Validation is a great thing. Greentopia organizers got plenty of that this month when they met with Mayor Knox White of Greenville, SC, who was in town to speak at the Community Design Center’s annual Reshaping Rochester luncheon.  Greentopia was a sponsor of the event.

White’s talk sounded like he was describing Greentopia’s plans for Rochester: “How a River Acts as a Community Connector.” But he was really telling the story of how redevelopment of the small Reedy River – a brook, really, with a 20-foot-tall waterfall – in Greenville because the catalyst for a revitalized and vibrant downtown.

“It changed downtown Greenville in ways no one could imagine,” said Lewis Stess, co-founder of Greentopia. “What we found most interesting is the direct parallel between our experience in Rochester and Greenville”, he said. Like in Rochester, where many natives and long-time residents have never seen or spent any time at High Falls, Greenville residents were unaware of the water asset in their community. Like in Rochester, some people felt the river was in an unsafe part of town. And, like in Rochester, redeveloping the river wasn’t a priority for public and private officials at first.

Once Mayor White, a corps of garden club members, and others persuaded city council to remove a four-lane highway bridge over the falls and build a pedestrian bridge instead, people began to see the possibilities. Knox was in the beginning of his second term as mayor when he was finally able to push the project to approval.

Now the 20-acre Falls Park on the Reedy River is the jewel of the city, an economic engine, and THE most popular spot for people to walk and picnic.

“The diversity is just unbelievable…families just flock to it,” White told the host on WXXI’s Connections with Evan Dawson show a week before his visit to Rochester. (Hear the podcast here.)

Stess said Falls Park has become the place visitors to town are taken as soon as they arrive. Clemson University recruits people by taking them to downtown Greenville before visiting the campus 20 miles away. Greenville’s downtown now thrives with restaurants, galleries, apartments and hotels.  All that took 20 years to happen, but Greentopia, which has invested five years so far in the GardenAerial project at High Falls, is hoping for a quicker turnaround in Rochester. The FlourGarden, the first part in a series of gardens and features that surround the falls, was completed at the very end of 2015 and will have it’s grand opening in early May, 2016.

Stess said White was stunned when he viewed Rochester’s 96-foot waterfall. “Each city must find its own gem”, White said, and he was looking at Rochester’s.

“If you have water and a waterfall… it is kind of obvious that makes your city so unique and different,” White said in his radio appearance. “We always tell people: Find your waterfall…find what makes your city unique and different.”

Greentopia found what makes our city unique. Greentopia champions it, day in and day out. Now the rest of Rochester can, too.