A positive view of our region’s future prevails among Rochester Beacon readers, with two-thirds saying they are optimistic about its prospects through the end of this decade.
A plurality of readers who took part in the Beacon’s year-end survey—41 percent—said the overall state of the Rochester region is better than it was four years ago, at the end of the last decade. Only 22 percent answered “worse.”
“Private sector and government leadership appears to be working together,” wrote Tom Mitchell. “This will improve the overall state of the region.”
Echoing Mitchell, Thomas Argust wrote: “Civic and government organizations are beginning to make decisions based on solid data and enhanced collaborations/partnerships.”
Dave Garretson believes “we have an abundance of resources—in our people, our infrastructure, and nature. Mainly water. Eventually those assets will spark greater interest in our area.”
For Martha Bush, the hopeful signs include “younger, creative people (who) are staying in town rather than fleeing to the bigger cities like they did decades ago.”
Nearly 170 readers took part in this year’s survey, conducted Dec. 19-20. In addition to questions regarding their optimism or pessimism about Rochester’s prospects through the end of this decade, respondents were asked to identify the region’s top assets and the top challenge facing our community over the next 10 years.
The results this year were very similar to views expressed in a December 2019 Beacon reader survey titled “The Decade Ahead.” Four years ago, 18 percent of respondents were very optimistic about the Rochester region’s prospects in the next decade, and 57 percent were somewhat optimistic. That compares with 17 percent who chose “very optimistic” and 50 percent who picked “somewhat optimistic” in this year’s survey. (Unlike four years ago, respondents this time could choose “neutral” in answering this question.)
Only 5 percent of survey participants said they were very pessimistic, little changed from 6 percent in 2019.
This year’s survey also asked readers to identify the region’s top asset. (They were allowed to name up to three assets.) The No. 1 answer: the area’s higher education institutions, selected by 45 percent of respondents. That pick was followed closely by arts and cultural institutions (43 percent) and fresh water supply (41 percent.)
In responses to the question about the top challenge facing our community over the next 10 years, poverty and inequality, fixing problems in the Rochester City School District, and reducing crime and drug use were among those cited most frequently.
“Our major challenge is to decrease the inequality, racially and income wise, that exist in our broader community,” wrote Alan Ziegler.
Joe Klein focused on the city schools: “The RCSD is a broken cesspool and our community refuses to replace it because the community believes children living in impoverished homes cannot learn—and no proof of charter students succeeding will change minds.”
“Almost everyone knows the biggest challenge is ‘catch and release’ crime laws. We desperately need to get that under control,” wrote Rich Calabrese. “It’s ruined and will continue to ruin everything we work hard for, including Rochester’s reputation.”
Geoff Rosenberger thinks “the region’s demographics are terrible—a rapidly aging population coupled with oppressive taxation and an ever-expanding state-imposed regulatory burden.”
For David Powe, the key is “overcoming political divisiveness to develop real solutions to our issues of crime, poverty, and equity.”
The following are the complete signed written responses of survey participants. Many additional unsigned responses were submitted. As a matter of policy, the Beacon does not post unsigned comments.
Why are you optimistic or pessimistic about the Rochester region’s prospects through the end of this decade?
Private sector and government leadership appears to be working together. This will improve the overall state of the region.
It’s a great place to raise a family, new people with various skills and talents move here each year, and cost of living is reasonable.
I have to believe our community will be less violent. As a teacher I believe our students need a chance at life. And I live here and I want to believe in my community.
We have an abundance of resources—in our people, our infrastructure, and nature. Mainly water. Eventually those assets will spark greater interest in our area.
More equity and commitment to growth across multiple economic, racial, and other groups has helped strengthen our community.
Better leadership at the City and County levels now than in years past.
The lack of affordable housing is a critical issue for many. Food insecurity is rampant in the region. There has been little to no progress by the RCSD in educating its city youth. The move to charter schools has only exacerbated the problem. The issue of health care equity and costs is significant along with the low wages paid to many health care workers. The promise of major industrial investments and job opportunities in the Rochester region has proven to be a false hope.
—Stephen L. Gaudioso
I have long been a Rochester booster, but our community’s leaders no longer appear to be focused on addressing our problems. Rochester used to have a vibrant economy with a large supply of jobs that were accessible to city residents. We have had a mass exodus of jobs from the city, and our leaders do not seem to acknowledge that this is a serious problem. Our downtown began losing employment long before COVID. Most of the city’s industrial areas have a fraction of the employment that they used to have. While there has been some replacement growth in the eastern suburbs and exurbs, this hasn’t replaced the overwhelming number of jobs that have been lost, and most of those new jobs are not accessible to city residents who rely on public transportation. Sure, we have new development on the eastern edges of downtown that our leaders focus on, but this does not compensate for the decline of much larger swaths of the city. Our city has overwhelming crime problems, but too often our leaders dismiss the problems as just transitory. Too many of our leaders who claim to be pro-city are simply anti-police, are highly-permissive, and have a simplistic view of the root causes of today’s crime. I would be more optimistic if our leaders acknowledged our problems and were actively working on realistic solutions to address them. However, there is not enough effort being made to move us in the right direction. My former optimism for Rochester has been overwhelmed by real concerns that our problems will not get better.
—DeWain O. Feller
A comprehensive plan, a cooperative team, and financial commitment to improving our Downtown which is critical to the success of overall region.
Civic and government organizations are beginning to make decisions based on solid data and enhanced collaborations/partnerships.
GRE bringing great companies to our region and supporting innovation. Plug Power and others are investing heavily in Rochester/NY State and providing good paying, high tech employment opportunities, providing excellent growth and exciting progress.
I feel good business growth and interest in business entrepreneurship and investment in the region, but am concerned about the growing dichotomy between the city of Rochester and the surrounding areas.
Unrelenting crime and catch and release of culprits cannot continue if we want the region to prosper.
The number one issue is the inability to educate the urban population. The worst school system in NYS. Decades of failure to provide our youth with a relevant education. All kids have innate skills and or gifts. They need to be discovered on their K-12 education journey. Then build on that realization with post high school educational opportunities. The educational plus in the Rochester area is the Golisano Institute giving one an opportunity to gain a relevant degree which will not require a lifetime of debt. The last frontier of education is urban K-12 and it’s high time the RCSB realizes this and addresses the issues that have plagued the RCSD for decades.
—Josh Jochem Porte
There always seems to be something in the works to improve RCSD, or help the rough parts of the city, or bring lots of new jobs to the area yet the struggles continue and successful stories are small and/or hard to find.
Critical mass of population growth downtown is finally bringing it back to life. The quality of life in the area is being recognized and we keep meeting people moving in—slow, but seems to be growing. Younger, creative people are staying in town rather than fleeing to the bigger cities like they did decades ago. Also, Rochester will be a climate haven.
Pessimistic: I don’t see any progress in controlling violence, especially in the City of Rochester. Optimistic: The diversity of employment opportunities seems to be growing.
I believe that the building of the PAC downtown will help bring people to the venue.
Optimistic, because the Executioner of Business (Cuomo) is history. Maybe we can get a more business friendly state back? I’m not sure but I hope so, in the interest of NYS and its residents.
Both city and county governments are functioning well. Rochester’s traditional combination of economic conservatism and social liberalism is conducive to the growth of vibrant small to medium sized technology businesses that are replacing the region’s lost Fortune 500 manufacturing base. The easy lifestyle and the robust higher education infrastructure supports innovation and attracts an interesting and productive workforce.
What is the biggest challenge our region is likely to face over the next 10 years?
Like most places, we face the full onslaught of the class war waged by unscrupulous rich people trying to get ever richer and more powerful at the expense of everybody else, and the resulting disintegration of our democratic way of life and the host of other associated degradations.
—Mike Rudnick, PhD
Reducing crime on the streets and restoring individual effort and achievement.
Improvement of public primary & secondary education performance.
The RCSD is a broken cesspool and our community refuses to replace it because the community believes children living in impoverished homes cannot learn—and no proof of charter students succeeding will change minds. Our children aren’t learning, too much money is spent which raises taxes.
Ongoing “SEPARATION” of Rochester and suburban neighborhoods. We need more integration in multiple ways.
Income inequality and addressing need for more affordable housing across the area.
The biggest challenges include: poverty; structural racism, the lack of decent, affordable housing; food deserts; homelessness; substandard public schools; and limited job opportunities for many.
—Stephen L. Gaudioso
I think the lack of stuff to do is pretty damning, or more specifically, the lack of ability to get to stuff to do. Public transport needs a big boost.
Making Downtown safe and appealing. BID districts have proven successful across the state and would be beneficial to Rochester’s rebirth.
A continuing concentration of poverty and its impact on race.
The negative synergy between the city’s underclass and the Rochester City School District’s frequent dysfunction, resulting in too many undereducated youth at a time of skilled labor shortages, continues to weigh on the region’s economy. Fortunately, there are some signs that the current RCSD administration may be more stable and functional than the chaotic past administrations. Time will tell—can the superintendent last for more than a year or two, and support school-level staff in improving learning?
Local, state and federal government support for green technology innovation and expansion. Work force development programs for underserved regions to uptrain them for new opportunities.
Crime and housing issues in the city of Rochester.
Find and implement proven time-tested solutions to the inner city poverty. The miserable education record of the city schools needs to be reversed. Start by removing Adam Urbanski and the ineffectual people on the school board. Nothing short of burning it to the ground and starting fresh will suffice implementing with ideas proven to work in other cities. Find and hire leaders for change.
—Kenneth Reed Ph.D.
Our major challenge is to decrease the inequality, racially and income wise, that exist in our broader community.
The threat to our democracy from the far right Republicans and their lack of backbone to stand up for democracy.
The City of Rochester needs to get its school system straightened out, crime rates down so we can attract businesses, conventions, downtown residents, et.al.
—Neil R. Scheier MD
The region’s demographics are terrible—a rapidly aging population coupled with oppressive taxation and an ever-expanding state-imposed regulatory burden.
Our biggest challenge is overcoming political divisiveness to develop real solutions to our issues of crime, poverty, and equity.
The biggest challenge is K-12 education for our urban populace. Most of our problems such as carjackings, drug use and sales, robberies, generational poverty and crime and misery in general have the inability to teach our kids at its foundation. Education provides choice. Choice on where one lives and works, plays and raises a family if so desired. We need to develop some creative and unique ways to teach our urban population. We need to show them professions and careers. With an education there are a host of opportunities to shed generational poverty. This can be done. Most be done. Semper Fi.
—Josh Jochem Porte
The continued income divide, ignorance in so many forms, misplaced priorities, and probably some bug(s) we have not heard of yet.
The sad state of the City of Rochester casts a shadow over the whole region and we’re sliding into second tier/third tier market.
Improved school district.
I believe the lack of people volunteering is a major challenge because the lack of volunteers has a major effect (financially and otherwise) on charitable organizations who depend on volunteers.
Lack of confidence in each other to grow the community.
Keeping young people in the area after they graduate from college.
Racial and economic realities, the divide between black and white, city schools, and national division.
Almost everyone knows the biggest challenge is “catch and release” crime laws. We desperately need to get that under control. It’s ruined and will continue to ruin everything we work hard for, including Rochester’s reputation.
Dramatically changing the way Rochester city school children are learning and being educated. Monroe County residents should no longer tolerate the continuation of a failing approach and system that does not improve learning rates and graduation rates.
Maintaining affordability. Property taxes are sky high, housing demand is high. Those two combined, higher priced homes with high property taxes takes away our historical competitive advantage.
Increasing the number of highly skilled, motivated workers through immigration, education of underserved populations and elimination of bias.
Paul Ericson is Rochester Beacon executive editor. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].