How can I fall in love with my city?
April 9, 2014 8:37 AM   Subscribe

I've been in Rochester, NY for two and a half years now for graduate study, and I have about that much longer to stay here. I haven't liked the city since I moved here (the weather is terrible, the city is small and geographically isolated, it feels like everything important is happening elsewhere, the natural beauty is underwhelming, etc. etc.). Recently I've come to believe that it isn't really the town's fault, but mine, since I never really gave Rochester a chance. How do you cultivate a love for a city that you didn't grow up in, never intended to come to, and plan to leave as soon as professionally possible?

For what it's worth I live in a pretty terrible neighborhood, but I'm moving to a trendier one in a few months, which will probably help. I got involved with the swing dancing scene here, but I have yet to make any friends from it. I have a terrific group of friends, but they mostly came here for grad school as well and feel similarly about the town. I feel like I'm putting my life on hold while I'm here, and I don't want to feel that way any more.
posted by Archibald Edmund Binns to Society & Culture (35 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Who says you have to love it? All you have to do is tolerate it until you're ready to leave.

Shit, most of us felt that way about our home towns. I could not WAIT to get the hell out of Phoenix!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:42 AM on April 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm on a huge Northern Exposure kick right now, so forgive me, but you could think of yourself as Joel Fleischman and let yourself gradually be charmed by the people around you. Find a way to see even the most obnoxious backwater-type people as charming, take them at face value, appreciate their role (in this town, in your life) for what it is.

Enjoy your new neighborhood, find a coffee shop or bar where you can be a regular, don't be shy about making small talk with folks. Put yourself out there for babysitting, housesitting, petsitting gigs, join a book club with locals. Go on walks and say hi to people you pass on the street! Something nice about knowing you're there only temporarily is that you kind of have nothing to lose--if you embarrass yourself, who cares?!
posted by magdalemon at 8:46 AM on April 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Oh hi! I went to RIT for undergrad so I suffered through four miserable years of winters too. The thing that made it bearable was the summer. OMG, summers in western NY are GORGEOUS. Go to the Lilac Festival every day that it's open and walk around all of the beautiful flowers and eat fair food and take in the hippies. Go visit Niagara Falls and embrace the cheesiness of the canadian side while also appreciating the beautiful park on the US side. Go hiking in Watkins Glen. I mean, come on, this is gorgeous.
posted by joan_holloway at 8:48 AM on April 9, 2014 [14 favorites]

That's how several people felt about the city I'm currently in, at least around the student area. I, on the other hand, mostly enjoyed the city, and wound up staying.

My main suggestion to you would be, first, to figure out where the locals hang out. If all you see are the student-centric areas, that would definitely color your judgement. People seem to like living there for some reason, so go figure out why!

Become a regular at the coffee shop the locals adore. Figure out what their local events are. There might be a really awesome book store/park/festival that might brighten your time there. Pick up a guide book, or drop by the local library to see what's good nearby.

I'm not saying you'll suddenly fall in love with Rochester and want to stay, but it might make you appreciate it a little bit more.
posted by PearlRose at 8:50 AM on April 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah... you don't have to love it. However, if it helps, I've visited Rochester repeatedly, ON PURPOSE, because I love it so much. And it's not as if I don't know better - I've been abroad, too. But I still think Rochester is AWESOME. Some things I like?

- The abandoned subway is spooky and beautiful.
- The Water Street Music Hall is a wonderful venus that hosts a LOT of great bands.
- You're within driving distance of gorgeous, glacial, eerily-beautiful Lake Ontario.
- The garbage plate is one of the all-time great drunk/hangover foods.
- If you wanna go healthier, everything at Open Face Sandwich Shop is delicious and adorable.
- The Strong Museum of Play is joyfully fun even without a kid (but especially fun if you bring one).
- Hedonist Chocolates makes unique, to-die-for truffles and other goodies.
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:51 AM on April 9, 2014 [14 favorites]

Ditto what PearlRose said.

Start frequenting local (non-chain) businesses (coffee shops, restaurants, stores, etc), go to some of the local festivals, check out the local landmarks/geography.

I'm from Syracuse and I stop by Rochester every now and then. I find it to be quite a lovely city in certain places (just like any city). The area around the Crozer Divinity School is lovely (looks like Hogwart's!), Highland Botanical Park is right around there, Ontario Beach Park just to the north where there are volleyball tournaments all the time, Park Ave is a wonderful little artsy stretch of local business, and The Starry Nites Cafe, The Old Toad, The Owl House, and The Daily Refresher are some of the coolest places around. The Rochester Erotic Arts Festival sounds pretty neat. Also the BIG Wegman's in Pittsford is kind of rad. Lastly, you live just a stone's throw from wine country, which is downright gorgeous.

Also, as a Central NY native, I would HIGHLY suggest that you take up an outdoor winter activity, be it snowboarding, skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, whatever. If you spend your winters holed up in your house cursing the weather, no, you are not going to be happy here. Rochester also has a pretty fantastic arts community; if that's your thing, get involved and do something fun!
posted by JimBJ9 at 9:27 AM on April 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Rochester sucked when I lived on-campus at RIT, and it was awesome when I moved to off-campus housing. I lived on the East Side near the art gallery, what was then a popular night club, the Little Theater, some great dining options, and it made all the difference in the world.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 9:41 AM on April 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I feel your pain. Some arts resources there:

- Memorial Art Gallery is excellent

- a few hundred world-class free classical and jazz concerts every season at Eastman

- international museum of photography
posted by kalapierson at 9:43 AM on April 9, 2014

You don't have to love Rochester so much you'll never leave; you just have to get through the next couple of years without hating it.

Find some things in Rochester you do love ... a group of friends, the hip neighborhood you're moving to, the swing dancing scene, a place to volunteer, your grad program. When you're feeling down about the weather or the city in general, remind yourself that those things are only in Rochester.

That's what I do here in Philly when I think I can't take one more cold day*. I will so miss our neighborhood and friendly neighbors when we finally leave.

* I know our winters are nothing compared to winter up there but I'm a Florida girl and I really hate winter.
posted by jshort at 9:48 AM on April 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wow, julthumbscrew, RocWiki is awesome!

It always helps me to visit cool places with intention - start keeping a list of "to dos" in Rochester (everything in this thread is a great start!) and knocking out one or two each weekend.

I also like to read books set in/about a city: Historic Photos, Folklore, historical crime stories, etc. You don't need to buy them all necessarily - just go curl up in a local bookstore and read a couple chapters from one that strikes your fancy, to start.
posted by amaire at 9:52 AM on April 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

In acting sometimes you are asked to be a character who loves another character. You may find the character or the actor portraying that character obnoxious. What I (and others) do is to focus on an aspect which is lovable and wedge myself in there. I latch on to a piece of the character's history (even if I have to invent it).

In writing, I constantly have to go inside the mind of characters who are troubled or repugnant. I have to accept every topic necessary to write my piece. (My character uses a gun? I have to be as familiar with the gun as he is. My character loves earthworms? I need to find something fascinating about earthworms.) By practicing these techniques I've come to the point where I can say that everything and everyone is interesting. Furthermore, what gets overlooked, neglected and underestimated is the most fascinating. If I only had to celebrate all of it...
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:11 AM on April 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Can you become a local somewhere? A local pub, local coffee house, library, somewhere. Hang out there & get to know people. Eventually you'll like them, despite yourself.

Also you can micro-explore. Where is the best burrito place? Best coffee? Best beer selection?
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:19 AM on April 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Go to the best dive bar there is, Enrights Thirst Parlor. Then go to Johnny's on Culver, and then Carroll's on Main.
Then go to James Brown's place for your hangover the next morning.
Eat at the Highland Diner.
Join the Hashing Group on Meetup-- drinkers with a running (or walking) problem.
The Boulder on Park and Somerton is nice.
Go to Lux. Go to the Bug Jar. Go to Vertex.
Go see a Red Wings game. Really! I am a total baseball fan and they are fun.
Go see an Amerks game when in season. Ditto hockey, love the Amerks.
Wander around Parkleigh. Buy overpriced dishes, or not.
Best beer bar evar? Yes-- Tap and Mallet.
Victoire is nice. I also like the trivia at Temple Bar and Grill, and I really like trivia at Scotland Yard.
Do some salsa dancing at Tapas 177.
Eat meatballs at Skylark. Go hipster watching at Dicky's.
posted by oflinkey at 10:57 AM on April 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

As a Rochester expat, and a spouse of someone who attended your university and majored in a related field...there may be a town/gown insularity going on, of which you're not totally aware. I really have to echo those who are saying you should embrace the idea of becoming a local, if you truly want to solve the problem.

To add to the pile: The Lilac Festival is coming up next month. The Corn Hill Arts Festival is in July. The city's third Fringe Festival is in September.

In between those: City Newspaper.

Also: Rochester may not be the hour from NYC that some people think it is, but it's not that isolated from other urban areas. Buffalo and Toronto are both within day trip distance, and have plenty to offer. Cleveland and Pittsburgh are doable for weekend trips.

(Sidebar: I am amazed that in a Metafilter question about Rochester, there has been only one mention of WEGMANS so far.)
posted by gnomeloaf at 10:57 AM on April 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

posted by oflinkey at 10:59 AM on April 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Went to RIT, now in philly.

Here are great things about rochester that I miss
Public Market, Dinosaur BBQ, Garbage plate(Nick Tahoe), Boulder Coffee, Pittsford Wegmans, Beers of the World, Bug Jar, Murphy's Law and surrounding bars to name a few.

For events, Rochester has a great bike trail that goes by UofR and RIT, Jazz festival, Air Show and others Iam forgetting.
Also Day trips wise Syracuse, Buffalo,Niagra,Toronto , Catskills/Bristol (winter), Letchworth (other seasons), finger lakes(fantastic bike trails, wineries).

In general Rochester Winters are miserable, and after 4 years of it I still maintain that.
OP, are you going to RIT or UofR
posted by radsqd at 11:08 AM on April 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Go exploring in Mount Hope Cemetery. It's strange to say but I think Mount Hope is the thing I miss most of all about my undergrad years in Rochester. It was landscaped by Frederick Law Olmstead and like his most famous project (Central Park in NYC) once you get inside it's like you're in a whole other world... in this case it's a very tranquil one full of Victorian mausoleums and monuments scattered among winding paths, hillsides, and sheltered dells. There are also quieter corners with more modest graves. Beautiful any time of year, but especially in the fall.

The other thing I miss is Record Archive!

I saw some fine concerts by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra at the Eastman Theater.

It's been a long time, so I'm not sure what might still be around but during summer weekends we had a lot of fun poking around the fleamarkets outside the city, I think there were a few between Rochester and Avon. Beautiful countryside. Canandaigua was also a nice daytrip.

Other people have covered a lot of good festivals & destinations, to which I'll add 1975 Gallery, which is run by a friend & former bandmate of mine. Watching 1975's Facebook feed makes me jealous because it seems like there's a pretty healthy arts community in Rochester.
posted by usonian at 11:28 AM on April 9, 2014

Oh, and it's a private residence, but Rochester has the distinction of being home to the easternmost of Frank Lloyd Wright's prairie style houses. The view from the street is pretty good.
posted by usonian at 11:39 AM on April 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Imagine Rochester as a foreign country. What would you want to know and do there? You'd want to get local flavor, take pictures, learn the history... Why is Rochester the way it is? Expect some culture shock and homesickness. Do less hanging out with negative Nellies. You are on an adventure!
posted by SyraCarol at 1:36 PM on April 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

As a local in a city where a lot of fascinating people from far-off places live temporarily, for example for graduate study, I am very (indeed overly) sensitive to hearing about how my city falls short and people can't wait to leave. When I get the tiniest whiff of "don't like it here, wanna go somewhere better" from someone, I shut off their access to my pipeline of Valuable Local Knowledge.

Even if you have to fake it and lie through your teeth, when you are doing the fun activities listed above and you end up interacting with locals, don't just refrain from criticizing their city (I'm sure you wouldn't do that anyway), but act like you are a guest in their city and you're grateful for them hosting you and would they have any recommendations for what to do during your stay.

Can you approach it with an attitude of curiosity about Rochester? Like you're an anthropologist studying its people? Don't compare it to any other place, just get to know it on its own terms. What is your favorite thing about it?
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 1:36 PM on April 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Instead of comparing a Rochester coffee shop to a NYC coffee shop, compare the Rochester coffee shops to each other. Find the best coffee shop in Rochester.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 1:39 PM on April 9, 2014

Rochester is the home of the Rochester Zen Center, founded by the late Roshi Philip Kapleau, author of The Three Pillars of Zen. They are hosting an EarthVigil on April 22.
posted by apartment dweller at 3:46 PM on April 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've found that the key to feeling connected to a place is through connections to the people there. It sounds like you are working on making friends through your program and swing-dancing. Volunteering could round that out for you and connect you to friendly people outside your immediate circle. And lord knows Rochester could use more people working to make it a better place for everyone.
posted by stowaway at 4:24 PM on April 9, 2014

I think the best way is to hang out with people who do love the place, who are happy to be there. If you can't stand anyone who loves Rochester, or you really can't find anyone who loves Rochester, well, maybe you're just never going to love Rochester.
posted by mskyle at 4:47 PM on April 9, 2014

Make a list of the things you'll miss when you leave. You can't seriously tell me there will not be one single thing on it.

I didn't realise I liked where I lived until I heard people slagging the place off and I felt compelled to defend it. How would you respond to this sentence from a total stranger:
"Rochester, man, what a total shithole. There's not one day where the weather isn't completely terrible. It takes forever to get there and forever to leave. And it's so ugly and bland. Even the scenery is nothing to look at - the time I went there I didn't take a single photo because there was literally nothing worth getting my phone out of my pocket for. Everyone I met seemed to be just killing time until they could leave and whining in the mean time - what a bunch of boring assholes. I tell you, if we were starting over with deciding where to put cities in this country, I wouldn't even bother building Rochester in the first place. The world would be a better place if we just nuked the whole damn city"
posted by girlgenius at 7:15 PM on April 9, 2014

Joan_holloway is spot on. Summers are UNBELIEVABLY AWESOME in upstate NY. Maybe it's just because the winters are terrible (yes, they are, we can all admit that), but summers are beautiful. Everyone here has listed some nice things to do (I got a little nostalgic when I heard that the Bug Jar was still around! Will that place ever close? I hope not.) Rochester is a strange little city that has lots of things to do, but only if you know about them. I was at UR for undergrad, then lived near Park Ave for six years afterwards and liked it much more after I moved off-campus.

I can't believe nobody has mentioned Hot Shots yet... year-round indoor sand-court volleyball!

And, it's just a few more years. At some point you'll move away and pine for a Garbage Plate (it will happen.)
posted by absquatulate at 7:32 PM on April 9, 2014

I don't feel exactly the same way about my city (San Francisco) but I *have* needed a perspective reset lately, so I decided to "experience my city like a tourist." I made a list of cool places I've never been, but that I'd send a visiting friend to, and every weekend am doing/going to one of those things/places. It's been fun! And it's helped. So maybe try that approach for awhile and see where it gets you?
posted by hapax_legomenon at 7:36 PM on April 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Go to the Bug Jar.

OMG, my flat-mate and studio-mate both worked at the Bug Jar in the late 90s!
posted by hapax_legomenon at 7:38 PM on April 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Are you at RIT or U of R? If you're at U of R, then you're close to Mt. Hope Cemetery. The older parts of this cemetery are lovely and fascinating. It's a nice place to stroll around and take a walk. See if you can find the graves of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass.

Even if you skip the Lilac Festival, go to Highland Park and check out all the lilacs in bloom.

Walk up to the top of Cobbs Hill and check out the view of the city.

Take the bus out to Sea Breeze and go to Don's Original. Have a white hot and some frozen custard.

Bring a friend along. It's not that any of these places are particularly fascinating, but it's nice to have a destination with a friend. You'll remember these places fondly once you leave.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:45 PM on April 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

And, inspired by a comment above: treat Rochester like you're a tourist visiting.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:46 PM on April 9, 2014

Oh Rochester! You are very fortunate to live in the city that has possibly the best minor league baseball park in the US; take advantage. It is a gorgeous way to spend a nice summer evening, lots of aspects to learn about or find interesting (from the human interest of watching young players grow, to the nerdy minutiae of learning to keep score). If you get into minor league baseball, it's something you can take with you when you move to your next home, too - although most places will be a step down from Rochester.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:11 PM on April 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Do you like (or could you learn to like) running? There are at least two and sometimes a dozen 5K races within an hours' drive, every weekend, April through November (and beyond).
It's a great way to get yourself out and explore the region, mix with good people, have a great time, feel proud of yourself, and essentially get you in the right mood to learn to love where you are.
Pick a new run every weekend, which can take you to a different area or village to explore, that you wouldn't have considered visiting otherwise. The events are like little parties with music, post-race food, awards and nice people. Most are run/walk events and nobody cares one bit if you walk the whole way and take an hour (ask me how I know). Your registration fee helps a charity. The 5K routes are sometimes really beautiful, sometimes interesting, sometimes sort of boring, but you will feel great when you're done. You sometimes win prizes!
There are big runs through the city with bands and throngs of people, and little runs with maybe a hundred runners in "quaint" country villages. Start this weekend with the URWell run along the river, to benefit the UR health clinics for the uninsured. Next weekend try Powder Mills Park to benefit the Ugandan Water Project. Or pick something from the Rochester Runners Page or PCR or here.
posted by evilmomlady at 4:54 AM on April 10, 2014

It may sound ridiculous but Twitter is a great tool for learning about and growing to love a city. Follow the local arts feeds, the local news, community groups, the independent coffee shops and bars. You'll find all kinds of new communities and groups that aren't obvious to the casual observer. Get involved in conversations and tweet ups. Where I live (Leeds, UK) it seems like everyone who does 'stuff' and cares about their town is active on Twitter. Although I'm nowhere near as active as I was I met a lot of cool people through doing this and over time I learnt that my town is a lot deeper and more interesting than I thought.

I saw an interview with some local business owner and they said "I came to twitter to advertise my business and what actually happened is that I came to love my town" and I heartily agree.
posted by Mr Ed at 4:28 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I know I'm way late to the party, but the best way to learn about any city is to go out drinking with the locals! PM me if you're still here and not enjoying the city; me and my partner would be glad to take you around and show you the things we love the most about our home town.

Other than that, I'd suggest moving away from the university housing situation. Most of the UofR/RIT kids I've met seem to be convinced that the city ends at the edge of campus and never get out of the suburbs, which are all uniformly boring and empty.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 8:24 PM on October 10, 2014

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