour away. But, there may be other associations that are more helpful.

In the online survey I conducted, the following most resonates with residents: “Small town feel, big city culture,” reflecting our plethora of museums, musical concerts, film festivals, etc. but also our (mostly) friendly residents, easy commutes, affordable housing, cozy neighborhoods, etc.

While we will likely never successfully compete with New York and Chicago and San Francisco, I believe we should be able to very successfully compete with Austin, TX, Portland, OR, Columbus, OH, etc.

From the survey, most residents would describe Rochester as being a culturally rich and progressive (but also traditional in some ways) middle sized city with numerous colleges and universities and a highly educated population. They would also say that the quality of life is high with short commutes, affordable housing, attractive neighborhoods and very good school systems (the city itself excepted). Finally, they like the almost unlimited opportunities for day and weekend trips and the close proximity of the Finger Lakes and other rural scenic beauty.

So what is the problem? Very high taxes, which drive jobs away, which in turn drive people away. People like it here. They just can’t find the jobs for which their educations prepared them. Rochester isn’t often in the consideration set when it comes to manufacturing firm relocations. It’s not that we don’t have a skilled workforce or the right colleges and universities feeding the workforce. We do. However, our tax rates, utility costs and freight rates are so high that we aren’t often even in the consideration set.

So, where does that leave us? I believe our future lies in colleges and universities, intellectual capital rich occupations, the creative arts, some very high tech industries, etc., not mainstream manufacturing. Those days are over, maybe not completely, but mostly. It is unlikely that we will ever go back to those days. Our rich water resources may also become all the more valuable.

The good news about our emerging industries is that they are largely non-polluting and typically require highly educated workers. Those are good things.

And we should stop lamenting the loss of Sibley’s and Midtown Plaza. As nice as they were, for all intents and purposes, they are ancient history.

I love it where I live. I have a house in Mendon that backs up to a park. Deer with voracious appetites not withstanding, my yard is an outdoor paradise that backs up to ponds for kayaking, trails for walking or cross-country skiing and beautiful vistas filled with wildlife for visual rejuvenation. But, I would be just as happy in the city in the Park/East Avenue neighborhoods, walking to The Little Theater, 2Vine, The Eastman Theater, the International Jazz Festival, the Memorial Art Gallery, Spot Coffee, one of many sidewalk cafes, etc.

If I were in charge, I would focus on the following:

Adding market rate housing to downtown Rochester as quickly as possible

Transforming the Main/Clinton area that most often forms convention goers’ views of downtown, not to mention those of long time residents that remember Sibley’s and Midtown Plaza

Highlighting our bodies of water. Why not ice skate on the Erie Canal at Schoen Place in Pittsford (rather than going all the way to Ottawa to get the same experience)? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people could take their boats downtown? (I know, extending the Erie Canal there would be very expensive, but what if we took the transportation pot of money earmarked for the Renaissance Center?) We should have a long-term design charrette for the Charlotte/Lake Ontario Beach area, a city treasure. I like that we are extending The Stonehurst Regatta to two days instead of one. I like that I can now ride my bike all the way from Pittsford or Mendon to downtown Rochester (some of it along the canal). (I did it two years ago to visit the Corn Hill Festival.)

Ideating numerous ways to better leverage our wonderful colleges and universities, from retaining/employing more of their graduates, availing ourselves to their cultural offerings, using them to incubate new technologies and new companies and providing a better/richer community environment for their students.

Consider being on the forefront of alternative, renewable energy research and development. It is only a matter of time (and not that much time) before that becomes one of the hottest areas of focus for the US and the world. Why not lead the way? Check out RENEWNY.

Talking more about Rochester’s rich cultural offerings in the context of its small town feel/flavor – “Small town feel, big city culture”

We should be the cultural gateway to the Finger Lakes, an emerging tourist Mecca. What other city can really lay claim to that?

Better leveraging what has to be one of the best musical scenes in the US (Eastman School of Music, Hochstein School of Music and Dance, International Jazz Festival, RPO, Nazareth College’s music department/program, etc.). The Spoleto Festival put Charleston, SC on the map and brings it huge tourist revenues each year. Rochester could do better than that. While we might not want to pigeonhole ourselves as a music city, we have the potential to do so.

Getting over the country club, smugtown, Kodak entitlement approach to life. Those days are over. Take risks. Be entrepreneurial. No one is going to take care of you for life. Create your own opportunities. Create your own companies. Create your own jobs. And, while you are at it, create some for others as well. Pursue your dreams. View failure as a learning experience and move on. And, be positive and optimistic. Create the change you desire in our community and the world.

Last, but not least, lobbying the state government in Albany for major tax reform.

Have you been to Rochester, NY? What are your impressions?

Why I Like Heineken

From Vestal Design

Heineken Bottles

This 1950s design for stackable beer bottles was the brainchild of Alfred Heineken, of beer fame.

As the story goes, Heineken was strolling along by the sea in Jamaica, and was shocked at the number of beer bottles littering the beach. He was also concerned with the lack of cheap building materials, and at the resulting living conditions for the poor. Putting two and two together, he envisioned a “World Bottle” which would be imported for drinking but kept for construction.

A 10’ x 10’ shack would take approximately 1000 bottles to build, but the Jamaican tourist industry would likely supply plenty. In addition, glass (and air) are good insulators, though the humid and hot Jamaican climate may not require insulation per se. A unique feature was that the short bottle neck would fit into a depression in the bottom of each bottle. Ultimately though, the idea was either (according to different accounts) voted down by the Heineken board, or vetoed by the bottle companies and the customers. Not much information is available on the World Bottle today, but there have been other attempts to make interlocking “bottle bricks”, even of plastic.