Come to the EcoFair! We’re launching Greentopia’s EcoDistrict.

Come to the EcoFair! We’re launching Greentopia’s EcoDistrict.

It’s time to launch the High Falls Eco-District! So no, that’s nothing like sailing a Frisbee over the edge of the Genesee River ravine in Greentopia’s backyard. It’s the formal process required to begin certification of the EcoDistrict north of downtown. The planning stage, which involved lots of meetings with stakeholders and then registering that plan, is over. Now the plan has to be shared with the public and adopted by individual stakeholders’ pledges toward green practices. This is all working toward certification by the international organization,

Harkening back to Greentopia’s early days, the launch will be marked with a public EcoFair Oct. 7, from noon to 5 p.m., coinciding with Rochester’s annual Genesee River Romance event. This fair will be held on and near the Ponte du Rennes Bridge, that pedestrian pathway that has the best view of the river gorge and the river’s High Falls.

EcoDistrict Manager Rachel Walsh said the event will feature:

  • A gardening project
  • A fair filled with information tables and vendors
  • The opportunity to recycle electronics
  • A collaborate chalk mural
  • Goats (Yes, goats. They’re the star of cute Internet videos, but also a sustainable way to remove brush
  • A food truck (Maybe wash your hands between eating lunch and petting a goat.)

Other nearby events that day include Zagster bike tours of the area and tours of Monroe Community College’s new campus at Kodak Tower.

Next steps for the EcoDistrict include stakeholders making and signing commitments that will spell out how they will undertake sustainable efforts to take “equity, resilience and climate protection seriously,” Walsh said. It’s expected to take about three years to gather these written commitments, and then Rochester’s EcoDistrict will join dozens around the world.

“We won’t wait for certification to start projects,” Walsh said. The short list is a walking trail, solar power installation, a pollinator pathway and other programming. Come visit our fair on Oct. 7 and see what it’s all about.

Opportunity still blooms in a wet summer

Opportunity still blooms in a wet summer

It’s been an unusual summer for Green Visions, Greentopia’s job development program. A super-soaked spring and summer, along with some red-tape tangles, delayed the start of the season. Manager Morgan Barry said the Green Visions garden wasn’t tilled until late May, when it’s usually under cultivation by the first week in May. So some plants, notably a major crop of zinnias, are coming in a month late and all at once.

Rather than trying to conduct business as usual in an unusual situation, the program is experimenting a bit. Green Visions is still a job development program for young people 16-22 in the Northwest quadrant of Rochester, one of the poorest sections of a city where half the kids live in poverty. But with expertise growing in the staff and the job-skills participants, the site in the JOSANA Neighborhood can also offer more. A cut-your-own-bouquet event scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 19, for instance. Visitors can walk away with their own cut flowers, or can rely on the expertise of managers Morgan Barry and Tiani Jennings to make a beautiful arrangement.

Other developments:

  • Greentopia purchased additional land adjacent to the main garden lot (797 Smith St.)
  • A learn-to-drive program is being added to the program later in the growing season, adding another key skill young people need to to secure regular employment.
  • A grant from the Developmentally Disabled Giving Circle at Rochester Area Community Foundation is allowing students who’ve aged out of Edison Technical High School’s program for disabled students to continue working – and, more importantly, getting paid – in the Green Visions program. (Most of the 16 program participants are from the neighborhood, but a couple spots are set aside for developmentally disabled disabled youngsters, who have an even harder time gaining job skills and employment.)

“It’s bringing back graduates and keeping their momentum going,” Barry said.

One such graduate is Frank Graham, 22, who returned this summer to work with Green Visions for a second year. He listed planting, watering, fertilizing, working hard and getting along with people as some of the things he’s learned.

“I’m a workaholic. It’s good, though,” Graham said. At home, his mother doesn’t like him to leave the house. Working with Greentopia gets him out into the sunlight. “It’s better than being in my room, cooped up,” he said.

Ideally, Green Visions graduates will take what they’ve learned over 20 weeks in the growing season and apply it to year-round jobs. Angela Tye, 22, has her sights set on a job in a garden department at a place like Home Depot or Wal-Mart. “I know what to do now. I know what the flowers need, what the plants need,” she said.

The grass is greener on the Greentopia side of the street

The grass is greener on the Greentopia side of the street

We’ve moved!

While it was nice being in the building on the corner of Platt Street and Brown’s Race, the sale of the building that housed Greentopia for the last several years resulted in our move to new digs across the way at 74 Brown’s Race.

“If you need us, we’re across the street,” said Greentopia Co-Founder Michael A. Philipson.  The move happened May 1 and the new quarters are both larger and a little more accessible, as the space is all on one level now – no more steps and ramps! One added bonus is the new office provides additional income for our initiatives because it includes two spaces to rent out, one of which is occupied. Another bonus is our new boardroom and balcony look out over the Genesee River gorge. And that’s the reason Greentopia moved to the High Falls area in the first place.

Stop by if you get a chance.  Just remember, we’re on the river side of the road now.

The voice of environmental news comes to our Leadership Series

The voice of environmental news comes to our Leadership Series

You probably know that mellifluous voice, the one that makes it seem that no matter how grim things are for the environment, there’s still hope. Steve Curwood, host and executive producer of Public Radio International’s Living on Earth show brings his voice to Rochester Tuesday, May 16, for Greentopia’s Leadership Series. Curwood’s talk is titled “Social Equity and Climate Resilience in the Green Redevelopment of Rochester.”  Rochester City Mayor Lovely Warren will also offer remarks.

Reservations are required for the breakfast lecture in our Greentopia Leadership Series. Donations of $10 are suggested to cover costs of the continental breakfast. Click here to make a reservation. Doors at the Rochester Museum & Science Center’s Eisenhardt Auditorium, 657 East Ave., open at 7:30 am and the program begins at 8.

Curwood’s show is heard on some 300 radio stations around the country, including Rochester’s WXXI-AM, where it’s broadcast Sundays at 4 pm.  A Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist, Curwood has hosted the environmental news show since April 1991. The series is sponsored by RG&E/Avangrid, with media sponsor WXXI.

Next in the series will be Mark W. Johnson of Civitas Landscape Architects, a thought leader in natural spaces in urban settings, who will talk about urban waterfront development on Sept. 11 at Oak Hill Country Club.

Step aside Netflix series. Green Visions has “14 Stories.”

Step aside Netflix series. Green Visions has “14 Stories.”

Trigger warning: you can’t watch Greentopia’s “14 Stories” without your heart being touched. This binge-worthy series of short films, posted on our website, profiles the young people who worked in the Green Visions program in 2016.

There’s the young mother who didn’t know what it was like to hang out with other teenagers because she had a baby at 13 and dropped out of school. And the young father of two who finds working with flowers at Green Visions an oasis of peace in his life.  Gardening can be hot, dirty, hard work. But it is also a lifeline of job skills and resume building for youth 18 to 22 living in a city neighborhood suffering from crushing poverty.

“These kids are in situations or circumstances in their lives because of the challenges they face,” said filmmaker Doug Buckley, of Blackbird Son Video Production, who created the “14 Stories” series. “That consumes them, I think.” A job with Green Visions exposes the young workers to life beyond a small radius within Rochester’s northeast side. Green Visions also helps the workers find new ways of dealing with life. “They’re used to conflict – and I know because they said it — that’s their first instinct is to react as if they’re in a conflict,” Buckley said. Side benefits of the program are that flower cultivation is making the soil healthier and the neighborhood more beautiful. Green Visions workers plant, raise and harvest the flowers, which are sold in stores such as Wegmans, Hart’s Local Grocers and the Rochester Public Market.

Seven of the “14 Stories” films are online now, and seven others are due to be uploaded later this spring. Watch and share, please. If you’re so moved, please support these young people or others like them by sponsoring a youth in the Green Visions program. There’s no other job development program like Green Visions in Rochester, providing 20 or more weeks of employment and training, including federal job safety certification.  Watch “14 Stories” and you’ll see that it’s no small achievement for young people in the JOSANA neighborhood to complete the program while dealing with all the survival issues they face.

The stories take you into the hearts and, in one case, the home of the Green Visions workers.  Buckley captured the sometimes bleak facts of their lives as well as their blossoming hopes. “I was really humbled by the fact that they would tell me those things, and tell me how they felt about those events in their lives,” he said.

For example, Tarin, who dropped out of high school in 10th grade, now hopes to go to college to study performing arts. “I can finally feel like I’m involved in something,” he says on camera.

Then there’s Anthony, who goes by the nickname of “Magic.” He shares, “Green Visions keeps me out of a lot of stuff. When I come to work, I get a lot of negative things off my mind.”

And there’s Breanna, who was living in a homeless shelter when she first started with the program. “I didn’t really feel like I had a family until I came to Green Visions,” she says. Now she talks about wanting to own a house and her own business.

We dare you not to be moved.

Start your day with ideas for a greener city

Start your day with ideas for a greener city

SEATING IS LIMITED, so RSVP to reserve your seat today!

Greentopia is bringing to town an international consultant who works with cities on becoming more green – from reducing greenhouse gases to avoiding transportation logjams. Shannon Bouton, chief operating officer in Detroit for the

Shannon N BoutonShannon Bouton, chief operating officer in Detroit for the McKinsey Center for Business & Environment, will speak Feb. 28 in our Green Leadership Series, sponsored by Rochester Gas & Electric. Her local appearance will be at 8 a.m. at Oak Hill Country Club, 145 Kilbourn Road. Admission is free but registrations are required and a $10 donation is suggested to help defray costs of the event, which includes a continental breakfast.

Bouton’s talk is titled “Building the Cities of the Future with Green Districts,” a subject she’s explored on more than one continent. Trained as a field biologist, Bouton co-wrote the McKinsey publications How to Make a City Great and Urban Mobility at a Tipping Point. She has advised city and state governments, non-profit organizations and public utilities on subjects including energy efficiency and program design, reduction of greenhouse gasses, and sustainability.

These are ideas that we here at Greentopia grapple with all the time in our work to make Rochester more vibrantly sustainable. “We’re starting the conversation in a sort of leadership way about how Rochester can take advantage of these things and rebuild the city,” said Greentopia Co-founder Michael A. Philipson. Bouton’s talk is the second in the Green Leadership Series. The first event featured green initiatives at Monroe Community College, RG&E and  the Genesee Brewery.

Don’t miss this opportunity to be in on the conversion about green ideas that could help Rochester thrive. You can RSVP

SEATING IS LIMITED, so RSVP to reserve your seat today!

The perfect gift for you and us

The perfect gift for you and us

Need a gift but you don’t know his size? Or don’t know what to give the person who already has everything she needs? Consider a tribute plaque in Greentopia’s FlourGarden. For as little as $100 for a single name, we can have your loved one’s name etched on a space in the FlourGarden’s Donor Recognition Wall. For $250, you can have two lines of poetry inscribed or create a memorial or commemorative dedication. Or just go whole hog and dedicate an entire section of the garden for $25,000. We’ll accommodate all budget sizes!

These laser-etched metal plaques will be attached to railings along the FlourGarden on Browns Race in the High Falls District. (Gifts of $25,000 or more get their own free-standing signs in the garden.) Besides honoring a loved one, you’ll be supporting our mission of creating vibrant public realms in sustainable, environmentally sensitive ways. And you get a tax deduction to boot!

Visit this page to find out more and to access our on-line order form. And happy giving.


Three cheers for Tiani Jennings, our Green Visions site manager!

Three cheers for Tiani Jennings, our Green Visions site manager!

When Morgan Barry, manager of the Green Visions program, heard that Monroe County was looking for young people to recognize, he said it was a no-brainer to nominate Tiani Jennings.

The 21-year-old manages our job development/garden site in the JOSANA neighborhood. She grew up in that Northwest Rochester neighborhood but now lives in suburban Greece. This summer is Jennings’ fourth with Green Visions.

“She mentors 15 others.  She helps them trains them, helps them find jobs. She’s the same age as many of these kids but you kind of forget about that,” Barry said. “She’s a leader in this community. People look up to her.”

County officials agreed with Barry that Jennings is outstanding. She won Monroe County’s “Young Citizen of the Year Award” earlier in June.

“I’m just incredibly proud of Tiani,” Barry said. “Any recognition I can get shone on her is a great thing.” Her pay for 35 hours a week at the Green Visions gardens doesn’t go far enough to compensate her for all she does to guide and inspire other youth, Barry said.

Jennings received the award from County Executive Cheryl DiNolfo at a special event. County legislators representing both JOSANA and Greece took part in the recognition.

“It was so lovely. I felt so special,” Jennings said. She also was gratified to see her hard work paying off in the form of recognition.  “Just to get involved in the community where I grew up…how can I not get involved?”

Jennings has been following two career paths for several years now. From April to October, when the Green Visions program is operating, she works in landscaping. “I’m a nature body. I love working outside,” she said.

The rest of the year she works as a home health aide. She’s planning to attend college to get a license as a registered nurse, upgrading from homecare. Still, we can tell she’s pulled in two directions, as she says would also love to find full-time work in landscaping.

“I love Green Visions. It’s like a piece of my heart,” she said.

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Green Visions takes on new responsibilities

In our continuing efforts to make the Green Visions self-sustaining, the workforce preparation program is tackling more than growing flowers in the JOSANA neighborhood and selling them in bouquets. The High Falls Business Association has hired the group to plant and water more than 30 planters in the immediate area. And, Green Visions workers will also maintain the recently opened Flour Garden on Brown’s Race.

“It’s the first time the program in JOSANA ties in with the program here,” said Michael A. Philipson, Greentopia’s co-founder, as he sat in the office on Brown’s Race. Greentopia’s vision of a series of gardens and amenities surround High Falls includes providing jobs to keep these new features attractive for visitors near and far. The current contract has Green Visions trainees also taking care of Granite Mills Park (at the north end of the FlourGarden) and a pocket park on Main Street next to an Rochester Gas & Electric building.

“It’s a tangible collaboration between Greentopia and the High Falls” Business Improvement District,” said Rachel Walsh, director of Rochester’s first EcoDistrict.

Green Visions workers are also tackling rain gardens at the Rochester Public Market. Because many of the bouquets the group will grow this year are already earmarked to be sold at Wegmans, Green Visions is seeking related work landscaping. The program’s success is getting noticed. Managers Tiani Jennings and Morgan Barry accepted an award from the Rochester Chapter of the Sierra Club in April. And June 9 Jennings was presented with a youth community service award from Monroe County.

We must be doing something right!

The FlourGarden, blossoming in May

The FlourGarden, blossoming in May

At last. The FlourGarden has been completed for several months. But the first week in May, Delta Fountains of Jacksonville, Florida, will come to Rochester to start up the garden’s waterworks and program the fountains and lights. It won’t be the dancing waters of Bellagio, but it will be pretty special. Delta Fountains’ many major projects of national acclaim include both the September 11th Memorial Fountain in New York City and the Oklahoma Memorial Fountain in Oklahoma City. Oh, and there have been quite a few splash parks in between, as well as water features on New York City’s High Line, too.

To celebrate, we at Greentopia will host a grand opening for the FlourGarden, Tuesday, May 17th at 10:30 a.m. There will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony and comments from dignitaries gathered at Brown’s Race, the street that is home to both our offices and the FlourGarden. We encourage well-wishers to come to the event to show support for this first leg of Greentopia’s big vision, the GardenAerial, a series of gardens and amenities surrounding High Falls. This spring the first plants — native to the area — will blossom as, we hope, the GardenAerial takes root, too.

And if you enjoy this little event, stay tuned for the much larger Garden Party, May 22, following in our tradition of really cool events. Come join us as we grow.

An exciting partnership blossoms for Green Visions

An exciting partnership blossoms for Green Visions

Green Visions is planting new seeds. Not just the kinds that produce great cut flowers, but the kinds that produce opportunities for a new group of youth – developmentally disabled students at Edison Career & Technology High School.

The program has partnered with Edison’s Buildings & Grounds Careers program on a pilot project in three ways:

  • Students recently planted 5,000 seeds in the Edison greenhouse that will be transplanted into Green Visions’ gardens in the JOSANA neighborhood later this spring.
  • Two students from the program have been selected to be among the 15 interns who participate in Green Vision’s job training by working 20 weeks, from May through October, in the cut flower gardens in northwest Rochester.
  • Another six to eight students in the program will come as a group to the Green Visions gardens once a week for 10 weeks, too. Their performance as volunteers will help identify future interns, who are paid a stipend for their work.

“One of the major hurdles for people with a disability is getting that first job,” said Lewis Stess, co-founder of Greentopia.  So far, most graduates of the Green Visions programs have gone on to jobs, but not within the landscaping field, Stess said. But the students from Edison may be an even better fit for this kind of landscaping work.  “They could become great gardeners, great landscapers, great bouquet-makers,” he said.

Meanwhile, Green Visions has just been recognized by the Rochester region chapter of the Sierra Club with its annual Environmental Leadership Award. Morgan Barry and Tiani Jennings, managers of Green Visions, accepted the award April 21.

This latest accolade and the new partnership with Edison come at a time when Green Visions is ramping up its ability to serve commercial accounts. Last year Green Visions provided 15 bouquets a week to Wegmans’ East Avenue store. This year the order has been upped to 100 bouquets shared among three Wegmans stores.

“We’re going to be the only local suppliers of cut flowers,” Stess said. “And we supply those flowers from vacant, unused lots.”

Youngsters 18 to 22 who come from the Northwest part of the city will still fill most of the internships Green Visions provides. In a neighborhood like JOSANA, paid internships can be a rare opportunity leading to sustained employment. Besides providing a job reference and experience, the Green Visions program also provides certification in job and environmental safety practices — important credentials for landing another job.

Such training may be even more valuable for Edison’s students. Morgan Barry, program director for Green Visions, noted that the unemployment rate for 20- to 24-year-olds with disabilities is 70 percent nationally, which is double the rate for their non-disabled peers.

Chris McCoy, the Buildings and Grounds Careers teacher at Edison said, “One of the greatest indicators of post-secondary employment for individuals with disabilities is whether or not a student works or volunteers during high school. Community partners such as Green Visions provide a real-life work setting as well as the types of job training skills that are the difference between employment and sitting at home.”

A river, a waterfall, a city reborn. Sound familiar, Rochester?

A river, a waterfall, a city reborn. Sound familiar, Rochester?

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.