The City of Utica, once a booming industrial center, is now characterized as a postindustrial city trying to reimagine and sustain itself. Like many of its sister cities in New York and neighboring states like Michigan and Ohio, it is experiencing the impacts of population decline, economic loss, aging infrastructure, and patterns of suburbanization and sprawl development that threaten the vitality and sustainability of the city. Building on the concepts of sustainability and resilience, planning and design strategies are needed that integrate the built environment, social networks and governance, along with economics. Utica’s 21st century reimagining needs to build on its legacy while involving bold integrated strategies that are place specific and reflective of its changing population and changing environmental, social and economic circumstances, opportunities and constraints.
Genesee Street is one of Utica’s most important environmental assets, built and developed by its community over the past 200 years. It a highly identifiable street due to its physical form, width, length and position, as it literally bisects the city and runs north-south right through it. The life of the street has always relied on the economic, social, civic and cultural life that flows through it at both the larger as well as the very site-specific and local scale. Its buildings, sidewalks, street corners, intersections, public spaces, pedestrians, transportation (cars, buses and trolleys), storefronts and activities have made it pulse. Its mix of uses– of places for working, living, socializing, celebrating– and its varied nodes, landmarks and destinations, have worked in concert to make Genesee behave like a “river of life” that brings together commerce, culture and civic life. Without these, Genesee would be nothing more than a lifeless conduit for cars and an empty site lacking identity, energy and vitality.
The task set forth in this project is to develop strategies for the revitalization and renewal of Genesee Street that recognize the street’s value and legacy while also responding to its changing environmental, social and economic context. Very real concerns that need addressing include the street’s aging gray infrastructure both on the surface where asphalt predominates and below the surface where antiquated sewer and stormwater utilities prevail. But those concerns cannot be addressed in isolation. Rather, they need to be considered as part of a larger integrated vision.
Our goal in this project, working with the City and other local stakeholders, is to find innovative and place-based design strategies and solutions for the revitalization of Genesee Street that respond first and foremost to the street’s role as a “river of life” for the City of Utica. The project will seek to uncover and assess the complex and integrated way that Genesee Street functions (both historically and currently) and then to go about developing strategies for its renewal. We will look at how vacant lot recovery, ease of wayfinding, activity nodes, path networks and connections, land uses, public space, governance, policies, and green infrastructure, among other things, can come together and support the renewal of Genesee Street and its sustained value to Utica.
The Genesee St. Design Project is informed and shaped through five phases between January and May. These phases move the project from data collection to final design presentations. Meetings with key stakeholders and community stakeholders accompany each of these phases. The design process is informed by and responsive to input from the Genesee St. stakeholders. With this input and the contributions of the design team, Genesee St. can be even more of a unique and valuable place.