Sarah Taddeo, Staff writer; 7:22 p.m. EDT April 30, 2014
- Community members took a walk through PLEX neighborhood, brainstormed development ideas
Rochester’s first African-American physician, funeral home director and architect each worked out of Rochester’s Plymouth-Exchange, or PLEX, neighborhood.
But most Rochesterians don’t know this rich history. The PLEX Neighborhood Association hosted the Take Part Community Walk on Wednesday to remember the area’s past and discuss its future as an up-and-coming district.
The neighborhood sits along the Genesee River between Ford and Genesee streets. Walk participants gathered at Carlson Community Center on Coretta Scott Crossing and traveled a planned route around the neighborhood, while residents and Rochester Regional Community Design Center members pointed out significant buildings and green spaces along the way. A discussion of the experience and participants’ reactions and ideas followed the walk.
Dorian Hall, who grew up on Plymouth Avenue and lives there today, said he wanted the walk to be a tool for brainstorming and awareness in a neighborhood that has had victories and challenges.
“This neighborhood hasn’t always thrived,” Hall said. “Moving into the city is sometimes dangerous, but here, it really is pretty quiet. What people would normally think of this neighborhood is mostly stereotype.”
Developers knocked down or renovated some of the older buildings in the neighborhood — some of which date back to 1875 — which gave the area its mixed architectural feel. Some renovation projects, like the Renaissance Café at Plymouth and Columbia avenues, preserved some architectural elements to retain the neighborhood’s original aesthetic.
University of Rochester students started moving into the area a few years ago, which brought traffic and demand for residential renovation into the area. Housing communities like Ant Hill Cooperative renovated some of the neighborhood’s large Victorian houses for affordable student housing.
While new neighborhood faces are good, some see the influx of students as gentrification, or a demographic shift toward wealthier residents, said PLEX resident Nolia Brooks.
“This neighborhood is on the rise, but high rents are making it so that people living here can’t afford it anymore,” Brooks said. “Students rent four rooms in a house here at $500 a shot, but no family around here can think about paying $2,000 to rent that house.”
Hosting events like the walk gives residents the chance to raise concerns about development trends in the area, and to talk about what is being done to revitalize the neighborhood, Hall said.
Leading the walk’s discussions were Rochester Regional CDC director Joni Monroe and Columbia University assistant professor Lourdes Hernández-Cordero Rodriguez, who lectured Wednesday night at Gleason Works Auditorium as part of the community organization initiative Reshaping Rochester.
“We’re not trying to tell anyone what they should do with this neighborhood,” Monroe said. “We’re trying to bring people together for significant input on this area’s positives and its issues.”
Monroe and Rodriguez said neighborhood development should be focused on how residents see their community and what goals they have for its future.
“Sometimes decisions about spaces are made without communities in mind,” said Rodriguez. “We should look at this space as a place where people form families and bonds, and decide how we can use it in a way that is respectful of that.”
After the walk, groups sat together and mapped out development ideas discussed while out in the neighborhood. One group had a playground situated on the waterfront and new residential development in abandoned manufacturing facilities.
Neighborhood residents won’t see desired improvement in their communities if they aren’t invested in the process, Hall said.
“If you’re not involved, then you get left out,” he said. “We don’t want to be stuck with a developer’s idea of this area. We want to make sure local history and input makes it into the projects that happen here.”