University of Rochester

Students Apply an Anthropologist's Eye to Life on Genesee Street

May 16, 2002

In Maryann McCabe's course, Anthropology and Market Research, students take the methods of cultural anthropology to the street-Genesee Street this time. The 19th Ward, one of the University of Rochester's closest neighbors, asked McCabe and her class to gather reactions from commuters and students about revitalizing a section of the street.

During this semester's project, students walked along six blocks of Genesee Street to absorb the mix of commercial and residential space. St. Monica's Catholic Church and school presented a stately complex of stone and serenity; a block or two away, beauty shops and mini-marts barely appeared open. They took in the environment, entered the stores, and observed the streetscape and people.

A focus group interview with workers in the immediate area produced some opinions and more background. McCabe, a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology, questioned and encouraged comments from five people-including a firefighter, teacher, and social worker-while the students sat on the other side of a one-way mirror, a typical market research tool.

The consensus from these commuters? They spend little time and money on the street because it lacks the shops and atmosphere they like.

Each student sought other commuters and spent a few hours at their work sites for more observations in the neighborhood. Finally, at random, class members recorded one-on-one interviews to hear what other students know and think about Genesee Street.

The findings were presented to the Sector 4 Community Development Corp. on April 30 and described priorities borne out by student research from Brooks Avenue to Cottage Street. Some of them were:

Students surveyed didn't want "a college town" created especially for them; rather, they'd like to participate in Genesee Street's own community life. Both commuters and students said they wanted to join in community life, feeling that Genesee Street belongs, above all, to its own residents. The diversity of the neighborhood was seen as an important positive attribute. Students hold some negative attitudes about Genesee Street concerning safety and the availability of shops and restaurants-but it's often based on little or no information. Many don't really know where Genesee Street is, class members found. The anthropology students said that ethnic restaurants, used-book stores, coffee shops, laundry services, and copy centers would be among the retail outlets that could be attractive to students. They also suggested more parking, benches, and trash cans to make the area feel more welcoming and look cleaner.

"Most students I talked to were excited about a shopping area they could walk to and a community they could get involved in," said Radhika Dewan, a junior from Syracuse. "For now, they know the footbridge exists, but they have no interest in going over there."

Perhaps if the revitalization of the street moves forward with current proposals to build a restaurant, hotel, and retail complex on the other side of the pedestrian bridge, a new kind of community space could emerge.