Friday, November 21, 2014

Love Note #27: I saw dilapidated houses become vacant lots which would become flourishing vegetable gardens

I am: a nursing-intent student at the College at Brockport

Years in Rochester: 12 - 1 (1 year in Buffalo since l began living in upstate) = 11

Current Home: Ogden, New York

Dear Rochester,

My first encounter with you had me mispronouncing your name as a toddler who had trouble pronouncing his R's. You see, I was traveling with my parents and sister from my then home in Westbury, part of Nassau County on Long Island, through a county named Westchester and onto the eastern reaches of Western New York. This travel, over the river (I have come to know as the Genesee) and through the woods, or more often cornfields, to Grandmother's house in Ogden. I’ve found that I can’t even blame my juvenile pronunciation of Rochester on my weak Long Island accent! Though linguistics aside, I arrived in Rochester a decade later with all the skepticism of a just-outside-of New Yorker trying to find the city that so many people told me about.

During my first years in the area, I kept to myself some as I tried to make sense of the cornfields located in what people called suburbs. Sure I had seen them on visits, but this part of New York always resembled rural countryside to my naïve vision. Rochester, you then were elusive and mysterious at first and I was shallow and homesick. It took time to appreciate what made you different than the metropolitan area of the Big Apple.

In time I ventured out of doors and deepened my love for nature and history as I learned about your footpaths. Hiking trails that had been created along historic canals taught me about what shaped your towns and villages in the early 19th century made me more aware of what made this community. They made and created a settling place together instead of on their own. Together for the sake of community instead of fame. This doesn’t stop people from rising to celebrity from your unique neighborhoods and diligent suburbs. When you do cast light the national fame o those who have had their roots here I saw that you celebrated that it took a village to shape these lives. When those same people left the spotlight for a time, you remembered them for their contributions to the creative arts, the competitions of sports, and the world of philanthropy and business. It was always about how the community was made better by these lives and not how one person accomplished something on their own. 

As I saw remnants of your flour city days in the fields of winter wheat and the rumbles of the Star of the West milling company on my errands to Churchville, smelled blossoms of the flower city every spring and summer along tree limbs and dotting your spacious parks, I began to see a city that defined itself as more than its straggling winter –complains aside! Dear Rochester, you were quiet, and I had to shush a place in my mind for noise that I had acquired from the din of Long Island Expressway traffic, and listen to the echoes of the past still being lived out in the present. I waited for lift bridges that fell and rose in Adams Basin and Spencerport and sang about low bridges and mules. These were bridges to the past that carried the future. These were beautiful connections for your community to share, for everyone to enjoy. 

And yet as I came to enjoy the heritage and legacy of canals through the Genesee Valley and reaching the west from the east towards Lake Erie, something began to bother me about your present reality. Something that, in your neighborhoods and towns that stained the fabric that I had come to love. What seemed so bright and hopeful began to appear as bleak as I entered neighborhoods that had become ruined from industrial decay and economic neglect. Inequality was straining the image of community that so endeared me to your people. I began to see the poverty and economic disparity that left the suburbs comfortable and happy and many of your city neighborhoods and schools struggling for a piece of the pie. I saw the paradox when the same conditions of squalor hid in the suburbs and shined in prosperity along famous avenues in your city proper. When Wegman's began to close stores in corners of your city that were economically fragile, I felt my heart sink. Where was the community that cared for and came together for its neighbors? 

It was more than the broken windows in empty factories and the poverty that was maligned by thoughts I'd heard in the suburbs about laziness and welfare. It was the lack of understanding that didn't seem apparent. Rochester, I knew I could be idealistic, but these disparities left me and you hurting. I didn’t want to give up on you, especially when I heard of neighbors empowering each other and working together with the police to prevent and stop criminal activity or when I heard your store owners talk about the need to give the city a chance. 

I cautiously began to express my doubts about moving in with you if these realities afflicted the greater community. I knew of people that cared for these concerns and listened to the people the afflicted. I began to see a flicker of light in neighborhoods that seemed to always be shadowed by better times. People wanted to make a difference for your future. What was that light that beckoned me to come and see? I soon heard you whisper to me, to my heart I heard about a whisper of persistent and urgent need. I began to listen to voices that spoke about something changing in your streets. I heard the growling empty stomachs and empathized with shivering mothers looking for a way to survive your frigid winters. I wanted to join them, and found something deeper in the heart of a community that showed its strength yet again, in outstretched hands of synergy and friendship. 

Your outstretched arms invited me in to see how I could work with others empowering your life. I heard about these gathering places that dreamed and hoped. Cameron Community Ministries, Dimitri House, Mary's Place, the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, Partners In Restorative Initiatives, the Greater Rochester Community of Churches, the Rochester Area Interfaith Hospitality Network, Flower City Habitat for Humanity, Foodlink – I could go on. Organizations people had created to listen to the needs of your hurting neighborhoods in a desire to empower your network of caring people and strengthen the community at large. When I volunteered in your soup kitchens and community gardens, reaching out to people without enough food stamps and those with income insecurity or with refugees trying to learn English and a way to live with a new climate and culture, I saw a vision for the future that was built on a legacy of mutual support. I saw dilapidated houses become vacant lots which would become flourishing vegetable gardens that could feed the surrounding neighborhood with fresh produce that could help make a healthy life more affordable and more attainable. I heard gratitude and trust being rebuilt after years of disappointment and fear.   

Most of all, I heard the voices that I could join in these efforts and find a way to care and nurture a sense of purpose. In learning to listen to your collective voices speaking strong, truthful words. These are words that encourage all to participate and be engaged in responsibility of a relationship with you, Rochester. Your real challenges are met by real hearts that remember and include people from every walk of life. While not always perfect, your people are devoted to learning and educating themselves and each other in ways to be sustained through real challenges.

Your community is your greatest asset, and though it has struggled with the real issues, it has become stronger through the hope that everyone can become a part of its interconnected chain. If I have found a home, it is knowing that you have invited me to help form it, and even if I leave, I will know that the community in Rochester has shown that there is not one person that does not need another. That in loving you, we love each other and are loved ourselves. And so my eyes and ears have been opened to see that there is no community of one person, a community is you, which in the end is all of us, together. 

With love and gratitude,

Frederick Dean

Monday, September 15, 2014

Friends in High Places

Saturday night, Rochester Love Notes teamed up with Greentopia to project lines of Love Notes onto the east wall of the Genesee River gorge. It was the largest Words on Walls event we’ve held to date, with two 20,000 lumen projectors illuminating the center of High Falls and people lining the Pont de Rennes bridge.

That pink logo.
Don Casper at Epic 10 Film Studios animated the lines from the letters, and the projection was accompanied by an original piece of music written by Sound ExChange Orchestra.

The bridge and the gorge on a normal night are pretty amazing. But this night, one of the first cool nights of the season, was spectacular. The falls were illuminated and changing from blue to red to white.

"I love you, you hot little secret, and I miss you all the time." Danielle Dagilis

Tanya's kids, up late and somewhat confused about what it was all about.

When we talked about projecting lines of Love Notes around the city at night, we never imagined this scale. But Michael Philipson and Lewis Stess, Co-Founders of Friends of the Garden Aerial, think big. A chance meeting between Michael and Tanya in May set the wheels turning for a collaboration. Without any explanation, he understood what we are trying to do with love notes, and the projection on the gorge was his idea.

This is Greentopia’s fourth year. The event is intended to bring awareness and highlight how our region is contributing to the sustainability movement. Greentopia has established its place among the region’s best festivals, but the vision of the event’s parent organization, Friends of the GardenAerial, is grander than I originally understood.

Here is their mission:

The Friends of the GardenAerial is committed to implementing a green infrastructure initiative that will both preserve and provide increased access for the general public to the Genesee River, the river gorge, and the 96-foot “High Falls” waterfall, all located within the High Falls Heritage Area, and is committed to including the High Falls Heritage Area into New York State’s first Eco-District.

Wow, right?  

We are proud to have had a small role in Greentopia, and in reimagining High Falls for one night. We are even more excited to have collaborated with a group of people that are working to transform a great little corner of the universe into a more vibrant neighborhood and the state’s first Eco-District. Thanks Michael and Lewis. Keep up the great work. And call us anytime.

A line from Tanya's Love Note, which documents the day Critical Mass came down her street.

Our favorite line from Roc_Guardian.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Love Note #25: You fit me as perfectly as my favorite pair of jeans, tears, frays and all

Name: Kristen Zory King

I Am: Director of Strategic Initiatives at Writers & Books
Years in Rochester: Two
Current Home: Rochester (NOTA)
Future Home: Las Vegas, Nevada

Dear Rochester,

Today I woke up with you to a rare summer morning - the sky clear and the air cool and calm, a quiet relief from your past few days of bright August heat. Still dazed with sleep, my first thoughts were those of serenity that carried me through the morning until I pulled on my favorite pair of jeans and notice a large, gaping hole along the seam. Immediately my calm was replaced with dismay - the jeans are worn, frayed, and loose, sure, but they're still my favorite "go-to" and this new tear makes them almost unwearable.

After brief consideration, I decided to wear the jeans despite the tear and pulled them on, sliding them past my calves and thighs, resting them comfortably on my hip bones. As I continued through my morning - listening to Beth Adams and Morning Edition on WXXI, checking my email, making coffee, preparing for meetings - a strange thought burrowed in the back of my mind: you, Rochester, are not unlike my worn, favorite jeans.

I moved to Rochester in the Summer of 2012 and it was on a shopping trip to Eastview mall shortly after that I found my now favorite pair of dark blue jeans. It wasn't love at first sight: the jeans were a little too long, bunching around my ankles, far from perfect. I was worried, but I was tired of shopping and so I bought them on a whim and later grew to love them. If you remember Rochester, this is exactly what happened with us - I came to you on a whim, believed in you despite misgivings, and fell more and more in love with you despite your flaws. As I wore and washed the jeans, they began to fray, and, let's be blunt, you too are frayed Rochester, with dismal poverty and educational statistics and an aura of rust on the skyline. You too are dark, worn at the knees, loose in the thighs and hips after a couple years of rough wear and tear. You are a city with ideas a little too big, ideas that don't always fit the exact way you need them, but I love you nonetheless.

I'm leaving you soon, Rochester. An exciting adventure is taking me to the Southwest and as thus, I have less than a month to walk on poetry through the Neighborhood of the Arts, browse local shops on Park Ave, enjoy coffee and cinnamon muffins at the Public Market. In a few short weeks I will trade you in all your many glories - your suffocating humidity, green summer trees, frosty mornings and ice-glittered streets - for a desert landscape I hardly know. I will give up your gray November skies, muddy boots, shallow mornings for 300 days of sunshine and prickly cactus hearts. God, I'm going to miss you. Yes, your winters are long, so long one begins to forget what if feels like to have the smooth heat of the summer sun on bare skin. But how else would we appreciate your beautiful spring lilacs? How else would we throw back our heads and laugh so loudly at your summer festivals? Walk along the canal with such lightness and ease or hear the hollow crack of a solid double hit at a Red Wings game? How else would be relish the magical dark nights of autumn - the smell of a brisk wind, a well-stoked flame, copper leaves and warm cider?

Rochester, you look good on me. Despite still being relatively new I am at home in your community, full of artists, historians, educators, lovers, bygones, devotees, and eccentrics. You're worn, sure, a little ragged and threadbare, but I wouldn't trade you for any other city, any other home. I'll miss you, Rochester. I really will. But I know that when I come back to you - and I will -  you'll still fit me as perfectly as my favorite pair of jeans, tears, frays and all.

All my love,


Monday, August 4, 2014

Love Note #24: Did you ever take particular notice of Rochester's sunsets?

Did you ever take particular notice of Rochester's sunsets?

1. Western October sky from the thruway at dusk, blanketed by blues and yellows

2. Stood waiting to cross Monroe avenue, looked west scoping a perfectly framed downtown,        backdropped by a storm-cloud muffled pink sunset

3. Wooed and bedazzled, budding love
Sunset over Lake Ontario lounging at Marge's beach, a life changer


Matt Witten

View from Marge's at sunset. Photo credit: Laura Engel, "The Adventures of Lorax" blog