NOTE: THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE. SEE ALL D & C ARTICLES.
September 10, 2015
Rochester the college town came out in force this evening at the Edge-Ucation, an annual festival in the South Wedge sponsored by City Newspaper and designed to introduce Rochester college students to one of the city’s most popular neighborhoods.
With all this concentrated brain power strolling the streets with their Student Swag Bags while getting ridiculous deals at 34 shops, restaurants and pubs, I dropped by the Arts & Cultural Fair (located in front of Neighbor Works). The goal was an unscientific survey on the knowledge and perceptions of Rochester. My subjects were these primarily University of Rochester–and some RIT and MCC–undergrads and grad students (who will go anywhere for a free t-shirt and some two-for-one coupons), as well as youngish people from the neighborhood.
As for where Rochester really is, I got a range of responses. “Northeast” was the most popular. “East Coast” received some votes, although the Atlantic seems pretty far away to me. Except for one staunch outlier, everyone rejected “Midwest,” although a few said we were close, citing Sandusky as the dividing line. One wag smirked, ”in the Rust Belt.”
The secondary label “Great Lakes region,” won approval. Everyone–although with a moment of hesitation in some cases–knew Rochester touches Lake Ontario. As for where in New York, “Upstate” handily topped “Western.” One native son accurately said the “Genesee Valley Region.” I also wondered, while 330 miles away, could the metro vibe of NYC could be felt, if faintly? Many did feel some big city–or at least the boroughs (Brooklyn was mentioned)–in the artier neighborhoods. One person was pretty clear that after Albany, it’s strictly the provinces (that would be us).
As for demographics, not so good. Perhaps attesting to the “Two Rochesters,” most thought Rochester was smaller and whiter than it is. Quite a few claimed no clue when it came to population. Those who answered were in the 140 – 160 thousand range (it is approx. 210,000). As for racial breakdown, they tended to estimate the white population between 60 – 70% (Last I read it was 44%. Incidentally an African-American UR student was closest at 40%). While my survey was un-un-scientific, it does show how far apart South Avenue and North Street can feel.
They did well on the “biome” question. (I said this was a pop quiz.) Apparently, there are 14 types of biomes, and most correctly went with “temperate and deciduous.” Of course, the usual tired “witticisms:” arctic and tundra.
Their overall gestalt take was flattering: laid back urban, educated blue collar, culturally emerging, eclectic, friendly and welcoming, neighborhood feel, campus town, and–over and over–artsy, artistic, and creative. Two women, Wendy and Liane (yes, visiting from Pittsford although swearing to be South Wedgies in a previous life) said “organic” and “artistic.” Hence the photo next to the Art Therapy mural alongside vegetable sheds.
Interestingly, when we tried to find a city comparable to Rochester, we struggled. Buffalo and Syracuse only because they are close. Cleveland a little. Indianapolis maybe. Providence perhaps. One woman mentioned Salt Lake City.
But really, no mid-sized city with our artsy laid back urban eclectic educated blue collar mix of town and gown — and organic to boot — seemed quite the same.
So, Rochester passed the quiz. Somewhere between an B+ and an A- is my grade.