CGR celebrates our 105th birthday today, having been incorporated under our prior name, the Bureau of Municipal Research, on April 20, 1915. 105 years of longevity has a special meaning today, when a global pandemic is wreaking havoc in many communities, taking lives across the world, and altering daily life for all of us.
It’s a time when survival is not guaranteed, but there have been other such times in CGR’s history — as there have been in the history of many of our other Eastman-era institutions, from the United Way of Greater Rochester to the Eastman School of Music to the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce.
Consider this introduction to a summary of part of our organization’s activities in just its third year of existence – 1918.
“The year 1918 has been an eventful one for the Rochester Bureau of Municipal Research. The call of war greatly depleted our staff early in the year and at one time threatened to wipe it out almost entirely. The stoppage of municipal public works and the curtailment of normal activities also promised to disrupt our plans and to result in what might have well been a complete wasting of the efforts expended during the previous three years toward the establishment of a proper working basis for the city administration and toward laying the foundations for needed improvements in its service. “
Reference to war notwithstanding, the mention of curtailing normal activities, disrupting plans and the chance that previous efforts will amount to little have a familiar ring for us today. Yet the report goes on to describe progress in our
Engineering Division’s efforts to assist the City of Rochester in adopting better construction specifications, improving street cleaning and refuse collection, and weighing the costs and benefits of building new asphalt and garbage plants.
The Great Depression was the next challenge on the same scale, and in 1931 the Bureau commissioned a report by two graduate students of Syracuse University’s School of Citizenship and Public Affairs (now known as the Maxwell School) investigating the conditions among homeless men in Rochester. Employing techniques more common in investigative journalism, the authors posed as homeless men. “Our aim was to get a true picture of the conditions experienced by these men and to discover and evaluate the attitudes and influences which play upon the characters.”
The authors visited and reported in detail on 15 facilities serving homeless men, including the City Jail. They summarize their findings: “Practically all of the 25-cent lodging houses and the missions where the men ‘flop’ on the floor are unfit for decent habitation. Those patronized by the Bureau of Homeless Men are the ones which maintain higher standards of sanitation and respectability. Material improvement is desirable in many of these.” At the same time, the report notes the opinion of several homeless men interviewed that Rochester was a good place for “bums” as police were relatively lenient and food and lodging comparatively plentiful.
Fast forward 78 years, and we were once again thinking about conditions for the homeless following the 2008-09 Great Recession. CGR’s report for the United Way considered the best ways to provide crisis services for those in need of housing and food.
“The United Way cannot do it alone. Public, for-profit and non-profit organizations must ultimately commit their financial, leadership and volunteer resources together in partnership with the United Way in order to successfully build and support the crisis/safety net strategies and services,” we wrote.
It’s a relevant message for today, and one that our local institutions are putting into action through collaboration among funders, human service agencies, health, education and local government to address immediate needs in Monroe County. On our 105th anniversary, we stand with you in service to our community, ready to employ our organizational resources to address critical needs that arise.