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East vs. West: Reflections on a Town Divided July 17, 2009

Posted by paulstella in Uncategorized.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a bit about north vs. south while looking back on my recent visit to Gettysburg. Lately, my thoughts have redirected to east vs. west, but I’m thinking more locally on this one. I’m thinking about my adopted hometown of Irondequoit, N.Y.

us_irondequoitIt’s been a little over 5 years since arriving here. I wasn’t really looking to move to Irondequoit—I just found the right house and generally liked the neighborhood in which it was located. For a variety of reasons, I’ve grown very fond of Irondequoit. An inner-ring suburb of Rochester, it faces a lot of issues familiar to many aging towns and villages in rust belt America. Residents exhibit intense community pride and a desire to fight like hell for its future. I like that—a lot! It’s raw and it’s real!

While cable surfing a few nights ago, I paused to watch the cable access channel. A recent Irondequoit Town Board meeting was being replayed, and I stopped hoping for some discussion on the status of the $250 million redevelopment of Medley Center (a deceased mall within 2 miles of my home). News on that effort has gone silent in recent months, which has me thinking the worst (meaning it’s not really going to happen).

Instead, conversation at the meeting focused heavily on a proposed community center, which sounds like a good idea, but I really don’t know. Associated with it is a plan to relocate two out-dated libraries into one centralized, modern facility. One of the current libraries in located in East Irondequoit. The other library is located in West Irondequoit.

map-irondequoitNow, somebody unfamiliar with the area might be saying, “Wait a minute, two towns?” No, one town, but two school districts. Unfortunately, the school districts have assumed most of the identity within Irondequoit. I live in the East Irondequoit School District—far less prestigious than it’s western counterpart. But when I tell locals (meaning folks in the Rochester area) where I live, the question that usually follows is, “East or west?”

I get this a lot, in various forms, like when I travel out of state. Frankly, I never know how to identify where I live. “Oh, you live in New York,” folks may say. “In the city?”

“Well, no,” I’ll state. “Not the city you’re thinking. I live in Rochester. Upstate.”

Response: “Oh! Upstate. Hmmm.” Translation: “Far less prestigious. I’ve lost interest.”

Anyway, I digress. Much of the controversy regarding the Irondequoit libraries involves a desire by some residents on both sides of town to keep “our” library. But as I watched the meeting, a lot of the speakers started to rail against Irondequoit’s east vs. west mentality. That’s good, I thought. The town will never move forward until it starts acting like one community.

But I know it won’t be that easy. We’re all so territorial, and we don’t like “outsiders” infringing on our way of life, whatever that might be. Rather, I wish we’d all learn how to expand our definition of community, especially in this region of the country where fewer of us remain year after year.

Some years ago, there existed a buzz about consolidating government functions in the local area. Eventually, the whole idea went up in flames because ultimately nobody wants responsibility for issues facing our neighbors. “Don’t make it my problem.”

Divide and conquer, as they say. Too bad because together, we’d be so much stronger in the long term, I think.  I’m hopefully Irondequoit will eventually get it right.



1. Norma Holland - July 17, 2009

fantastic article, Paul! having grown up in Irondequoit I, too, am irked by the lack of “one-ness”. Incidentally, my sister just bought her first home…in Irondequoit!

2. Cindee Gray - July 18, 2009

Paul, great commentary. Having come from the Fairfax County Schools in a very large DC metro area of northern Va, in which there were at least 8 different high schools, I have never understood why one town needs two different school districts and administrations.

3. Jeff Newland - July 18, 2009

I don’t know much about it… but was the Two Schools thing the harbinger of inevitable divide? Then a gain, I don’t know if that happened as much in Webster. I just know I would vote like crazy against a two Fairport HS solution. …

The issues may simply be very different and my query doesn’t help you and Irond’ move forward…

So I think my work here is done.

Keep the Vision, Stella.

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