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Designing downtown

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What downtown Rochester lacks, apparently, is sensuality. And toilet paper.

The city's Department of Planning and Zoning held a public meeting last night to get residents' ideas for the future of downtown. The meeting was well attended, and a variety of ideas were put forth -- some more practical than others.

The City of Rochester expects to have a new downtown master plan -- essentially a document to guide development -- in place by the end of the year. The last plan was approved in 2003, and downtown has changed a lot since then, said Marcia Barry, director of planning and zoning.

At last night's meeting, one speaker said that Main Street is a "cold place" that lacks sensuality: it's all concrete and sharp corners, he said. He advocated widening the street and establishing a landscaped center corridor with benches.

"It would make it a much more humane, emotionally attractive place," he said.

A few residents spoke of downtown having islands of activity with no glue to connect them -- an observation that's come up before in discussions of downtown planning. Barry said an important step will be to get people walking. More feet on the street would encourage development in the corridors between those islands, she said.

One young speaker said that downtown lacks "normal people things."

"It's not easy to go out and just get a roll of toilet paper," he said. "You can't walk to the pharmacy. There's a lot of good stuff, but we're missing a lot."

Longstanding obstacles to the revitalization of downtown also came up, such as the perception that downtown is unsafe. Everyone agreed that the perception is unfair, but no one seemed to have ideas for changing it.

An open house on the downtown master plan will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, January 23, at City Hall, 30 Church Street.

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