2023 State of the City

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Mayor Evans: City is Inspiring Hope, Delivering Opportunity to Reduce Poverty and Cultivate Prosperity

(Wednesday, April 19, 2023) – City leaders are inspiring hope and delivering opportunity to all, with a goal of loosening the grip of poverty on Rochester’s most challenged neighborhoods and cultivating prosperity, Mayor Malik D. Evans said in his first State of the City Address.

Speaking at the Rundel Memorial Library, Mayor Evans recalled a quote from former First Lady Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson: “Where flowers bloom, so does hope. And hope is the precious, indispensable ingredient, without which the war on poverty can never be won.”

“Every neighborhood in Rochester is home to people who have hope, and that’s where we will find the solution to our challenges and the key to our success. In their hope,” the Mayor said. “All they need is a chance. An opportunity to turn their hopes and dreams into reality.”

Below you'll find the full video and transcript of the Mayor's 2023 State of the City Address.


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Transcript: 2023 State of the City Address, City of Rochester, NY

Delivered by: Mayor Malik D. Evans on April 19, 2023

Rundel Memorial Building – Central Library of Rochester & Monroe County


Where flowers bloom, so does hope.

These are inspirational words – especially now, in Rochester, New York as we head into spring. Their context is profound. Spoken by the First Lady of the United States, Lady Bird Johnson, almost six decades ago. The wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson, she was a powerful figure in her own right. She was a fierce advocate for the poor and a trusted confidant, whose counsel the President sought when he appointed Thurgood Marshall as the first African American Supreme Court Justice.

The full quote goes like this, “When I go into the poorest neighborhoods, I look for the flash of color, a geranium in a coffee can, a window box set against the scaling side of a tenement, a border of roses struggling in a tiny patch of open ground. Where flowers bloom, so does hope. And hope is the precious, indispensable ingredient without which the war on poverty can never be won.”

That is a profound and stubbornly relevant statement. Because here we are today, nearly 60 years later, and the war on poverty is far from won. Here we are today, 474 days into my term as the Mayor of a city where poverty is the greatest challenge. Here we are today where I’m convinced that a big part of the reason for this persistent poverty is that we’ve been overlooking the one precious ingredient; the indispensable ingredient that Lady Bird Johnson spoke of: hope.

The hope that lives and breathes in the hearts and souls of the people of Rochester. The hearts and souls of the people in this room. Thank you all for your hope for Rochester; your passion for Rochester. You’re here tonight because you love our city. You are the people who are making Rochester bloom. You are the people who raise our children and nurture their hopes and dreams. Like the beautiful children from ROC Music, whose music you heard as you arrived tonight.

Aren’t they incredible? Let’s give them a big hand!

I want to thank Cameron for introducing me. Not only is he my son but he is representative of the future leaders of Rochester.

Our youth have all the potential in the world, but we must give them the tools to succeed. Not only are youth our future, they’re also our present and Cameron is proof positive of that. The importance of service has been instilled in him by me and my father and mother, his grandfather and grandmother. I work every day to model this for him and his brother Carter. Let me also thank my wife for her support on this journey.

We need to stay focused on all of this proof of hope, proof of promise. Proof of a positive future for Rochester and our children.

We often overlook the hope that blooms across Rochester — especially with those who live in our most challenged neighborhoods. Our neighborhoods are more than their statistics. I see this hope during my regular Mayor on the Block walks where I spend time in our neighborhoods.

Every neighborhood in Rochester is home to people who have hope, and that’s where we’ll find the solution to our challenges; the key to our success. In their hope. And that’s why I’m proud to stand before you tonight and offer this report on the state of our city.

Because the state of Rochester is healthy and strong. And above all, the state of Rochester is full of hope!

Rochester is full of hope! Rochester is ready to bloom! Like the blessing of spring following the trials of winter, Rochester is ready to bloom because the people of Rochester refuse to lose hope. They refuse to give up on Rochester. They’re fighting for their neighborhoods! They’re fighting for their futures! They’re fighting for their children!

All they need is a chance — an opportunity!

A simple opportunity to turn their hopes and dreams into reality. A simple opportunity to give their children a life better than their own. And opportunity is where our true challenge lies. Opportunity is the turning point between success and ruin. Because hope without opportunity is like faith without works: dead.

And too many of our residents, especially our Black and Brown residents, have been denied access to opportunity. Hope without opportunity is dead, and if we let hope die, opportunity will soon follow. Because hope inspires confidence in those who have the capability to invest in Rochester and create more opportunities.

An investment in Rochester can be anything from buying a cup of coffee at one of our coffee shops, to buying a skyscraper in our Downtown skyline. If you won’t come into the city to buy a cup of coffee or make an investment that could create hundreds of jobs, it’s because you don’t have confidence in Rochester; you don’t have hope for Rochester. And you’re going to take your investments somewhere else. You’re going to create opportunities somewhere else.

We have to bring hope and opportunity together. Hope without opportunity is dead. But when you bring them together, when you bring hope and opportunity together, it’s like the miracle of the fishes and loaves. They multiply!

Hope begets opportunity; opportunity begets hope. And I’ll tell you what that looks like.

When you deliver an opportunity to someone who has hope, it looks like BuKiyah Binion one of the almost 200 small business owners who found access to capital through our interest-free Kiva loan program in the Office of Financial Empowerment. BuKiyah has run Decades Beauty Bar and Salon on Lake Avenue for more than 20 years. For her, hair and makeup are an art form — a passion that she’s proud to pass on to her daughter and her employees. But keeping her business open has been a struggle, especially during the pandemic.

Even so, BuKiyah never lost hope. And now, thanks to our Office of Financial Empowerment, she has opportunity. She is using her Kiva loan to give her salon a long-overdue makeover, with new signage, flooring, mirrors, hair dryers, beauty stations and a marketing budget. She is thinking beyond working to survive — she is working to thrive. She is working to establish a legacy for her daughter and grandchildren. Let’s give BuKiyah a round of applause!

Opportunity begets hope. Hope begets opportunity. And I’ll tell you what that looks like.

When we inspire hope in an investor with opportunity, it looks like Ocean Applied on Anderson Avenue. This is an industrial-grade photonics manufacturing company dealing with some of most sophisticated and cutting-edge technologies in the world. It’s part of an international firm based in Orlando, Florida. As their facility approached the limits of its capacity last year, company leaders were faced with the decision to expand here or move their Rochester operations to another city.

They chose to stay in Rochester, citing the educated workforce they need to fill their high-tech jobs coming from the University of Rochester, RIT and MCC. And they also cited the diversity and positive energy of our community. Our Neighborhood and Business Development Department supported that expansion with a $100,000 grant for furniture, fixtures and equipment — and of the 100 new jobs that will be created, about 70 of them will go to city residents.

Ocean Applied had the opportunity to take their investment somewhere else, but their hope for Rochester, their confidence in Rochester, led them to make that investment right here in our city. To create jobs, more hope, more opportunity for our residents. And it paid off. Just last month, Ocean Applied was named one of the Best Places to Work in New York State by the New York State Council of the Society for Human Resource Management — a measurement that was heavily based on employee feedback. Clearly, they like working in Rochester.

Opportunity begets hope; hope begets opportunity. Whether it’s the time-honored, essential service of hair and beauty or the latest advances in the industrial use of light waves, the formula is the same; the cycle of success is the same: opportunity begets hope; hope begets opportunity.

That’s the cycle of success that will take Rochester to the place it belongs – to the upper echelon of Great American cities. That’s the cycle of success that will deliver prosperity to future generations of Rochesterians.

It’s the cycle of success that Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson set in motion 50 years ago when he pushed for a major expansion of the Atlanta airport with a new international terminal. With that one project — that one bold project — he forever changed the trajectory of Atlanta’s growth from one of the most prominent cities in the South to one of the most prominent cities in the world that hosted the 1996 Olympics.

He also created the conditions that helped create many Black millionaires and moved hundreds of Black and Brown families into the middle class. Because Maynard Jackson insisted that 25 percent of the construction contracts be awarded to minority firms, thereby creating today’s Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprise program in the process. That’s what it looks like when you bring hope and opportunity together.

I say that Rochester is due for its own Maynard Jackson moment!

Rochester can be a worldwide powerhouse of the 21st century economy of knowledge and innovation; a city where every resident can reach their full, God-given potential. Even for those who have been denied opportunity because of the color of their skin, where they live, how they worship, or who they love.

Especially those who have been denied opportunity — because they have hope. And we must feed that hope. We must feed that hope with opportunity to move Rochester from its poverty mindset to a prosperity mindset. We create a safe, equitable and prosperous Rochester by inspiring hope and delivering opportunity for everyone!

We accomplish that mission by bringing people together. All the people: our partners in government, labor, education, philanthropy, the non-profit sector, our partners in the community, our partners in the private sector. Our partners right here in this room!

Partners like County Executive Adam Bello, the other half of the most productive relationship between a Rochester Mayor and a Monroe County Executive since Lucien Morin and Tom Ryan. Partners like Governor Kathy Hochul and our New York State legislative delegation who are helping us literally transform our city with unprecedented levels of investment. Partners like Rochester City Council led by Council President Miguel Meléndez. Partners like our Congressional leaders who take the fight for Rochester to the Capitol: Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congressman Joe Morelle.

I am so grateful for these partnerships across every level of government. If you are an elected official or are here as their representative, please stand so we can thank you for the hopes and opportunities you are helping us create in Rochester.

As Mayor Bill Johnson said, and as I continue to say, “It’s not me, it’s we.”

It’s not me that’s creating a safe Rochester. It’s we! It’s not me that’s creating an equitable Rochester. It’s we! It’s not me that’s creating a prosperous Rochester. It’s we! Yes, it’s we. We’re working together like never before. These partnerships are historic because our challenges are historic — especially the challenges of our two pandemics: the first pandemic of the virus — which has transformed our communities — and the other pandemic of violence. We all know that the pandemic of violence will long outlast the virus if we don’t work together.

And thankfully, these partnerships are driving incredible progress. But sometimes progress brings your greatest challenges into stark relief. The way that first day of yard work, that first sweep of the lawn mower in the early spring reveals the spots that need the most attention. And right now, what needs the most attention is our children.

That’s why this year, we’re focusing our progress through the lens of youth to find every possible opportunity to support them. Now, to be very clear, the vast majority of our youth are doing the right thing. Cameron and our young musicians from ROC Music are wonderful examples of that. But there are many youth who need our help, and unfortunately, that number is growing, and the dangers they face are becoming more acute.

There’s an African proverb that underscores the urgency of this concern. “The tree is shaped when still wet.” Only God can make a tree, and God gives us our bodies and minds. But our character begins to form the moment we’re born, and it’s our parents and caregivers who instill the core values that help shape our character.

Character is formed by the decisions we make, so as our parents introduce new choices, over time, they teach us how to make decisions. Like a sapling tree, our character is soft and bendable when we’re young, but grows to be sturdy and strong when we’re older. It becomes the reference point we use to make difficult decisions.

And right now, that’s a frightening prospect. Because too many of our young people are facing a crisis of character and conscience like we’ve never seen before. They’re making choices they’re not ready for. They’re making life-altering decisions before they even know what life has to offer — if they even survive.

Many experts believe it was the pandemic — and social media plays a role. There are just too many illegal guns out there and too many youth who don’t have the capacity or the ability to resolve their differences without resorting to violence. Whatever the reason, these kids need our help. Many of their parents and caregivers are dealing with unprecedented distractions, unprecedented worries, unprecedented trauma. Whatever the reason, these families need our help.

These Tik Tok challenges to steal cars. And the growing number of teenagers being pulled into violent crime and getting killed. They’re cries for help! They’re cries for help from children and families who are simply overwhelmed in a swirl of historic change.

We have to answer the call! Not just in City government. Not just in any government. Collaboration has never been more important. We all have to answer the call to address this crisis in character and conscience among some of our youth. We all have to answer the call to help our children grow like majestic trees that reach for the full expanse of the open sky! We’re going to focus our priorities through the lens of youth, but we’re also going to continue making progress on every front to inspire hope and deliver opportunity for everyone.

Like the first flowers that push through the snow, the visible signs of our progress are emerging as the days get longer and the weather gets warmer. Over the past 474 days, we’ve been planting the seeds of hope, laying the groundwork for opportunity. And the image of a safe, equitable and prosperous Rochester is coming into view.

Safety remains our number-one priority because if you don’t have safety, you can’t have anything else. And by safety, we’re talking about the broadest use of that term, perception and reality. It’s hard to inspire hope or deliver opportunity when people don’t feel safe.

Our Police and Fire and Emergency Communications Departments are on the front line of emergency response services, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the courage and commitment these men and women demonstrate every day. They lost two of their own to the dangers of the job last year, Officer Anthony Mazurkiewicz and Firefighter Elvis Reyes. The pain of those losses continues even today. Officer Mazurkiewicz had been a member of the RPD honor guard that posted the colors before every State of the City address going back many years. Once again, the absence of his presence is felt by his fellow officers. Their grief continues, as does our gratitude. His death and the death of Firefighter Reyes are painful reminders that those who run toward danger to keep others safe are driven by a higher calling.

All of our key priorities affect safety, especially economic empowerment, which is why I’m especially proud of the work being done to offer more employment opportunities for our youth, because the best way to keep kids out of trouble is to give them a job. Every child who wants a job should be able to get a job. I want our kids to be too tired from working to respond to some Tik Tok challenge or get pulled into a dispute on Instagram or Snapchat that will get them killed.

So we expanded Summer of Opportunity, raised the pay for lifeguards and recreation workers, and are offering stipends for summer enrichment programs. We also created a revolutionary youth agriculture program where young people are learning gardening skills while earning money. Cultivating Community is a program to target children and young adults as a way of introducing agriculture and science while also renewing the local community. The City of Rochester, Cornell Cooperative Extension, 4-H, and Taproot Collective, are working together to teach youth not only specific career exploration in agriculture, but also lifelong soft skills through instruction by liaisons to the program.

So much of what we do contributes to safety. Building neighborhood pride contributes to safety. We’re going to plant 2,000 street trees this year with a goal to plant 6,000 by the end of 2025. And I’ll tell you, if I’m remembered as the Johnny Appleseed of mayors, that would be okay. And I hope to see you all at Clean Sweep on April 29.

Our investments in crosswalks and bike lanes contribute to safety. Because of our commitment to pedestrian safety, Rochester was selected to participate in the Mayor’s Institute on Pedestrian Safety. Across the country we have seen an increase in fatal crashes involving pedestrians and Rochester has not been immune to this. We must work to stop these senseless acts. And we continue to pray for the victims and families that have lost loved ones because of these crashes, which often involve a reckless driver.

Helping our homeless population find shelter also contributes to safety, which we are doing in partnership with Monroe County. And recently we were selected for the Bloomberg Harvard collaboration that is helping us bring people together to address the challenges of those who are unhoused.

If there’s one thing I learned growing up in the home of preacher, it’s that losing a life to homelessness is no less tragic than losing a life to violence. We will soon be announcing a plan to use our share of the millions of dollars we received from the Opioid Settlement; this will be a collaborative effort to tackle this problem that has taken far too many lives.

The Fire Department is stepping up efforts to improve safety beyond its more traditional mission, like investing in data analysis and incident mapping to improve its emergency medical response.

And our Emergency Communications Department is finding ways to divert medical calls that can be treated over the phone to reduce call volumes for firefighters and ambulance crews. The Nurse Navigation Program gets Rochester and Monroe County patients to the right level of care, which may or may not include transportation to a hospital emergency department. Some 911 calls for non-urgent injuries or illnesses will be transferred to a Licensed Nurse who can assess the patient’s symptoms and refer them to the most appropriate medical care, including referral to a local clinic or urgent care as well as a virtual visit with a physician. We’re looking for every opportunity to improve our emergency response systems. But of course, our most pressing challenge is violent crime.

Like I said, we have a pandemic of violence that requires all hands on deck. I’m keeping our city under a Gun Violence State of emergency as one way to confront this issue head on. There are no magic wands and this state of emergency is just one of many tools we are deploying.

I’m gratified but not satisfied that the numbers of shootings and firearm-related deaths are trending downward and I hope to accelerate that trendline in the months ahead. So far this year, compared to this time last year, the number of shooting deaths is down by 56 percent; shooting victims are down by 51 percent; the number of overall shootings is down 44 percent; and total homicides are down by 43 percent. We’re using a strategy of prevention, intervention and suppression with regard to violence.

In the Department of Recreation and Human Services, we’re bringing mental-health specialists into our R-Centers to help our children address mental health challenges they may be experiencing. This is a major issue in our community as presented by a recent poll on mental health and young people released by the Children’s Agenda. It found that two-fifths of parents say at least one of their children has struggled with their emotional or mental health since going back to school in person.

We also expanded the Persons in Crisis Team. The collaboration across these teams was apparent just a few weeks ago on Otis Street, where our firefighters battled an historic five-alarm blaze. Our Persons In Crisis team and our code enforcement officers provided immediate support to the neighbors who were displaced from their homes. Their ability to work together and bring much-needed calm to a dangerous and chaotic situation offers an excellent example of the top-to-bottom leadership and operational capacity we strive to achieve every day across every function of City government.

We created the Office of Violence Prevention, where we expanded Pathways to Peace and put outreach teams in our schools. The Office of Violence Prevention also brought the Advance Peace model to Rochester and will be celebrating our first graduation of the Peacemaker Fellows later this week. We’re bringing our partners in the human-service sector together through our Peace Collective — where the price of admission is a commitment to collaborate. And these agencies are coming up with some really innovative, out-of-the-box ideas, like teaching teens and young adults to become barbers, conflict resolution skills, music production and other employment training.

Like I said, it’s an all-hands-on-deck approach.

The Police Department is at the forefront of our suppression efforts and they’re responding to the unprecedented nature of these challenges with an innovative, methodical, and surgical, approach to help in the facilitation of putting an end to senseless crime. Our crime problems can be summed up with three Cs: Concentrated poverty, concentrated trauma and concentrated violence.

About 90 percent of our shootings take place on about 10 percent of our street segments and the number of people engaged in the most violent activity is just a few hundred among a city population of more than 200,000. This matters because it affects how we police. We will not criminalize entire neighborhoods because it is a small subset of people that seek to wreak havoc in our city.

Under the leadership of Chief Smith, Rochester was fortunate to be one of six cities selected in 2022 to join the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Public Safety Partnership. This provides a framework for interagency coordination at the local, state and federal levels of law enforcement agencies and dedicated prosecutors. In Rochester, that includes the U.S Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Marshal’s Office, the ATF, the State Police, the Sheriff’s Office, and the Monroe County Crime Analysis Center to focus on the most violent street segments, identify and arrest the most violent offenders and take illegal guns off the street. Last year, more than 60 people were referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office on federal gun charges and the RPD recovered more than 800 illegal guns — a rate of more than two per day.

I want to thank the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York Trini Ross, U.S. Marshal Charles Salina; ATF Rochester Field Agent in Charge Michael Curran, Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter and State Police Troop E Commander, Major Brian Ratajczak, along with our partners at Monroe County Parole and New York State Probation for supporting this initiative. This has played a big role in the reductions of shootings I told you about a few minutes ago. Let’s give our partners in law enforcement a round of applause for their work in helping to reduce violence in Rochester.

Unfortunately, the RPD is still dealing with more than 100 vacancies, so we are looking at the prospect of another challenging spring and summer. We’re holding two police academies this year to speed up the hiring process. We’ve created a workforce development program to keep police recruits engaged during the months-long hiring process. We’ve introduced an officer wellness program. And, I’m proud to say we’re bringing back the Police Athletic League. They’re also moving forward on trust-building initiatives with the community.

Every one of our officers has received de-escalation training; 23 officers attended Crisis Intervention School; 12 officers went to Assisting Individuals in Crisis training and we sent two to a national Use of Force summit. And our Crime Prevention Officers attend neighborhood events and community meetings at a rate of almost two per day, including weekends and holidays.

We’re also focused on creating an equitable Rochester to inspire hope and deliver opportunity for everyone. Rochester can’t be prosperous if half the population is denied access to opportunity and shut out of the economy.

This has always been an important priority, but our community received a bittersweet reminder of how important it truly is this year when the Minister Franklin Florence went home to be with the Lord. By opening the doors of our largest employers to minority workers, Minster Florence moved hundreds of Black and Brown residents into the middle class. His life will be a source of inspiration in our community for generations to come. As you look around at the progress we are making, never forget the people like Minister Florence – a true giant whose shoulders we stand on today.

Equity is embedded in all of our priorities. We have an Equity Tool in our City budget process that requires every new policy and initiative to be examined for its effect on equity. Every City department has an equity team.

Two of our most ambitious equity initiatives are the Guaranteed Basic Income Project and the Lead Water Service Line Replacement Project, both of which are being advanced with our allotment from the American Rescue Plan Act. I want to thank our Congressional delegation, for delivering these funds to our city. We’re gearing up for the Guaranteed Basic Income pilot program and the Lead Service Line Replacement Project is well on its way toward our goal of replacing every old lead pipe by 2030.

So far, we have removed lead-lined and galvanized water pipes from more than 3,000 homes, more than half of which were in disadvantaged neighborhoods where the majority of residents earn less than 50 percent of the area median income. By the end of this year we will remove 2,500 more lead pipes, with 80 percent coming from homes in disadvantaged neighborhoods; and we have plans to remove another 3,000 in 2024.

During my recent visit to the White House with other U.S. Mayors for the White House Lead Pipe Summit, I had the opportunity to highlight Rochester’s approach to replace all  lead pipes by 2030. Rochester is becoming a national leader in ensuring that we invest in our infrastructure which includes making sure we have safe drinking water. We’ve seen the tragedies across the country when infrastructure investments aren’t made. And we’ll continue to advocate for dollars through the Federal Infrastructure Bill.

We’re also using American Rescue Plan Act funds to launch our Buy the Block program, which just celebrated its first ribbon cutting last week in the Upper Falls Neighborhood. Carolyn Granville, the new owner of the house on Thomas Street where we celebrated that ribbon cutting, is here tonight. Carolyn, please stand so we can congratulate you with a round of applause. And thank you for having so much hope in Rochester!

Upper Falls has some of the city’s highest rates of poverty and that’s not an accident. It’s the result of deliberate segregation policies, like redlining, the outcome of a depression era home-financing program that denied loans in neighborhoods of color. When you look at a map of city neighborhoods with the highest rates of crime and violence, it is almost a direct overlay of the areas of the city that were redlined.

And today we are making a deliberate decision to right that wrong. We’re greenlining formerly redlined neighborhoods with home ownership. I can’t think of a better place to inspire hope and deliver opportunity than an area of the city where hope and opportunity were deliberately denied to people of color.

We’re also taking steps to eliminate the visual impact of disinvestment in these neighborhoods — what I call blight. We’re providing home repair grants for existing property owners; we’ve expanded our Code Enforcement Unit and added a housing attorney to go after slum landlords who allow their properties to fall into disrepair. I want to thank the Housing Quality Taskforce that I convened last year for their work and recommendations.

Our Office of Financial Empowerment is helping residents achieve economic mobility, with an initial focus on three groups: youth, potential homeowners and entrepreneurs. BuKiyah Binion is a great example of one of the entrepreneurs who took advantage of these services. The Office of Financial Empowerment is also helping to prepare potential homeowners for our Buy the Block Program by providing individual financial counseling to get them mortgage ready. I’m especially proud of the financial education programs we’re providing to the youth in our R-Centers. Last year, numerous young people opened savings accounts as a result of their guidance.

Another equity program I’m especially proud of is the expansion of our MWBE team in the Purchasing Bureau. Just a few weeks ago, we hosted the first-ever Upstate New York MWBE Conference to help minority- and women-owned companies across the region learn how to secure government contracts to grow their businesses and create jobs. More than 200 of these firms attended. If we are to have a Maynard Jackson Moment in Rochester we must provide access to information and capital, and it must be intentional.

Working to create a prosperous Rochester is our aim and we’re moving in a revolutionary direction. When you inspire hope and deliver opportunity, it’s always nice to see the results — and we are seeing those results in the form of increasing prosperity.

Thanks to our American Rescue Plan funding and the incredible support of Governor Hochul and our legislative delegation in Albany, we’re literally transforming the cityscape to match the realities of the 21st century knowledge economy.

And with the guidance of our ROC 2034 Comprehensive Plan, we’re implementing that transformation with intention and purpose. I can assure you, this is not the proverbial study collecting dust on a shelf. It is an operational document that is literally written into our budget and legislative process to make sure every policy decision matches the vision laid out in this blueprint for growth.

Our ROC the Riverway program has completed projects like North Star Commons and the Rundel Library North Terrace, and we’re breaking ground on new projects like the redesign of the Pont de Rennes Bridge and a new street pattern to tie into the reimagined Aqueduct. We’re moving forward with the design at the Inner Loop North project, which will create more than 20 acres of new land for development for residential neighborhoods, boutique shopping and green space.

All of which has a very important equity component because this part of Northeast Rochester was torn apart by the original construction of the Inner Loop; and it will complement the great work being done in Upper Falls with Buy the Block. Governor Hochul has committed to fully funding this project with $100 million, and we expect to begin the design phase in July.

And not only did the Governor fully fund the Inner Loop, she also committed to transforming the river gorge at the base of High Falls into one of only three of New York State’s urban State Parks. When I see my fellow mayors at various meetings, I often tell them that Rochester has something no other city has: an historic canal and a Great Lake, connected by a river with a 96-foot waterfall in the middle of downtown. When we finish the ROC the Riverway projects and the High Falls State Park, I won’t have to tell them. They’ll be telling me how lucky I am to have all these things, as if all these projects just happened by themselves.

You know the story about the turtle on a fence post right? If you see a turtle on fence post you know it didn’t get there by itself. Someone helped put it there. When people come to Rochester to see our amazing waterfront features, they’ll certainly marvel at God’s creation and our beautiful natural environment. But the infrastructure they’ll be standing on will be a whole bunch of turtles on fence posts. Thank you to the many partners that are helping Rochester reach new heights!

And thankfully that experience won’t be marred by the current abomination to the eyes we see at one of the corners of Clinton Avenue and Main Street in the heart of our city. Because we’re moving forward on the Downtown Revitalization Initiative with the additional support of Restore New York funding. Over $10 million dollars in public investments and millions in private investment will finally transform Main and Clinton, the work starts this year.

Outside of Downtown, we’re getting started on the Bulls Head neighborhood redevelopment project; the design of the new Maplewood Nature Center and the reconstruction of the Dewey-Emerson commercial district.

All told, from the beginning of 2022 through the end of this year, we’ll have started or completed 30 transformational infrastructure projects for a total investment of almost $200 million, creating more than 2,000 construction jobs.

And you can already see the benefits of this public investment in the amount of private investment taking place across the city.

Constellation Brands is moving its national headquarters to the Aqueduct Building. Over at the Midtown area, Butler/Till has moved into a sleek, modern building on a site that used to be the Midtown Wegmans. Meanwhile, the Midtown Revitalization is having ripple effects beyond the original footprint, thanks to visionary developers like Andy Gallina at Innovation Square and the Metropolitan; Buckingham Properties at Legacy Tower and the Winn Company at Sibley Square. Likewise, the Inner Loop East investments are generating tremendous private development, including the expansion of the Strong Museum, which will celebrate its completion very soon. And dozens of chefs and culinary-arts creators are taking advantage of the industrial kitchen facilities in the Downtown Commissary, our food-business incubator in Sibley Square.

And nothing announces prosperity better than large crowds of people having fun. Our residents have emerged from the isolation to have fun and party at events like Party in the Park, Roc Summer Soul; and Roc Holiday Village. And obviously, a lot of people — several thousand people — are thankful for the return of the Jazz Fest to Downtown Rochester, especially at Parcel 5! The benefits of these crowds are obvious. For one thing, few things make people feel safer than large gatherings with other people.

Conversely, empty streets make people feel uncomfortable and less safe, which helps explain why even though Downtown Rochester is one of the safest areas in the city, a lot of people think it’s dangerous and won’t go there. We have to fix that perception with more events to attract more people to the Center City, which is why we are excited about the conversations around creating a Downtown Business Improvement District — the BID. We are one of a few major U.S. cities without a BID in its downtown. This will give us the revenue to host more events downtown and create an environment where people feel safe and can fully appreciate this critical area of our city.

Our Center City is becoming a live-work neighborhood — an increasingly diverse live-work neighborhood with a mix of affordable and workforce housing and a vibrant collection of innovative and creative class companies creating good-paying jobs. But for Downtown to truly be successful, it has to be more than a live-work neighborhood. It has to become a live-work-play neighborhood.

It has to be a place that invites the residents and workers out of the buildings and onto the sidewalks and parks and our new waterfront destinations to engage with visitors. Job creation and job retention are a cornerstone of economic prosperity and our Business Development team is making great progress on this front. Like they did with Ocean Applied and Constellation Brands, they’re supporting almost $90 million in private investment among businesses that are opening or expanding in the city.

This includes the re-location of Vigneri Chocolates to our newly revitalized East Main Street corridor in the Beechwood Neighborhood; and the construction of a new manufacturing plant for Peko Precision Products on Lyell Avenue.

The Department of Recreation and Human Services is using $14.5 million dollars in ARPA funding to work with nine partners in the human service sector to engage over 3,000 residents in workforce development and entrepreneurship training across the trades and small businesses. This effort will expand opportunities in industries including landscape maintenance, urban agriculture, culinary and construction trades, health care, and cloud computing.

Jobs are one cornerstone of economic prosperity but just one cornerstone. Secure housing in the form of homeownership and affordable housing to relieve rent burden is the other one.

Since the start of 2022, we’ve completed or started projects to build or renovate 1,136 affordable units — including 48 for extremely low income residents and 244 for very low income residents — for a total investment of an astonishing $441 million. That’s almost half a billion dollars in investments in just over one year!

These include the new Edna Craven Estates; Pueblo Nuevo and the First Genesis Baptist Church developments in Upper Falls, which will bring added value to our Buy the Block affordable homeownership program. Home Rochester and Flower City Habit for Humanity are also adding to our inventory of affordable homeownership.

A safe, equitable, and prosperous Rochester. That’s the destination. Inspiring hope. Delivering opportunity. For everyone. That’s the path.

Rochester is full of hope, and that’s where we’ll find the key to our success. That’s how we’ll move from a poverty mindset to a prosperity mindset. But if we’re not careful, if we don’t act now, we risk our entire region’s ruin. Rochester is at one of the most significant turning points in its history, maybe even on par with the construction of the Erie Canal, and the stakes could not be higher. One path from that turning point leads to great reward, where all the factors of Rochester’s awesome potential finally come together to propel our city to national prominence and draw more and more outside investment. The other path leads to the slow decline into obsolescence.

Like what we saw happen to so many other cities across the industrial northeast, where urban centers turn into economic wastelands that drag down their regional economies. To borrow a phrase from my friend Michael Coleman, the former Mayor of Columbus, Ohio, Rochester may be in the rust belt, but it is not a rust belt city. Our industrial legacy is built on a history of innovation and knowledge rather than in traditional manufacturing — and that gives us a strong foundation for the transition to the knowledge economy with companies like Ocean Applied.

But our history of segregation and discrimination has left us with another legacy. A legacy of poverty that threatens to undermine the integrity of our strong economic foundation. We used to call this the tale of two cities; two Rochesters. The city of poverty and the city of prosperity. But it’s really a tale of two histories, two legacies. The legacy of poverty and the legacy of prosperity. Those two histories were always on a collision course to a single legacy. At some point, either our legacy of poverty will drag down our legacy of prosperity. Or our legacy of prosperity will lift up our legacy of poverty.

The pandemic accelerated the pace of that course. And the funding we’ve received through the American Rescue Plan Act, and the support of the state has created this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring meaningful change to our poverty problem. We can’t squander this opportunity. We may never have another one. So it’s up to us. It’s up to us to determine which path we’re going to take. Which legacy will we leave our children? Poverty? Or prosperity?

So I’ll close with the wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who clearly understood the significance of legacy when he talked about his own funeral in a sermon delivered on Feb. 4, 1968 — exactly two months before he was assassinated at the age of 39.

He called it the Drum Major Instinct and he talked about how it’s simple human nature to want to be the drum major—“a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first.” If he were alive today, Dr. King might have called that sermon the social-media-influencer instinct. Everything he said in 1968 — 55 years ago — is still true today. As we come up on this turning point for our city, we have to ask ourselves what kind of drum majors do we want to be? What kind of influencers do we want to be? Dr. King has my answer, and I hope he has yours, too.

He said “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness.” And then he closed the sermon with this: “I just want to be there in love, and in justice and in truth, and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world.”

Let us make the old Rochester a new Rochester — a Rochester that inspires hope and delivers opportunity for everyone.

Thank you all and God Bless the city of Rochester!