When a nation tortures 

Dick Cheney to the contrary, this country tortured prisoners after the 2001 terrorist attacks. We've known that since the Abu Ghraib news broke.

Now, thanks to the report released by Senate Democrats last week, we know that the torture was much worse - and more extensive - than we had thought. And we know that the CIA not only conducted torture but lied about it to members of Congress, the press, and the public. And that the CIA and some members of the Bush administration made sure that President Bush and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell didn't know about the worst of the offenses.

And, thanks to the Senate report, we know that the pain and humiliation and fear we inflicted on our prisoners gave us no significant intelligence - and that what valuable information we did get from prisoners, we got without torture.

But never mind. To the torture apologists, "enhanced" - brutal - interrogation is a perfectly acceptable way to defend the country. All's fair in these new kinds of wars that we fight.

The Senate Democrats' report ought to unleash enough public outrage to ensure that we never torture again. And it ought to force senators of both parties to provide the CIA oversight that they failed to provide previously.

But next year the Democrats who pushed for the report will be out of power. Republicans who are attacking the report will be in control. And the CIA, on our behalf, may go back to its horrifying ways, with the blessing of the elected representatives of the nation.

That will put us in the company of the torturers we say we're superior to, dictators and terrorists alike. And it will say to the world that we are a nation that values revenge over justice, and brutality over human rights.

On a brighter note: some local heroes

When they are healthy and work well, cities can be wonderful places, sheltering, entertaining, educating, and energizing us, spurring our creativity. They can bring us together in ways that our sprawled-out suburban developments don't.

There are times, though - in this city and in many others - when cities' enormous challenges seem to push them two steps backward for every step they take forward. Too often, cities seek salvation in big projects: sports stadiums, casinos - and, years ago, massive, block-clearing, history-destroying Urban Renewal programs.

The real building blocks of cities - of community centers of all sizes - are the less glitzy efforts, the step-at-a-time, risk-heavy brainstorms of ordinary people.

Also key: developers and city planners who understand and respect good urban design, who respect history and architecture. Cities, villages, and small towns can become so desperate for development that they embrace projects and design that destroy rather than enhance their communities.

The Greater Rochester area has an impressive number of developers, planners, craftspeople, architects, and citizen activists who are investing time, money, and talent to strengthen their communities. Every year, several of them in the Rochester area get some well-deserved notice at the Community Design Center's awards event. And at the risk of sounding sappy, I'll confess that those two hours are just plain inspirational.

Some of the award winners are people or projects you're familiar with. Others are projects that get little public attention but are an important part of, as the CDC puts it, "reshaping Rochester" and the Rochester region.

This year's awards went to:

Gary Stern, whose Village Gate development has turned a massive former printing plant into a zany mix of housing, commercial space, and restaurants. The epitome of the word "urban," Village Gate is helping inject life into its section of the Neighborhood of the Arts, morning, noon, and night.

Peter Monacelli - an artist, craftsman, and construction and renovation expert who has worked on 250 buildings in the Rochester area, including key downtown sites like the Hochstein School of Music, the Little Theatre addition, and the Wilder Building.

Edgemere Development Inc., whose Voters Block Community and Frederick Douglass Apartments on West Main Street and The Mills at High Falls on State Street are successful commercial and residential developments - creating, as the CDC puts it, "opportunity in neighborhoods that were once overlooked."

The Genesee Land Trust, the citizens' group with a mission of protecting the region's natural resources - land and water - not only in rural areas but also in urban areas, through projects like the El Camino Trail, a hiking and biking trail in northeast Rochester.

Project Scion, whose professional landscapers work with community residents turning vacant, often debris-plagued inner-city lots into neighborhood parks.

Birkett Landing, a historic mill in the heart of Penn Yan - empty and deteriorating for years but now a renovated landmark that houses commercial space and apartments at a key intersection in that community on Keuka Lake.

Last year's winners included the South Wedge Planning Committee, an impressive, dogged, and talented community group; the Memorial Art Gallery's new sculpture park; and bicycling activist Richard DeSarra, who has pushed successfully for bike lanes, bike racks on sidewalks and on RTS buses, and bike lockers.

This is not easy stuff - and for many of the people involved, there's little to no financial reward. And while developers can eventually make money from their effort, that happens only if the risk of investing in an urban area pays off. And the payoff for the community is huge, in quality of life and in paving the way for future successes.

Each of these projects is a testament to ordinary people's devotion to their community, their faith in its future, and their willingness to help make it better: big bright lights during a period when the bad news often dominates.

Note to readers: I'm taking the next few weeks off for some family time. Mark Hare will land in this space in my absence.

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