Accepting Obstacles and Rising to the Challenge With Green Visions

Green Visions Social Distance Graduation at our Smith Street Gardens

Green Visions successfully completed its 8th year of delivering quality job training and hand-on, work experience to at risk-youth in our city. A late start, drought-like conditions, and a health crisis working against us, couldn’t stop us from pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps and getting to work. We navigated the complicated year that was 2020, once again transforming over two acres of once vacant, city land into bountiful, flourishing gardens in the JOSANA and Joseph Avenue neighborhoods.

We also were able to add Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Introduction to Landscape Technicians training to this year’s roster of classes and Bank of America Financial Literacy class.

Of our 7 graduates, two have been re-enrolled, full time, back into RCSD high schools; one has enrolled in and currently attends SUNY Brockport, full-time as a journalism major; and 4 have secured full-time or part-time employment. Additionally, we were able to hire back 3 Green Visions graduates as site managers to help mentor, teach, and lead our team. Congratulations to our 2020 cohort! And thank you to all of the partners who helped make our program happen this year!

Lastly, with this year’s team successfully completing our program, Green Visions crossed the landmark threshold of having graduated over 100 City of Rochester youth from our transformative program. We could not be prouder of each and every single member of our Green Visions family as we continue to support them and bear witness to their inspiring growth.

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.


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.

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.

Celebrating 5 Years of Green Growth!

February 18, 2016, marked the fifth anniversary of Greentopia’s incorporation. So what does our five-year-old organization have to show for those years? Plenty!

  • Four years of free Greentopia festivals to raise awareness of sustainability and green assets in downtown Rochester, bringing more than 50,000 people (many for the first time) to High Falls.
  • Four years of Film Festivals to call attention to green issues and sustainability.
  • Three Futures Summit conferences, bringing in speakers from around the country to talk about urban sustainability and green redevelopment.
  • Purchase of a large section of the High Falls cataract to preserve it as part of the GardenAerial project.
  • Three years of Green Visions, a job training program that has provided 20 weeks each year of job training and employment for young people in the JOSANA neighborhood, while producing beautiful gardens to beautify the neighborhood and provide cut flowers to sell.
  • The beginning of New York’s first EcoDistrict, a district that will share ideas and green projects to work and live more sustainably in and around the north side of downtown Rochester.
  • Awards and recognition, including being named a  “top priority” transformational project by the Sustainability Workgroup of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council.
  • A massive Dinner on the Bridge, calling attention to and raising money for Greentopia’s initiatives, including the GardenAerial circling the canyon around High Falls.
  • The completed FlourGarden: a running water, native plants garden with sculptures and lighted fixtures on Brown’s Race, the very first capital development project of the GardenAerial.
  • Hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants from the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council; Metabolic Studio; The Farash Foundation; The Community Foundation; Daisy Marquis Jones Foundation; and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (among others).
  • And the support of hundreds of individual and corporate donors for events, programs, and capital projects. Won’t you join with us?

And we’re just getting started.

5 Greentopia developments coming in 2016

It’s going to be an exciting year for Greentopia, as we move further into creating some of the physical projects that have been a goal since our inception. Here’s a look at what’s coming:

  • Any day now: the FlourGarden will be finished. Final details, such as wood bannisters on metal rails, are being put in this week. The project is the first of several steps to build the GardenAerial, a series of public amenities, infratructure and gardens surrounding the High Falls. Perennial native plants are in, but dormant now. You can also check out our new handrails and water channel. Fountains are there but not visible at the moment. This new amenity will really come alive in the spring, so watch out for our Grand Opening events!
  • March through May: Greentopia offers tours of the High Falls area on the first and third Thursdays of each month, weather permitting. You will need to sign-up online and arrive at 81 Browns Race a few minutes before noon to be included in a 30-minute walking tour of the waterfall in a canyon in the middle of downtown Rochester.
    Did we mention these are free?
  • In April: Green Visions will embark on its fourth year. This is the community program that provides job training and work in the horticultural field for urban youth, at the same time that it beautifies the JOSANA neighborhood in Northeast Rochester. In 2015, this program sold flowers to Wegmans, Hart’s Grocery and customers of the Rochester City Public Market. In 2016, Green Visions hopes to develop a larger commercial customer base and become more self-sustaining. You’ll soon be able to directly sponsor one of our Urban Flower Farmers – a youth from JOSANA neighborhood doing rewarding and meaningful work. The price is affordable even for small businesses.
  • May 15: A Garden Party, a brand new fundraiser to celebrate the opening of the Flour Garden. This will be an affordable event seeking to attract a broad range of people to see the newest development at High Falls. Check back here soon to find out more and buy tickets.
  • Throughout 2016: Development of the Pont du Rennes. New community interest and opportunities have arisen to make the pedestrian bridge a more important corridor connecting Genesee Brewery and St. Paul Quarter on the east bank and MCC and the Rochester Red Wings games on the west side of the river. As a result, Greentopia will turn its capital development focus on Granite Mills Square and this bridge. Some may recall that when Greentopia held its first GreentopiaFest, creating a park in the sky out of the bridge was one of the bold ideas shared then. Now, with the completion of the FlourGarden, it’s time to get moving on that!

And here’s something you won’t see in 2016 – Greentopia festivals, like the ones offered free for four years. The original festival and the film festival that grew out of it both took lots of time, effort and money, but they were worth it to bring awareness to Rochester’s biggest hidden asset — High Falls. Our founders and board of directors have decided that the time has come to devote those resources to making the GardenAerial at High Falls a reality. The festivals aren’t truly gone, though. Many of their elements (free and low-cost events) will be spread throughout the year, but in a more sustainable way that supports the goal of attaining a vibrant, publicly-accessible realm around the falls. To become a part of that, consider becoming a member.

And look out 2016!

And now, a word from our sponsor at Greentopia

Imagine sailing over the High Falls on a zip line.

Or if you don’t enjoy white-knuckle adventures, imagine sauntering serenly through an arboretum suspended high above the Genesee River on the Pont de Rennes Bridge. (Those of you who know French just have to pretend that name isn’t redundant.)

These are just two elements of the GardenAerial, an $85 million series of public features to be built around the High Falls. While some sources of funding exist to help out with this huge capital investment in the city’s public realms, virtually no grants keep the lights on and pay the salaries of the people who are leading this vision. And that’s where you come in. This week starts Greentopia’s annual campaign, the effort to pay for some of the overhead that goes into making High Falls more visible and enjoyable for all.

The very first step of the GardenAerial is under construction right now and due to be completed by Christmas Eve: the Flour Garden. The once-leaking raceway along Race Street in the High Falls District has been rebuilt as a water garden. Perennial water plants just went in. During warm months a fountain will flow. And at night, glass rods in the garden will be illuminated, creating a mini-light show.

“We are creating something from nothing,” said Lewis Stess, Greentopia’s CEO and co-founder. “We are progressive, future- thinking.”  If you want to help that future arrive, please help. Please answer the email or letter you receive with a donation. If you didn’t get one, please visit our donation page. And dream a little about what’s coming next.

Greentopia embraces new fundraising technology

Greentopia launched a new way to raise funds Nov. 12 with a wine-and-cheese party where people pledged by text. The concept was so successful that the attendees EXCEEDED the entire fundraising goal — $5,000 for the FlourGarden —  in less than 20 minutes.

About 50 people attended the event at the Greentopia offices on Brown’s Race. After they saw a film about the GardenAerial project, they were asked to consider making a donation by texting “Flour” to a designated number. Those who did so saw their names scroll across a screen with their pledge amounts, which made others hasten to join in.

“The idea of technology is right to us. It’s more green and engaging,” said Greentopia Co-Founder Michael A. Philipson. And the timing is right. The organization trying to create vibrant public realms has provided four years of FREE Greentopia festivals and events and will continue to offer some free projects to the public. But now it’s time for Rochester to lend its support to this critical work, Philipson said. The FlourGarden, expected to be completed December 24, is the first step in the GardenAerial, a series of park amenities, interactive trails and structures around the High Falls. This first step will cost nearly $1 million and Greentopia is trying to close in on the final dollars for the project.

Philipson said the smartphone app was so simple to use and so successful that Greentopia will most likely use it again to raise money for other projects, such as Green Visions, a job training program reclaiming and beautifying lots in the JOSANA neighborhood, and for a future gala.

To check out the online version, go to our donate page now.


Greentopia Premieres New GardenAerial Promotional Short Film

If you missed us at the Futures Summit at Monroe Community College, you missed:

  • a. a great event
  • b. the premiere of our new short film featuring the GardenAerial! Not to worry, you can check out this new film now.

This film gives a 5-minute overview of the entire GardenAerial project. It features stunning new footage of the High Falls and Gorge and testimonials by some of our citiy’s most influential leaders in government, education, innovation and business. Please take a minute (well, 5 minutes, actually) and feel free to share with your networks. We really want to get the word out about this transformational project and we think this film does a great job doing that.

Once you’ve seen the film, if you are inspired by the message and if you ‘believe in the GardenAerial’, please consider giving a donation so we can continue the work of Greentopia.

Many thanks to Don Caspar at Epic 10 Films and also to J.R. Kraus and crew at 57th Street Productions and WXXI for providing a stunning clip of the falls seen from the base of the gorge! We’d also like to thank: Maggie Brooks, Lovely Warren, Bob Duffy, Jim Senall, Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, Ram Shrivastava, Kayla Jenkins and Lisa Roy Baron for appearing in the film.

Again, enjoy the film, share it with your friends and colleagues. We’d also love to hear your feedback!

GardenAerial is a capital project of Greentopia

NEW GardenAerial Short Film Premiering in October – Check out this Trailer!

We are so grateful to Don Caspar of Epic 10 Films, J.R. Kraus of 57th Street Productions and the entire cast and crew that made our NEW GardenAerial promotional film possible. We’ll be mounting a couple of trailers here in the coming weeks and then premiering the short film at our Greentopia | FUTURES SUMMIT, Cities of the Future at MCC on October 21st. Our cast includes: Bob Duffy, Maggie Brooks, Lovely Warren, Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, Jim Senall, Norm Silverstein, Ram Shrivastava, Lisa Roy Baron, people who work, live and play in High Falls, and our Co-Founders, Lewis Stess and Michael Philipson.

We also captured some VERY sexy drone footage and created a musical score composed especially for the film. The big star is, of course, our magnificent gorge and falls! Enjoy this preview and watch for the full film release on October 21st!

See our FlourGarden grow!

See our FlourGarden grow!

This will be an exciting summer for Greentopia: construction starts soon on the FlourGarden, the first section of the GardenAerial to become a reality.

The $800,000 project, designed by NYC’s Landgarden landscape architecture firm, will be completed in the fall.  Greentopia co-founder Michael Philipson calls the FlourGarden the “proof of concept” that will provide a window into what the larger GardenAerial will be like.

This 300-foot-long garden or running water and native plants will feature actual millstones that used to grind flour along the Genesee River in the city once nicknamed the Flour City.  Native plants will grow alongside a water channel in the historic Brown’s Race. At night, glass stones on the bottom of the water channel will glow with light. And nearly 500 acrylic rods, also illuminated, will wave like cattails. In all, six sections of the Genesee River will be represented in the FlourGarden.

Pedestrians on Brown’s Race will be able to walk along, over and into the FlourGarden. Stone bleacher seating at the north end, outfitted with outlets, will allow people to sit or work on laptops while they enjoy the sound and sites of the FlourGarden.  And a deck over the mid-section of the garden will provide an intimate gathering space or stage for future events.

If you’re in the area checking out the view of the High Falls from the Pont de Rennes Bridge, stop by and see our progress!

(Note: this post was originally published earlier this summer.)