Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Why I Support the Broad Street Canal Concept

The idea has been batted around for a couple of years now. Instead of filling in the old Broad Street subway tunnel and reconstructing Broad Street on its surface, the concept goes, we should take this opportunity to re-establish the Erie Canal on this historic right-of-way. At first I thought this was a pipe dream. It would cost tens of millions to achieve. It would cause considerable traffic problems downtown. It would take enormous amounts of political will. But beyond that, why not?

The more I think about it, the more I like it. Sure, there are serious questions that need to be answered; but this is a real chance for Rochester to establish itself as a city takes risks in order to ensure a brighter future for its residents. Plus, as much as I hate to admit it, light rail transit, the other alternative use for the tunnel, ain't gonna happen here (or at least not in the near future). If you're unfamiliar with the canal idea, check out the article in today's Democrat & Chronicle.

The best examples of this type of development in this country are San Antonio and Oklahoma City. The San Antonio RiverWalk is the signature of that city, rivaling the Alamo. This project grew out of a utilitarian solution to a flooding problem in the downtown area. A bypass channel was built in the 1940s and the surrounding land was turned into a park. City officials sensed that it could be used for economic development and made plans to develop it as an attraction. Now luxury hotels, condos, restaurants, and shops line the banks of the RiverWalk. It gave downtown San Antonio a face, a reason for locating there. San Antonio is now planning on extending it, to breathe new life into neighborhoods surrounding downtown. The same can be accomplished here.

Oklahoma City took its cue from San Antonio but with a difference - they built theirs from scratch. That's right - there is no real historical precedent for the Bricktown Canal. True, a canal was supposed to be built there over a hundred years ago, but it didn't happen, until 1999 that is. Modern day city planners there figured that if they built the canal through the middle of an abandoned warehouse district, it would probably spur investment. They took a risk and they proved that they were right. I counted some 50 shops and restaurants in Bricktown.

You could also look at Providence, Ottawa, Paris, Amsterdam, or Venice. It's the same everywhere - people are attracted to canals. Especially in urban environments. Just look at the development that has taken place in Fairport or Pittsford, then think of that on a larger scale in downtown Rochester. It can happen, if we don't shy away from it. Renaissance Square will prove our ability to pull off a major redevelopment project. We need to continue the momentum from that project and get all those players behind this. Sometimes you need to reach into your past in order to reach where you want to be in the future.

Photos taken from a number of sources not my own, please don't sue.