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Changing faces

One more point of shame:we excel in sprawl


Rochester has made another National Top 10 list. And like our poverty ranking, this one's not something to be proud of.

Earlier this month, the Smart Growth America organization released a study of metropolitan areas in the U.S., ranking them by how compact or sprawled out they are. Among the large metro regions (defined as those with a population of more than one million), we're the third most sprawled out in the nation. The Houston area is first; Richmond, Virginia, is second.

The most compact large regions: New York City, San Francisco, and Miami.

The study, based on research by the Metropolitan Research Center, looks at factors such as neighborhood and employment density and the strength of downtowns and other "activity centers."

It also looks at quality-of-life issues: the cost of housing and transportation and the health and lifespan of residents, for instance. What it concludes is that people living in the more compact areas have a better quality of life.

With quality of life, of course, what we view as "better" can depend on personal preference. Like the researchers, I don't want to spend a lot of time driving to work, to the grocery store, or to a concert or a movie. I'm not interested in spending a lot of time on yard work. And I like living near lots of other people. For me, a dense city neighborhood offers a better quality of life than a suburb can.

But obviously my friends in the suburbs are willing to put up with the driving, even in the winter, to be able to get whatever it is that they like about suburban living.

Those are quibbles, though. The report's overall conclusion is valid: sprawl has serious, negative consequences. And Rochester has a particularly troublesome type of sprawl: we're spreading out despite negligible population growth.

Rochester's sprawl isn't the result of a need for more housing, stores, and offices. Things have simply shifted outward, away from the core.

That's expensive. New roads, new sewers, new libraries and schools and public-safety services cost money.

It's also wasteful, because without population growth, new houses built in one place mean empty houses somewhere else. Empty stores. Empty churches. Empty libraries. Empty offices.

And because of housing prices, zoning codes, and other factors, sprawl in the Rochester region has created a concentration of poverty that is an enormous burden to the city and its school district.

Equally significant: our sprawl, combined with New York State's peculiar system of multiple small municipalities, has created not only racial segregation but also mental, political, and emotional segregation. We live in different, very separate communities. We don't know one another. And we don't act like one community.

That has had real consequences. We don't feel like a community of over a million people because we aren't one. We're lots of little neighboring communities. And our schools, our public services, our taxes: all are affected, negatively. So is our regional clout.

That's the way we like it, so it's not likely to change. But it's a shame. Together, we could be so much more than we are.

With this issue, we say goodbye to a valued member of the City family, features editor Eric Rezsnyak, who is leaving to explore new opportunities.

A talented, tireless, astonishingly creative editor, coach, and writer, Eric has been a key member of our management team, guiding us not only in our print publication efforts but also in our expansion in digital journalism and events production. His knowledge, insight, and deep journalistic ethics have resulted in enormous contributions to our work. Fortunately, he'll continue to write occasional freelance articles for us in the arts and entertainment field.

Joining us is a talented Louisiana transplant, Jake Clapp, whose background includes serving as writer and arts and entertainment editor for a Baton Rouge weekly.