Why the High Falls area?

We have an incredibly unique asset right in our downtown, a 96 ft high waterfall. It is a majestic natural wonder with very few amenities around it. In recent years, the Genesee Brewery has seen a resurgence and provides a restaurant anchor for the area. However, beyond that, the trails are in need of maintenance, the adjacent parks are not user-friendly, the bridge lacks vitality, and the riverfront is not accessible to the public. The High Falls gorge offers an ideal location for an environmental project focused on ecosystem restoration. There is significant potential to once again place the falls at the forefront of our city pride by surrounding it with world-class amenities and dense, green urban development.

The EcoDistrict will serve as an incubator for new sustainable technologies and municipal codes. Sustainability starts here. Where better to talk about the value of clean water and air than a riverfront park by a waterfall? Where better to educate citizens about the value of renewable energy than by a functioning hydrostationWhere better to address issues of social equity than adjacent to the most economically disadvantaged neighborhood in the city?

Rochester began by the falls with flour mills and button factories. It was an early leader in clean energy production with its historic hydropower stations from the early 1900’s. As Rochester grew, it developed away from High Falls. The formation of the High Falls EcoDistrict indicates that now is the time to leap into a sustainable future by returning to where it all began. The High Falls EcoDistrict will be the first EcoDistrict in New York State. It will be a visible representation of Rochester’s commitment to being a green leader among mid-sized cities. The 280 acres surrounding the falls are full of developable potential. We have the opportunity to pave the way with net-zero buildings, impermanent structures for a rapid influx of economic stimulus, bioswales, energy retrofits on historic buildings, community skill sharing for grassroots job training, alternative economies for the economically challenged, college classes that move beyond the classroom and into urban context around the campus, wheelchair accessible playgrounds for children with disabilities, and the list keeps going. The EcoDistrict model can be replicated across the city, neighborhood by neighborhood focusing on the specific sustainability needs of each area, but the choice to start at the historic heart of the city, with a natural statement piece at the center of the first one is entirely intentional.


What are the benefits of the EcoDistrict?

The EcoDistrict is adjacent to some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. There are approximately 1682 residents living in the EcoDistrict; 91% of the housing is low-income subsidized. It is estimated that the median income of an EcoDistrict resident is $15,865, with 29.82% unemployed and 56.43% below the poverty line. Only 17.74% have a high school diploma. In addition to residents, there are 5,000 working professionals in the EcoDistrict.There are two K-12 schools, one community college campus, and a community center. By developing an EcoDistrict, both the residents of the EcoDistrict and the surrounding areas – specifically the traditionally underserved areas to the west and northwest of the EcoDistrict– will have increased access to fresh food, quality green space, education for sustainable living, and reduced energy costs. This project will help in adjusting the inequitable distribution of resources and greenspace in Rochester.

At full potential, the EcoDistrict could provide job training in the green industry, access to health care, and a world-class green space, called the GardenAerial, around the gorgeFrom an ecological perspective, the Genesee River Gorge is a break in the otherwise 24-mile long trail along the Riverway. Many Rochester outdoorsmen would like to see this trailway reconnected to improve usage. Access to the river is also currently not available to the public, due to pollution and land ownership. The EcoDistrict will actively work, through collaboration and education, to return this land to public use. It would provide the quality of green space to Rochester’s poorest residents that the wealthier conglomerate already enjoys. 

Promoting ecotourism in the High Falls area by improving access to the water and installing public amenities such as an enclosed conservatory style garden, a viewing platform beside the falls and a zip-line across the falls (all features of the GardenAerial project), will boost the economy of downtown Rochester. A study was conducted of the GardenAerial project – a NYC High Line-style park around the rim of the gorge – and found that is will have significant economic and fiscal impacts as a result of initial construction, subsequent utilization by both Monroe County residents and visitors from outside the region, and by the addition of new jobs for park operations and organization management. Construction costs are estimated to exceed $11 million. An anticipated 60,000 travelers from outside Monroe County will visit the GardenAerial each year, directly spending an average of $3.9 million annually, creating a total economic impact of $5.9 million on the greater Rochester area. This new injection of wealth into the local economy will provide an additional $300,000 in tax revenue to Monroe County, and $300,000 in similar revenue to New York State. In addition to the outside dollars brought in by extra-regional visitors, visitation and spending by Monroe County residents will also have a powerful effect. 140,000 Monroe County residents are projected to frequent the site each year, resulting in an additional $4.3 million in direct spending. This spending will have a total economic impact of $6.5 million on the local economy and will provide approximately $350,000 in combined tax revenue to the county and state. The maintenance and operation of the GardenAerial programmatic elements would originate 30 employment positions directly, to be followed by a wave of considerable indirect employment creation. This is just one of the potential projects for the EcoDistrict. The impact could increase substantially if the entire area is developed.

The EcoDistrict in Rochester will be the first one in all of New York State. By taking this ambitious step toward a holistic environmental, economic and social sustainability, the EcoDistrict can contribute to the already growing narrative of Rochester as a green leader. We believe that the EcoDistrict project will have a multifaceted positive impact on the city of Rochester by simultaneously addressing the direct needs of those in poverty closest to the project and the resilience of the city overall.

What are examples of potential projects?

This rendering shows an example of what an ideal large-scale development would look like in the EcoDistrict. The building is mixed-use with residential and commercial space. There are visible green hallmarks such as a green wall and an LED panel to mark the presence of invisible LEED standard building practices. The street has been retrofitted to a complete street with multimodal transportation options and planted medians to improve stormwater runoff. The street lights are not only LED but also artistic because public art is critical to vibrant, walkable communities; the goal is to infuse utilitarian objects with artistic flair.     

Here we see more examples of smaller-scale sustainable design: bike lanes, bioswales, solar compactor waste receptacles, green walls, and eye-catching crosswalks.  

Many potential EcoDistrict projects won’t be visible. Energy and water use reductions, increases in recycling and composting, supply line management, better corporate cultural practices, community solar, pesticide-free lawn maintenance: these are just a few examples of projects we intend to take on in the EcoDistrict that won’t be immediately recognizable.   

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