By Dave McCleary –
It’s become normal each year after the annual Puerto Rican Festival to see a caravan of cars with Puerto Rican flags waving, horns honking and loud music playing, surrounded by a band of police cars blocking off streets and police helicopters flying overhead shining lights into crowds gathered in areas around northeast Rochester for the “unofficial festival and parade”.
But a group of residents are putting together a strategy to curtail and contain those spontaneous festivities and lessen the negative media coverage of events that occurs Sunday night each year following the festival.
The “street party” is not part of the official event, which this year takes place Aug. 16-18 at Frontier Field. But the large crowd and police response often are what the neighborhood and the rest of the city remember, rather than the family-friendly celebration of Puerto Rican heritage at the official venue.
“Yes there are activities that should not necessarily be occurring but by the same token it is a very celebratory type of environment that we feel is misunderstood, explains City Council Member Jackie Ortiz.
Ortiz is a member of the group known as the Northeast Safety Committee. The all-volunteer committee has about 20 members and no budget. Their focus is solely on events after the festival.
Anthony Nunez, public information officer for the group said the committee is trying to bring a sense of organization with festivities in the North Clinton Avenue neighborhood without creating another official event. The committee wants to control the flow of cars, improve pedestrian safety and create activities that reduce the number of people wandering the streets.
“What we are trying to do is to have an organized event without creating an actual event,” Nunez said.
Organizers have been meeting with media organizations to help clarify the post-festival activities—which, they emphasize, are not a part of the festival. The group has also met with the Rochester Police Department, the mayor, the Fire Department and community residents.
The committee made three specific suggestions to the city:
- Create temporary one-way traffic in a rectangle formed by Upper Falls Boulevard, Joseph Avenue, Avenue D, and North Clinton Avenue. The goal is to keep the unused lane open for emergency vehicles and to keep pedestrians on the sidewalks and to direct attention to designated and controlled routes.
- Add temporary lighting, speed humps and deploy Department of Environmental Services vehicles at Bauman Street and Avenue D, Herald and North streets, Joseph Avenue and Wilkins Street, Portland and Clifford avenues and Avenue A and North Clinton Avenue. The goal is to light up dark areas, reduce the speed of traffic on side streets and manage traffic flow.
- Invite community groups and agencies to use vacant lots at 814-844 N. Clinton Ave., 1081-1901 N. Clinton Ave., 555 Avenue D, 657-687 Joseph Ave. and 615-625 Clifford Ave. The goal is to reduce congestion on streets and at intersections and have designated activities where volunteers will be stationed.
They sent out a survey to residents and received over 835 responses but notes that most of the folks participating in the “after-party” are not festival attendees.
“They (survey participants) were very clear that they live in the community, they attend the festival, they do not support what takes place in the area but they understand the celebrations,” explains committee member Rose Mary Villarrubia-Izzo.
In a summary of the survey, the committee said that since 88% of respondents do not attend any of the northeast activities, “we must be cautious in assuming these results and recommendations speak to those who actually engage in activities in the northeast.”
The group says they would like to see more focus on the positives. “We would like to see a more positive spin on the events that occur after the festival instead of just listening to the (police) scanner, listening for the first bad thing and then advertising that,” Nunez said.
The committee is embarking on a social media campaign to get their message out to the community to party responsibly. Their strategy includes posters with messages like “One Family, Un Amor, Rep Right, Rep Safe, Nuestra Cultura Done Right!”
“As Puerto Ricans we want to fight the negative stereotypes that are portrayed but we also feel it’s important to own it—both the negative and positive—and perhaps provide a bit more structure to what transpires that evening,” Ortiz said.
Individuals or groups who would like to help or be involved are encouraged to contact Rochester City Councilmember Jackie Ortiz at (585) 428-7538 or email Jackie@jackieortiz.com