Monday, August 28, 2006

Webster: Where Life is Worth Living, Unless You're Different

"This tide of development in Webster does not raise all the municipal 'boats' in Monroe County because it adds to our inefficient, decentralizing regional development pattern and creates even greater struggles for the existing businesses, governments and citizens of the core communities (village of Webster, city of Rochester, Irondequoit)." Believe it or not, that quote was not from yours truly, but from Evan Lowenstein, another member of the small but noisy group of enlightened area residents who understands that continued growth on our periphery without real and sustained regional economic growth only makes us all weaker. The quote is taken from today's lengthy two-part article describing why Webster is such a gosh-darn good place to live.

According to some mindless twit of a real estate agent, "the keys to Webster's popularity are the schools, the Route 104 expressway that carries traffic to downtown Rochester in about 20 minutes, the scenic landscape and recreational opportunities of Lake Ontario, Irondequoit Bay, parks and nationally recognized sports programs." But Irondequoit has all of those things too, except maybe the nationally-recognized sports programs (ouch, take that Eastridge!). Then again, ask somebody in football-crazed Texas what they think of Webster Schroeder's chances this year and I bet you'll get a blank stare followed by kick in the crotch. It seems to me that the difference between Irondequoit, which is struggling to maintain itself, and Webster, which is growing faster than President Bush's disapproval rating, is that Irondequoit has more minorities, more poor people, and shares a border with the City of Rochester.

Or maybe it's that Webster residents just don't know that Irondequoit exists. From what I hear, East Ridge Road in Irondequoit is one of the major commercial arteries of Monroe County. It was only a decade ago that the former Irondequoit Mall was a thriving hub of activity. Yet, despite that and despite being an easy drive from Webster, Webster residents don't acknowledge its presence. In fact, Webster needed to build its own ugly retail power center filled with stores that you can find anywhere else because there was nothing within an easy drive. Says lifelong resident Helen Sleeman (no relation to the excellent Canadian brewery I'm sure) "I utilize (Towne Center) all the time. I like having it there. I like not having to go to Henrietta or Victor for things I need." She's not alone, Webster's supervisor Ron Nesbitt also chooses to block Irondequoit out of his memory bank, "the new shopping center (Towne Center) is a plus for people (who now) don't have to drive to Marketplace or Eastview Mall to do their shopping."

So which is it? Have Webster residents forgotten about or never heard of Irondequoit? Or is it that they just don't want to be bothered by the minorities and poor people that live in or adjacent to Irondequoit? A recent news story from Webster pretty much answers that question. Last week, it was reported that the Webster Central School District pulled a Gay-themed book (Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez) from its high school summer reading list. Apparently, scores of parents in Webster were outraged that their children would be exposed to the morally-reprehensible Gay lifestyle that surely doesn't exist in their picture perfect town. Despite the fact that this book won the International Reading Association's 2003 Young Adults' Choice award and was selected by the American Library Association as a Best Book for Young Adults, it is just not right for Webster's precious children. My guess is that these parents were afraid that reading it would turn their children Gay. Sort of like how reading Black Like Me turned scores of young white teens black years ago, or like how reading Animal Farm led numerous rural teens to not trust their pigs. Rather than stand up for free speech, not to mention Gay rights, school officials acquiesced with the bigoted parents and removed the book from its list.

Clearly, it is not the short commutes, the scenic landscapes, or the sports programs that are attracting people to Webster. It is something much less benign and much more politically incorrect to suggest. Webster is growing because there just aren't very many minorities, poor people, or Gay people to deal with. Webster is growing because it in no way resembles the real world. And when it does begin to resemble the real world, Wayne County will be waiting with open arms to welcome current Webster residents to their even further isolated locale. By the way, have you heard about their football program?