My background in the tech startup world makes me naturally averse to large scale, high-budget projects. The companies I’ve helped launch had to be scrappy and resourceful in ways that stretched the impact of each dollar. This experience influences the way I approach and contribute to Rochester’s economic development.
Our future hinges upon collaboration and coordination to execute a viable strategy. When several large companies drove the economy, we had a different form of leadership. Although I don’t want a return to such centralized stewardship, we now have a fragmented and less-efficient system of coordinating economic development.
I posit that a linchpin for Rochester’s future success must be art and culture. In the modern economy, the arts are foundational to attracting and retaining the highest achievers in the new economy. There is no shortage of evidence. The feedback loop between innovative companies and a creative urban environment is indisputable. Look at recent success stories such as Austin and Nashville. Most cities our size would be envious to have the musical, dance, visual, theatrical and culinary arts we have. So, let’s embrace our gifts, which, too often, go unnoticed and taken for granted.
I have three ideas that can have a disproportionate impact upon Rochester’s economic revitalization and how we perceive our community. They require a relatively modest sum of money.
My first recommendation is to use the airport terminal to feature our great historical and living innovators. It surprises most visitors to learn that our most legendary residents, Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass and George Eastman, have profound connections to our community. Few even know that we are also home to one of the world’s greatest music conservatories, right downtown! Can’t we have displays of our favorite sons and daughters in the most used point of entry for out of town visitors? How about an exhibit by the Eastman School featuring such luminaries as Renee Fleming, Ron Carter, Steve Gadd and Chuck Mangione? And, let’s return the magnificent Wendell Castle and Nancy Jurs art works and include profiles of other prominent regional artists.
Next, let’s paint the crosswalk on East Main and Gibbs streets, just in front of the Eastman School, to resemble a piano keyboard and a musical score. I have already jumpstarted this project, in collaboration with the city of Rochester, Eastman School, and renowned local artist Shawn Dunwoody. For a modest sum, we can generate buzz during Jazz and Fringe festivals, along with the multitude of other events at Kodak Hall. The symbolism can be powerful, announcing that Rochester is a music city.
Finally, Parcel 5 is a tremendous opportunity to create a vibrant downtown center for community activity and creation. Let’s plant grass this spring. For a modest investment, a green lawn will invite people from all communities, including the suburbs, to embrace the open space. Who wouldn’t like to see more festivals, pop-up events, and downtown workers and residents casually enjoying a picnic? Then, as a community, we can determine through an open and transparent process how best to capitalize on this precious location.
Great ideas don’t necessarily require big budgets. By my estimate, the total cost of these suggestions is in the low six figures. Join me in identifying new ways we can highlight the qualities that make Rochester a great place to live, work and play. Join me in getting these done.
Richard A. Glaser is co-founder of RocGrowth and People for Parcel 5.