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Slow Road

March 10, 2013
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It has been far too long since I have written but I assure you that has not meant my efforts towards honoring local integrity and working towards community improvement have subsided in the least bit.

2012 was a whirlwind of a year, I am still working fervently towards helping the GardenAerial project grow, working in my role as Vice President of the Western Erie Canal Alliance, and building community around the arts (and exceptional coffee) at Joe Bean Coffee Roasters!

I am currently involved in attempting to create the first phase of that project which will be a Sustainable Sunken Garden for Brown’s Race in High Falls. It is an opportunity to create a truly one of a kind greenspace that will become an interpretation of our efforts to bring an EcoDistrict to Rochester for the first time. There is much I can say about both the GardenAerial and this project in this post but instead I would like to reserve this posting as an overview of new initiatives for 2013.

If you would like to connect to the GardenAerial and read my blog postings there, please visit http://www.gardenaerial.org/blog or (better yet) support our campaign for the sunken garden by clicking here!

The main reason I am making this post today however, is because I want to share with you that I am launching and hosting a brand new project that I am incredibly excited about. I am currently working along side a production company here in Rochester to produce a local travel series that will put a lens on the often overlooked people and places from our region. I can tell you from my own personal experience that there are incredible things happening in and around our community that often don’t see the light of day enough for us to even pay attention.

Today I spent the day filming in and around Medina, NY to take time to explore and discover the many incredible initiatives that are happening there. It is a myth that innovation cannot come from outside of a major metropolitan area and quite the contrary after today’s filming in Medina I would actual assert that the village is demonstrating greater innovation in their urban planning then we are here in Rochester, NY.

Medina’s investement and creativity in adaptive reuse of beautiful (and often dilapidated) infrastructure is something that will be making major news with or without my project’s attention, just remember you heard that here first!

It was an incredible day of exploration and conversation which will not only make you want to visit this amazing small village of Medina but will also challenge your perception of what is happening here in Upstate New York.

We are surrounded by amazing people and places and it is time we start paying attention, my project will do just that and will give the incredible people (and their personalities) an opportunity to be known and heard.

I anticipate that the first screening of this series will begin in early Summer of this year (2013).

Sometimes it takes a slow road for us to take notice of  the beauty that is around us, I’m thankful I explored one today and that it is reinvigorating a desire and passion to explore, pursue, and honor the people and places of our greater community.

Stay tuned, this is something you do not want to pass by!

 

GardenAerial : An Introduction

June 6, 2012
aerial

(First off I have to post an apology for the awful delay in getting any posts up in quite some time. It appears that sometimes things need to marinate in my head for quite some time. With that said boy do I have some tremendously exciting updates to share!)

I am exceptionally excited to announce that I have joined the team of GardenAerial here in Rochester, NY as the Associate Director of Administration & Community Engagement!

GardenAerial you ask? Garden Aerial is a project of tremendous ambition and inspiring vision which involves both the preservation and greening of the historic High Falls neighborhood, here in the heart of Rochester, NY.

Those who know me well, understand that High Falls holds a very sacred place in my heart, and it is my belief that it distinctly affects the attitude and overall sense of belonging and connection to Rochester. High Falls represents the birthplace and origins of our city from the creation of “Rochesterville” back in 1817.  Nathaniel Rochester first viewed the falls and purchased a 100 acre tract of land on November 8th, 1803 and realized their potential for powering flour mills. This is where we earned the name “Flour City” as we became the nation’s largest producer of flour back in 1838.

I am a firm believer that neglect, deterioration, and a lack of vision for this neighborhood over many years has in part contributed to fellow Rochestarians feeling a lack of pride in our city. It should come as no surprise that if we neglect the core and birthplace of our city that a feeling of discontentment and alienation exists.

I have felt a strong desire to invest myself in efforts to improve this neighborhood ever since I watched it falter as an entertainment district back in the 1990’s. That sense of connection was strong enough that I suggested development efforts as part of my Capstone Proposal when I first started my Masters degree at RIT back in Spring of 2010. Ironically, I went a much different direction with that project but one that still involved researching methods and case studies of proven economic strategies that benefited local businesses and explored the relationships of community building through the creation of public spaces and technology.

So today I find myself working for a project that has the ability to forever change and reshape this community in a way that honors its heritage and history and create culture.

GardenAerial seeks to honor the High Falls neighborhood:  “through stewardship, innovative design, and community outreach we seek to preserve its natural and historic resources, and cultivate its transformation into a world-class public green space.”

It’s time to envision something great, something that requires imagination combined with determination in an effort to build a “sky garden” and world class green space here in Rochester, NY. It’s only appropriate considering the fact Rochester was also later known in the mid 19th century as being “The Flower City” after the Flour processing moved east and flower nurseries boomed in our city.

For now you’ll find me hard at work at in the offices of GardenAerial located on the historic Browns Race in High Falls. I will seek to honor our city, community, and history and create a place where everyone can find a sense of belonging, connection, and place. I am incredibly thankful to Lewis Stess and Michael Philipson for this incredible opportunity.

Come imagine a greater Rochester with me, one that builds on its past and leads us into the future!

High Falls “then” photo from Flour City Post.com

GardenAerial – www.gardenaerial.org

Flour City Post – www.flourcitypost.com

The Accessibility of Escape

January 18, 2012
Clock Tower

As we enter into the New Year one of the themes I want to communicate and live towards involves the concept that the feeling of escape can be accomplished much more easily then we realize.

Often we are under the impression that a break from the stress of our daily lives or escape from monotony needs to come from an elaborate, expensive, or long duration vacation and so we travel far and wide to embody the concepts of freedom and to explore the unknown, in an effort to find a place that feels “less than familiar.” Do we ever stop to consider how accessible these feelings and experiences are?

As I write this I am sitting in one of many places where I have found the same feelings of freedom “mental transportation” that I have encountered on trips far and wide. Perhaps those feelings are not as intense as the mountain top experiences in the Swiss Alps, perhaps these feelings don’t feel as intense as the “unknown” when I was recently driving through the desert to Santa Fe, New Mexico, but they exist with me here and now. It is even possible that because this place represents somewhere largely unknown to me (and is a place where I am largely unknown) that a sense of freedom exists that is reminiscent to other experiences that I have had. The ability of this place to inspire such feelings creates a sense of belonging for me, and I find myself feeling favorable towards my surroundings.

Today this place is the quaint charming (and somewhat forgotten) historic village of Scottsville in the town of Wheatland, NY located only 15 miles from where I live in the City of Rochester. Often we ignore what is directly around us and I truly believe that we suffer because of it, we miss the ability to make our “escapes” accessible and so instead we feel frustrated that our desired freedoms feel so far and difficult to accomplish. Forgotten places suffer as well, because we fail to realize that our interest and engagement of them has dramatic effects. Will anyone remember me in Santa Fe? I highly doubt that, but I find myself believing in a place like this that I will be remembered.

This small ignored town has become very meaningful to me and because of that I desire to tell others that this is an experience worth having and a place worth visiting.

Travel to somewhere forgotten and you may just realize that you can find part of yourself in that process.

It’s never as far as you think or as difficult.

When you go:

Visit the Artisan Coffeehouse to feel the pulse of the community and to see if you too can find that sense of belonging.

Visit the Free Library to be inspired by the past while you can sit and write about your future.

Links:

Artisan Coffeehouse
http://www.artisancoffeehouse.com/

Scottsville Free Library
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottsville_Free_Library

The Village of Scottsville

http://www.scottsvilleny.org/

The Village of Scottsville on Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Village-of-Scottsville-NY/337398322352

bringing community along

June 2, 2011
Photo by Grace Ravines

Very often in my quest for “place-making” I find myself taking on a lone-ranger identity as I meander the back roads across New York or elsewhere in search for those communities, history, and places that will become memorable. There are aspects to this approach that I genuinely like,  I slow down the pace of a very busy and often chaotic schedule with Graduate school and working outside of it. I enjoy having the time to really think and clear my head as the scenery transforms before me, and sometimes I just like the fact that I’m out there doing this on my own in the spirit of exploration and adventure.. I’m well aware at this point that this trend will continue because it’s something I’ve found that brings me a great deal of purpose and satisfaction and is something that is so signature to who I am.

I greatly enjoy getting to meet people along my journey’s as well, strangers who become somewhat known as they introduce their places to me. Recently however I’ve been really dwelling on how much I enjoy sharing new experiences with people and so recently I decided to plan out a road trip with me and six friends who interact with my life in very different and separate circles at times.


The destination was obvious for me, it was a place I hadn’t been in quite sometime but have always loved and I knew it was time to return. The city of Ithaca, NY is one of my favorites cities in the entire state of New York, and it often reminds me of my time spent out in the Pacific Northwest where I lived for a summer back in 2008.  The city is surrounded by serene natural beauty, gorges, waterfalls, and the Lake Cayuga waterfront with no major city nearby and reflects its cultural identity in this way as an island amongst the finger lakes, and in an area surrounded by beautiful rolling hills and farmland with communities that make up the Amish, Ithaca acts as a solid dose of counter-culture to all that surrounds it.

I have been a sort of travel ambassador to Ithaca over the years ever since I was captivated by the place from an early trip there with my best friend (which I believe was back in 2004). Since then I have encouraged many people to come visit with me to experience the natural beauty, great restaurants and pubs, and wealth of eclectic locally based shops that encompass everything from old books to music stores, to vintage clothing and more. Ithaca is a place I have grown to love and to encourage others to experience.

There is much that I can go on to talk about regarding the destination of Ithaca, but it is the spirit of moving away from purely destination based thinking when it comes to the travel that I want to discuss. So much of what made this trip memorable was about sharing the experience with others and the tremendous joy I find in introducing people to new and exciting things.

It’s this idea of “community travel” that I want to focus on and how unorthodox this concept really is when we begin to realize how linear we can become when we think about tourism and travel. At times we put an enormous amount of pressure on the idea that the place (destination) is what must “make” our trip, instead of considering that it is the journey itself, this notion of transformation, is what helps us to extend into new perspectives and added value. I believe that this “transformative value” can only be compounded when we realize that it can be shared.

It’s this concept of continual and perpetual added value that fascinates me, what becomes obvious with any given travel exploration is that we are seeking value in our lives in a way that is traditionally unfamiliar to our routines and is something that can somehow engage us in a way that becomes memorable (as observed in previous posts). At the end of the day do we plan accordingly to reach these ideals though? Is it even a conscious thought in our minds that we are looking to add value in our lives when we travel?  I want to suggest and hypothesize that perhaps we are not looking as much for “place” as we are for “belonging” and this ability to feel connected to each other and to community( even while traveling).

In introducing the Ithaca trip with six friends from Rochester I want to emphasize that what I believe made this trip valuable and rewarding was the fact that we were able to share the experience with one another, and we were able to find connection with one another. One other major point I would like to illustrate is my belief that something like travel, (especially when it is a first time shared experience) can emphasize these connections more than ever. Perhaps travel could even be one of the ideal vehicles to enable relationship and connection to one another. This could emphasize the importance or potential benefit of  “community travel.”

One of the beautiful things about the trip to Ithaca was that many of the people who came didn’t know each other well or at all before we embarked on this winter journey from Rochester, and yet a bond and connection was made over the simple concept that we were experiencing something together for the first time. It is those interactions, those discussions, those moments of light-hearted laughter, singing along to music in the car, and pointing out things on the horizon that we all believed we might find mutually valuable and engaging that made for the most memorable, satisfying, and entertaining experiences.

As beautiful as Ithaca was at the end of the day what I remember was the people and personality of those I traveled with that made it such an incredible trip and more importantly the ability to introduce friends into this world I knew existed, for the first time.

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Above: Playing around with some stop motion burst mode shots by dancing in Ithaca Commons (these are just a few entertaining shots taken from the bunch

All Photos by Paul Stanley Beinetti

I encourage you to explore the photos posted in this blog and look at them through the lens of connection and these ideas of “community travel” do they change how you perceive travel, do you feel that the ideology of “community travel” could be branded as an added value or relationship building experience?

long overdue

June 2, 2011

This really is just a brief blog post to illustrate how horribly overdue I am for posting one. I will be posting thoughts I have had, and (in some cases travels) over these past four months. I encourage all of you no matter how busy you get to always keep writing. It will be one of my great passions moving forward to keep my thoughts, ideas, and inspiration flowing throughout the course of this summer as many exciting opportunities, adventures, and experiences lie ahead.

I am entering the critical junction within my Masters degree program at RIT to begin my Capstone project (essentially my thesis). With my coursework now complete, I look forward to attaching my signature to the ideal relationships of public policy, tourism, and marketing concentrations I have employed in an attempt to comprehensively develop creative and innovative solutions, for urban and community development.

My passions for the arts, the slow food movement, and the dynamic form of truly “localized” expression have never been greater and I look forward to sharing my concepts, theories and ideas moving forward!

As always I welcome your feedback and the opportunity to learn from you as well!

Thank You,

~ Benjamin J. Woelk

The Roads Less Traveled Part II

February 19, 2011
Sand Trails on Sodus Point Beach

I’ve had another great opportunity to take the roads across Upstate New York in search of the desire to experience something new. Today the greatest experiences have been the ability to  see the incredible beauty of the farms and orchards that are such a part of this region in New York State. Shortly after leaving my workplace at Joe Bean Coffee Roasters today, I headed north along Route 250 and towards the Sea Way Trail which hugs the coast of Lake Ontario. It was an impromptu decision to fill some unplanned time and to engage in what is quickly becoming my favorite thing to do in my free time. I am constantly amazed at just how quickly the scenery changes with a short drive out of town, often I find the ability to experience something “less than familiar” as purely refreshing.

Today I wanted to pay attention to the motivations and the things I wanted to experience. Whenever we set out to explore something new from somewhere we always hope for a positive experience, but what exactly are we looking for?  In examining these thoughts I began to really ask the question what is it that makes “place” for us? Why is it that we feel the motivations to travel towards a particular area or destination? In my opinion it becomes about having the desire to find somewhere that engages us enough that it becomes memorable.

What was it that was memorable for today? So much of what brought me fulfillment was the natural beauty of the road and landscape before me. A winding road that took me through apple orchards and old farm homesteads and the ability to glimpse the whitecaps on Lake Ontario that were created by a blustery and unusually warm and sunny late winter day. It dawned on me how much the natural landscape dictated the way that the road formed, something that is so clearly lacking when we take a major highway or expressway. We are use to roads cutting through and away from everything in a manner that bypasses the environment around us. Today’s trip became more about the road carrying you into places, at times I felt the road was almost designed to give me a tour of the many orchards and farms I passed through. Not surprisingly the Sea Way Trail has been dedicated as one of America’s Byway’s by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Sea Way trail is,” recognized for its unique landscape, scenic freshwater coastline, and historical significance.” That intimate connection with the natural environment was refreshing as I set out along my way.

As I continued down the road I shortly arrived  in the serene small town of Pultneyville and was captivated by the nautical nature of the town, it was set as close to the shores on Lake Ontario as any town I have seen in New York and boats were scattered throughout the marina. Everything about the town made you think about the history of its settlement, old Edwardian and Victorian homes it was amazing to think of the first people who would of settled there back in 1806. This town even served as a trading port during the War of 1812.

Though today I didn’t set out with a final destination the end of my journey took place in the beautiful town of Sodus Point. Here the ability to experience the lake shore was incredible. My first stop was a visit to the grounds of the Sodus Point Lighthouse, a historic lighthouse which was first built in 1824 and later replaced because of deterioration in 1874, the lighthouse stood out beautifully against the cliffs of Chimney Bluffs State Park in the background.

The highlight of my journey came when I arrived at the lake shore itself and decided to brave the wind out along the sea wall. Huge formations of snow and ice blanketed everything and the wind produced waves that were capable of spraying some icy cold water in my direction. When I arrived at the end of the pier and took in the 360 degree view of the water surrounding me I knew I had found what I had been searching for all along, the opportunity to experience something so engaging that I knew today would be memorable.

View from the Sodus Point seawall

Upon returning to the shore I stood on the beach as the sand whipped around my feet creating an incredible sight as sand trails formed across the entire beach front, and I stood in the midst of it with the winds gusting and the sun shining. These natural surprises created an environment where I suddenly found myself connected to the idea of truly experiencing “place.” All the conditions and characteristics of the area were causing me to form a connection with where I was, it was almost as if Sodus Point was there to speak it’s identity and I had the opportunity to listen to and recognize that.

Sand Trails on Sodus Point Beach

The ability to experience something that is exciting and beautiful enough that it becomes memorable should be the ultimate goal when visiting somewhere new. Not every destination in life is memorable nor does every place bring us the excitement for it to become so.

In my last post I encouraged you to slow down and to take the “roads less traveled,” as added instruction I want to also encourage you to look for those places that have the capability of becoming memorable to you. Look for the natural beauty, heritage, and people who have the ability to transcend the ordinary and become something exceptional. When you open yourself to experiencing the unknown, the unknown has the ability to become known in such a way that it can become familiar, and before you know it you’ll be wanting to return to the destination that had the ability to make that conversion for you in the first place.

What is it that makes “place” for you? What is the last trip you took that was truly memorable? I welcome your comments as always!

The Roads Less Traveled

January 23, 2011
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“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.”- Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve recently been thinking about what it is that’s beautiful that I look for when traveling. Just yesterday in an effort to break the winter blues I jumped in my car and drove into the back roads of Upstate and Western New York. I have recently realized that so much of what brings me excitement and draws the spirit of adventure from within me, is found in my desire to go look for what is not commonly sought after. I have started to recognize that one of the greatest challenges of living life is that often we travel through it at such a blindly fast pace that we miss the very essence and character of what’s around us.

We travel our lives on a highway always thinking about how many miles are left until we arrive at Point B after departing from Point A. It is my belief that something tragic happens in this process, we forget the very concept of what it is to be on the journey itself, we lend ourselves to the disposition that all is predictable because we’ve seen it before. Our “journies” become so planned and predetermined that there’s no need to anticipate any added value, perhaps simply the unexpected nature of being delayed or stuck in traffic.

Recently I have found a real desire to really know and understand my environment and surroundings. When I’ve set out to travel I’ve made it a real purpose to explore and find the roads less traveled, to pay attention to the smallest details of how the area around me has been formed and organized over time and to find those local people, businesses, and places that uniquely represent the communities in which they reside.  It’s the reminders of the communities that existed in these small towns and places that brings me great fulfillment. Sometimes it’s the simplest details, an old church that’s stood through the years, an old homestead, an old farm and the wide-open spaces that accompany them. Sometimes it’s just the fact that I’m forced to slow down as I travel through these small towns, in a way these places demand that you do, and it seems so appropriate that a place that has existed for so long deserves the tribute of at least lending my close attention.

My favoritve photo from the trip

My travels reflected

I have begun to realize just how much these roads less traveled are a greater form of expression and how these small  towns reflect community. They are cohesive and collective and their unification speaks loudly in the fragmented and busy world around them.

As I traveled through towns such as Rush, Mumford, Caledonia, LeRoy, Batavia, Williamsville, Lockport, and Olcott ,I began to feel more connected to the communities around me. These sometimes forgotten places had to power to remind me that character and community are worth finding no matter how far the distance traveled.

Now I carry the beauty of these places forward, and I am realizing that in doing so, the destination is becoming less important.

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