How Infrastructure Structures (and Destructures) Communities

I oftentimes hear in the news that America’s infrastructure is—for lack of a better word—falling apart at the seams. When I look around at my surrounding in Upstate New York, I can’t help but agree.

I’m from the Rochester, New York. I live in the Town of Pittsford, New York. My town is wealthy compared to many other towns in the surrounding areas.

According to Sperling’s BestPlaces, Pittsford’s median household income is $106,134. One of Pittsford’s neighboring town, Henrietta, New York, has a median household income of $61,945. Rochester has an overall median household income of $30,784.

I live in a town where the sidewalks are plowed when there’s a quarter inch of snow on the ground. I live in a town where if the exterior paint isn’t a pre-approved palette, there’s a fee to pay. I live in a town where teenagers drive their Mercedes Benzes, BMWs and Range Rovers to high school.

I live in one of wealthiest suburbs outside of one of the poorest cities in the nation.

According to an article called “Census: Syracuse, Buffalo, Rochester among nation’s poorest cities (database)” by Mark Weiner on September 15, 2016, “Some of the poorest cities in the nation are in Upstate New York, where Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse lag the nation when it comes to reducing poverty, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Rochester (15th), Buffalo (16th) and Syracuse (29th) had some of the highest poverty rates out of the nation’s 589 largest cities in 2015, according to the data.”

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Photo Credit: U.S. Census Bureau

The date above, taken from Weiner’s article, clearly shows the high levels of poverty that represses Rochester’s citizens.

For instance, many houses in the City of Rochester are older homes that contain lead-based paint. According to “Lead levels on the rise in Monroe County” by Meaghan McDermott from The Democrat and Chronicle on June 28, 2016, “In total, 988 children were found to be ‘lead poisoned in the county last year… Some 95 percent of all housing units in the city were built prior to 1980 and two-thirds of those were built prior to 1950.”

Lead poisoning has devastating effects on children. According to the article called “Lead Poisoning” from Mayo Clinic, “Signs and symptoms of lead poisoning in children include: developmental delay, learning difficulties, irritability, loss of appetite, weight loss, sluggishness and fatigue, abdominal pain, vomiting, constipation, hearing loss, seizures and eating things, such as paint chips, that aren’t food (pica).”

In a city where less than half of kids graduate from high school, this is no surprise. According to “Rochester graduation rate improves, but still lags state average” by Jon Campbell and Meaghan McDermott of The Democrat and Chronicle on February 10, 2017, “In Rochester, where 47.5 percent of students graduated on time last June, there was a 2-percentage-point jump in graduates as compared to the previous year. Rochester has the lowest graduation rate among the state’s so-called ‘big five’ large-city districts.”

Children in poor neighborhoods are some of the most affected by lead poisoning.

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Photo Credit: via Zillow and Google.

As illustrated above, while there are some good neighborhoods in the City of Rochester, most are considered to be either average or below average neighborhoods based on the rating scale. People who are poor largely live in the average or below average neighborhoods.  

Not only are homes in need of major repair, but businesses are as well. The Rochester Fair is in serious financial trouble and might not take place for the first time in 142 years, because of infrastructure problems.

Mark Perry, quoted in an article called, “Money Issues Threaten Rochester Fair” by Kyle Stucker, on April, 21, 2017 said, “‘They’re fairgrounds buildings — that’s what they do well. They don’t adapt well. We’ve not had the cash flow to do infrastructure improvements to allow us to do more off-season events, and that’s what we need to (move forward from here). These buildings require lots and lots of maintenance. I love this old exhibition hall, but it’s expensive. You can throw $50,000 to $60,000 worth of roofing on the buildings every year and still not get them done.’”

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Photo Credit: Deb Cam via

The photo above, taken from Stucker’s article, is an image of Perry in front of the Rochester Fair.

I remember going to the Rochester Fair as a young child. I’d go on the rides, eat a ridiculous amount of fried food, and lose my money to rigged carnival games. I find the idea that kids in the future might not be able to experience the wonder that is the Rochester Fair unsettling.

The Rochester Fair is also has difficulties, because of a decline in attendance over the years.

According to Stucker, “Vetter estimated attendance around 2005 was in the ballpark of a cumulative 50,000 tickets over the fair’s 10-day schedule, but since then has dropped to 33,000 to 34,000 each year.”

This was probably a result of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis, which caused many Rochester residents to lose their jobs, businesses, homes and savings.  

The Rochester Fair isn’t the only complex with infrastructure and money issues. Roads in Rochester are in poor condition, too.

The non-profit research group, TRIP, which focuses on surface infrastructure across the country published a press release in 2016. According to “Deficient, congested roadways cost average Rochester drivers $1,691 annually, a total of $24.9 billion statewide; costs will rise and transportation woes will worsen without increased funding,” by TRIP, “Throughout New York, 38 percent of major locally and state-maintained urban roads are in poor condition. Nearly two-fifths of New York’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.”

According to TRIP, “Driving on deficient roads costs each Rochester area driver $1,691 per year in the form of extra vehicle operating costs (VOC) as a result of driving on roads in need of repair, lost time and fuel due to congestion-related delays, and the costs of traffic crashes in which roadway features likely were a contributing factor.”

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According to “Officials push for more infrastructure funding” by Velvet Spicer from the Rochester Business Journal on March 9, 2017, “Johns and his colleagues are asking for an additional $150 million appropriated to CHIPS in this year’s state budget. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed $438 million; the additional funds would bring the CHIPS budget to $588 million.”

If the increased budget is approved, then more construction can be done to fix some of Rochester’s infrastructure issues.

However, New York State experiences winter, which limits the amount of time that road construction can occur. In addition, New York’s four seasons has a negative impact on infrastructure.

According to “Does Concrete Expand?” by Concrete Construction Staff from Concrete Construction on May 1, 1997, “concrete does indeed expand when it gets hot or when the moisture content changes. That’s why you need expansion joints in bridges, buildings, and other structures. In exterior concrete, joints widen during cold weather because of cooling contraction and get narrower during hot weather as the concrete expands. If the joints fill with incompressible material during the winter, concrete expansion during the summer can cause pavement blowups.”

Rochester’s hot summers and cold winters create potholes, erode bridges and chip away at support beams.

Even if Johns’ new budget is approved, Rochester is still running out of time.


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