By Ulysses P. Hedrick
The High Falls District in downtown Rochester is one of upstate New York’s greatest hidden treasures. It is a neighborhood filled with historic buildings, startup businesses, and one of New York’s lesser-known natural attractions, High Falls, an impressive 10-story waterfall and gorge running through the heart of the city.
This neighborhood is also home to a new and innovative project, the GardenAerial. It is hoped the project will transform downtown Rochester into a world-class destination. In March of 2011, local business owners Michael Philipson and Lewis Stess recognized the untapped potential for the neighborhood and founded the not-for-profit Friends of the GardenAerial as a way of drawing attention to the spectacular setting.
“It has always been apparent to me that this neighborhood is something very special and truly unique. Where else do we find a spectacular natural wonder intermixed with a vibrant historic neighborhood located in the heart of a major urban center”, said Michael Philipson, Co-Founder and Board Chair of the GardenAerial, “It needs to be better known, appreciated, and promoted.”
According to Philipson, the major drawback is the lack of access and interaction with the Genesee River as well as High Falls. Currently the only place to truly appreciate the falls is from the distant vantage point of the Pont de Rennes Bridge. The primary mission of the GardenAerial is to preserve and return access and enjoyment of the Genesee waterfront at High Falls back to the community.
The initial phase of the master plan, now underway, includes development of a new walking bridge over the falls itself, a pedestrian connection directly into downtown Rochester, and completion of a ¾ mile looped trail. These will be threaded together with a rich variety of public gardens and terminate at the heart of the project, a spectacular urban green space on the 900 foot long Pont de Rennes Bridge.
“This is the first phase of a much larger project that will ultimately benefit the community – attracting visitors, providing educational opportunities and promoting commerce.” says Lewis Stess, CEO and co-Founder of Friends of the GardenAerial.
“Completing this looped trail allows us the ability to better integrate the High Falls and Middle Gorge areas into the fabric of our downtown – an achievement which will transform this forgotten area and, with further development, even help to lead to a new identity for the city of Rochester.” Philipson said.
When finished the GardenAerial will provide a place where preservation of natural beauty and ecology is in harmony with sensitive, sustainable development and will become a world-class model for neighborhood-based projects. More information on the project is available at Gardenaerial.org.
Ulysses P. Hedrick is President of UPH, a global horticultural design company based in New York City. Hedrick is currently spearheading the design and construction aspects of the GardenAerial project. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.