High Expectations for Rochester’s First Ecodistrict

The City of Rochester, New York can lay claim to many accolades. It was one of America’s first boomtown, is a national center of higher education and was the birthplace of multiple innovative corporations, including Kodak, Xerox and Bausch & Lomb. Since 2015, it has added another distinction — it’s the site of New York’s first official ecodistrict.

The High Falls Ecodistrict sits in the center of the city and unites multiple community assets, including an impending community college campus, a minor league baseball stadium, and a natural river and waterfall system. The EcoDistrict already benefits from some critical early stage developments, including significant grant funding from NYSERDA, a well-organized governance structure led by the organization Greentopia, and engagement with multiple community, city and business stakeholders.

To jumpstart their sustainable regeneration process, the High Falls team attended the Portland, OR EcoDistricts Incubator in 2015 to gain a deeper knowledge of the EcoDistricts approach, the experts behind it and the diverse projects that are implementing it across the continent. The team especially benefited from the Incubator’s Solutions Cafes — small group discussions with experts on 10 key topics. The subjects of project branding and marketing, as well stormwater management practices were particularly applicable for the team.

The High Falls team also was inspired by the City of Portland itself. Incubator participants toured several of Portland’s unique neighborhoods, including the Pearl District, which gave the Rochester team insight into an advanced sustainable regeneration project. The Central Eastside Industrial tour introduced the team’s developer to cutting-edge maker spaces that stakeholders could implement in High Falls.

In the eight short months since the 2015 Incubator, the High Falls team has achieved substantial outcomes.

The High Falls team hard at work at the 2015 Incubator.
The High Falls team hard at work at the 2015 Incubator.

Recognizing the value of the project-facilitator relationship, the team brought their Incubator facilitator, Eliot Allen of Criterion Planners, to Rochester post-event to help them solidify district boundaries and hone their focus on several key points for the following year. Greentopia also hired a full time EcoDistrict Manager, Rachel Walsh, who will guide the EcoDistrict’s development over the next two years.

As a result of the Solutions Café branding session at the 2015 Incubator, the team has significantly increased their efforts to create an EcoDistrict identity in the district. One of the project’s first goals is to develop a visible community-facing brand using signage, pavement, banners, recycling bins and compacting garbage cans as possible first steps.

They also have started the education and outreach process, including a presentation to nearly 400 people at a local Futures Summit, press releases and news coverage by multiple local media sources and meetings with local developers to promote sustainable development principals in infrastructure projects.

One such future project is the development of a new Genesee Brewing eco-brewery at High Falls. The site will incorporate sustainable design principles and will include classroom space and public event space. In conjunction with the brewery, the local community college will also offer brewing coursework. The team hopes the brewery will become the epicenter of eco-friendly practices and a main branding point for the district.

After less than one year, the High Falls EcoDistrict team has capitalized on the training and connections it received at the EcoDistricts Incubator to build early-stage team governance and make significant progress toward becoming a leader in New York State’s urban regeneration work.