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.


Green Visions by the numbers

Increasingly, it looks like a big part of helping people out of poverty isn’t a hand-out, but a hand up that recognizes the human capital available in our poorer neighborhoods. One program that does this is Greentopia‘s Green Visions program, which provides 22 weeks of job training in the Josana neighborhood during the planting, growing, and harvest season for cut flowers.  Members of the Rochester Garden Club recently visited Greentopia’s offices to consider a pitch on a future donation. While they were there, though, they also heard the latest results of Green Visions, which they supported in the past. Though the program creates productive flower gardens one of the most downtrodden sections of Rochester, “ultimately it’s a work development program” Morgan Barry, special projects director, told the garden club. Here are some of the successes he listed:

  • 60 percent of the people who participated in summer 2015 secured employment at 12 different businesses when the program was done.
  • 94 percent of Green Visions graduates received three types of training and credentials they’ll be able to use to set them apart from other job seekers.
  • 80 percent (12 people) of this year’s Green Visions participants began the program without a high school diploma, but a quarter of them earned one while in the program. And half were enrolled in a high school diploma equivalency program during or immediately after their work with Green Visions.
  • 15 people completed the program in 2015, representing a retention rate of 87 percent.
  • One-third of the 2015 Green Visions participants with high school diplomas are enrolled for the spring 2015 semester at Monroe Community College.
  • Flowers were sold directly from the lots, but bouquets also went to Harts grocery store and Wegmans each week, where they typically sold out. The program also sells bouquets at the Rochester Public Market.

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

7 last-minute reasons to go to Greentopia’s Futures Summit Oct. 21

You’ve heard about the dynamite keynote speakers and, undoubtedly, about the unveiling of a new film about the Garden Aerial, Greentopia’s capital project surrounding the High Falls. But if those attractions haven’t persuaded you to sign up yet for the Futures Summit, here are a few more in the form of distinguished panelists:
Ted Trabue – A fourth-generation Washingtonian, Trabue is managing director of the District of Columbia Sustainable Energy Utility. His 30 years in public affairs, include working as executive director of the Green Builders Council of the District of Columbia and two terms as president of the DC State Board of Education.
Rebecca Salminen Witt — Witt is president of The Greening of Detroit, a 25 year old non-profit environmental organization that works to secure the ecosystem of Detroit, Michigan by coordinating tree plantings, supporting community gardening, providing outdoor education to Detroit schoolchildren and sponsoring green jobs training programs for teenagers and adults.
Susan Spencer – A Rochester native from a Kodak family, Spencer was earning her PhD from Rochester Institute of Technology when she decided to focus on affordable solar power. She founded ROCSPOT to create a solar-powered Rochester, and is a player in national and international solar policy discussions.
M. Andre Primus – Another Rochesterian, Primus has created RocShare, an organization to promote alternative economics such as sharing.
Svante L. Myrick – Ithaca’s youngest mayor and first one of color, Myrick first held political office at age 20, when he was still a student at Cornell University. He was elected mayor when he was 24 and quickly restructured the city government to close a $3 million deficit. He turned the mayor’s parking spot into a mini-park and has renovated Ithaca’s long-neglected pedestrian mall.
Jessica Millman – An expert in urban planning, environmentally sustainable development and smart growth, Millman is a founding member of the LEED for Neighborhood Development Core Committee in the Washington, DC, region. She works on a national level on sustainable neighborhoods and is a leader of the National Resource Defense Council’s Green Neighborhoods Program.
Naomi Davis — Davis teaches a three-semester course in Grannynomics and Green-Village Building at the University of Chicago/Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture. Her heritage as the granddaughter of Mississippi sharecroppers informs her expertise in urban homestead, and mixed-use real estate development. She also is founder and CEO of BIG (Blacks In Green,) a self-sustaining economic development organization in Woodlawn, IL.

Cities with fewer cars are more people-friendly says a Futures Summit speaker.

As a travel writer for publications such as National Geographic, Taras Grescoe travels around the world. But he doesn’t own a car. In fact, the Montreal resident says 90 percent of his transit is by foot, bicycle or subway. His keen observations while moving around cities from Moscow to Bogota led to his 2012 book, Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile.

Grescoe will be the mid-day keynote speaker at Greentopia’s Futures Summit Oct. 21 at Monroe Community College. While he sometimes uses a car-sharing service in Montreal, he says exercising individual rights by driving cars “is diminishing the commons for everybody.” Personal automobiles hog urban space and make moving around harder for others, he claims, adding that nearly one-third of urban residents don’t or can’t drive a car.

“The biggest obstacle is the presumption that every citizen has access to a car,” Grescoe told a transportation conference in Portland, OR two years ago. “Transit is about mobility, not trains or buses,” he said. Some examples include moving ramps in hilly cities in South America that turn an arduous, 30-minute walk uphill into a five-minute ride. Or the “Mom bike” in Japan, an inexpensive bicycle that allows a parent to peddle along with two children. Or the “cargo bike” in Denmark, where an adult can carry a week’s worth of groceries or up to three children.

Bigger modes of transportation, such as subways or light rail, work best when they’re not competing for space with cars and when they’re speedy and well connected, Grescoe said. He suggests cities go for low-hanging transit fruit by providing services in the more densely populated parts of a city that were perhaps designed for pedestrian traffic before automobiles became ubiquitous in the American landscape.

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!

Grassroots efforts aren’t just green; Antwi A. Akom will be at the Futures Summit


There’s a reason people often use (or misuse) the word “urban” when they really mean “African-American” or possibly all people of color. Most large American cities are like Rochester, in that their urban hearts are filled with mostly minority, mostly low-income people, surrounded by mostly white, more affluent people in the suburbs.

Antwi A. Akom, associate professor of environmental sociology, public health, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education at San Francisco State University, focuses on improving cities for all people, not just the well-to-do. He’ll be a plenary speaker at Greentopia’s Futures Summit Oct. 21 at Monroe Community College’s Brighton campus.

“How do we create more just, sustainable and smarter cities and schools?” he asked during an ecodistrict conference in Boston in 2013. “How do we create more democratic models of civic engagement?”

Akom tells a heartbreaking story about a talented high school student he taught who was shot and killed before she could attend the college into which she had been accepted. In fact, he’s lost a student to murder every year. Sound a little like some neighborhoods in Rochester?  In some urban neighborhoods, Akom said, “when there’s gunfire, students know what to do more than they know the Pledge of Allegiance.”

But Akom doesn’t just point out problems. He’s working on solutions, as co-founder of the Institute for Sustainable Economic, Educational, and Environmental Design (I-SEEED), which focuses on building sustainable cities and schools. Akom and his colleagues have created a mobile app that can help urban residents use their phones to locate resources in the city quickly and easily. The tool also relies on users’ feet-on-the-street knowledge to recommend services and point out gaps. That’s evidence that grassroots are at work even in the cement-covered city.

Learn how to build a better city block at the Futures Summit

When Jason Roberts wanted to improve his neighborhood in Dallas, he found many of the things that make cities livable — flowers planted on the street, café tables, trees and bike lanes, were actually illegal or came with a heavy fee. So he decided to do them anyway for a single block over a single weekend to help people visualize how welcoming their community would be with this forbidden features.

Storefronts were decked out as temporary stores. Trees destined to be planted at a hotel made a two-day rest-stop at Roberts’ barren block. Guerilla city planners painted a verboten bike lane. A bike tour was organized that drew 150 riders. Then people were invited to shop at the temporary boutiques and eat at temporary outdoor cafes.

After neighbors and city officials enjoyed the event, the neighborhood began to change to match that vision. City ordinances were amended to allow more neighborhood-friendly amenities. One of the fake stores, an art studio, stayed on and became a real one. And that was just the beginning. He told the story breathlessly for a TED talk.

Roberts and the organization he co-founded, Team Better Block, continue to work at making Dallas a more livable city, and not just for those folks who drive cars. He’s the opening keynote speaker at Greentopia’s Futures Summit Oct. 21 at Monroe Community College. To find out more about the summit or register, visit here. And dream about a better city.

7 reasons you must attend Greentopia’s Futures Summit Oct. 21

Greentopia’s Futures Summit, where exciting ideas for the future are discussed today, comes to MCC’s Brighton Campus Wednesday, Oct. 21. “We want to disrupt people’s thinking – get them to critically analyze everything that is happening in our city,” said Michael Philipson, co-founder of Greentopia. Here are some great reasons to get involved and get informed about “Cities of the Future,” the 2015 Summit’s theme:

  • It’s dirt cheap: Thanks to support from NYSERDA, the summit is free to students and educators with ID, $20 for senior citizens. Regular admission is $45, $55 for last minute arrivals. Admission includes keynote talks and workshops by leading national thinkers on urban reclamation, energy and green development. There’s also free parking, continental breakfast, lunch and snacks. You can register here.
  • Jason Roberts of Dallas, co-creator of Team Better Block, which finds ways to make city blocks more livable and walkable without years of municipal foot-dragging. He’s the opening keynote speaker.
  • Antwi A. Akom, professor at San Francisco State University and co-founder of Institute for Sustainable Economic, Educational and Environmental Design. ISEEED focuses on building sustainable cities and schools, as well as improving living conditions of poor people. Akom is also the summit’s closing keynote speaker.
  • Taras Grescoe, Montreal author of Straphanger, a book looking at the public transit systems of the great cities of the world and advocating for a rebirth of public transit to take back cities from the wasting influence of automobiles. Grescoe is the summit’s lunchtime keynote speaker.
  • Rebecca Salminen Witt, president of The Greening of Detroit, which reclaims forsaken green spaces in the Midwest city to encourage community connections. Once devoted to boosting the urban forest (17,000 trees planted,) the organization now also oversees community gardens and workforce development, with 400 seasonal employees.
  • Ted Trabue, managing director of District of Columbia Sustainable Energy Utility, a utility company devoted to saving customers money through energy conservation. Previously, Trabue help create and was executive director of Green Builders Council of DC, the largest green training program in Washington.
  • Several other speakers and plenty of time between sessions to rub elbows with them all.

A manager for the new EcoDistrict

Greentopia is taking another step toward creating an ecodistrict in Rochester by moving ahead on hiring a manager for what will become the Rochesterville EcoDistrict. Following advertisements for the manager position, 50 people from around the country applied earlier this summer and the district’s critical team has narrowed the selection to eight finalists. A decision is expected in September and Greentopia hopes to have the person start work in early October.

The district’s name reflects a historic part of Rochester included in the district, which also encompasses part of Rochester’s downtown, the High Falls area, Frontier Field, Kodak Tower, the new Monroe Community College Campus, and Genesee Brewery.

The manager’s job will be to plan and organize the first such district in New York State, mostly by bringing together groups of stakeholders. Ecodistricts – Portland, OR, has several — are designated and planned in a grassroots manner to help a neighborhood achieve a better living environment. Potential benefits could be incentives and policies that help create a district-wide composting system or a bulk discounts for solar power. The district meshes nicely with Greentopia’s efforts to create the GardenAerial surrounding the High Falls.

“This will be the only ecodistrict in the US that has this kind of situation: the only one with a falls in it,” said Greentopia co-founder Lewis Stess.

Stess said businesses or residents often ask if the district will impose additional taxes or require participation. The short answer: no. A longer answer might include that grassroots discussions would be expected to consider new initiatives by consensus in the district. But Stess says: “Nobody’s making anybody do anything.”

Coming soon to an urban waterfall near you: The GardenAerial zipline

Coming soon to an urban waterfall near you: The GardenAerial zipline

Imagine sailing over High Falls. The wind whipping your hair, the spectacular view surrounds you.  You start out from a promontory on the east side of the Genesee River and you zip along at a thrilling pace until you land on the west side near the bottom of the gorge that runs through the city of Rochester.

That experience — perhaps the largest permanent zip line in North America — could happen as soon as the late summer of 2016, in Phase 2 of Greentopia’s  GardenAerial project. GardenAerial aims to transform the Middle Gorge of the Genesee into a world-class showcase of sustainable and sensitive development in harmony with the natural beauty and ecology of the Gorge. (Phase 1, the FlourGarden in Brown’s Race, is due to be completed this fall.)  Greentopia is spearheading the effort as it seeks the necessary approvals for take-off and landing spots, as well as additional grant funding.  The state has already funded a feasibility study on  greater public access to this area that will become the GardenAerial. Estimated cost for the ride is an affordable $20, a fraction of what Bellevue, WA., charges for a zipline in one of its urban parks. 

For an idea of what the High Falls zipline experience might be like and how it fits into the GardenAerial, view this video.

See what WHAM-TV Channel 13 is saying about the GardenAerial zipline.