Skip to primary navigation Skip to main content

NY Times sees potential in Buffalo

The New York Times longs for a "bold urban vision" to help revitalize the nation's cities and sees particular potential in Buffalo.

Writes Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff:

The country has fallen on hard times, but those of us who love cities know we have been living in the dark ages for a while now. We know that turning things around will take more than just pouring money into shovel-ready projects, regardless of how they might boost the economy. Windmills won’t do it either. We long for a bold urban vision.

With their crowded neighborhoods and web of public services, cities are not only invaluable cultural incubators; they are also vastly more efficient than suburbs. But for years they have been neglected, and in many cases forcibly harmed, by policies that favored sprawl over density and conformity over difference.

Such policies have caused many of our urban centers to devolve into generic theme parks and others, like Detroit, to decay into ghost towns. They have also sparked the rise of ecologically unsustainable gated communities and reinforced economic disparities by building walls between racial, ethnic and class groups.

Correcting this imbalance will require a radical adjustment in how we think of cities and government’s role in them. At times it will mean destruction rather than repair. And it demands listening to people who have spent the last decade imagining and in many cases planning for more sustainable, livable and socially just cities.

The story goes on to deal with four locales, New Orleans, Los Angeles, the Bronx and Buffalo:

Perhaps the most intriguing test case for reimagining our failing cities is in Buffalo, where the federal government is pressing ahead with a plan to expand its border crossing facilities. The city was once a center of architectural experimentation, with landmarks by virtually every great American architect of the late 19th and early 20th century. Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., the father of American landscaping, created a string of elegant public parks intended for the city’s factory workers.

Like other Rust Belt cities, Buffalo began its decline more than a half-century ago, a victim of failing industries and suburban flight. Large sections of Olmsted’s parks and boulevards were demolished; an elevated expressway sliced through one of these parks, cutting it off from the riverfront; many of downtown’s once-proud buildings were left abandoned.

Yet rather than reverse that trend, the government now seems determined to accelerate it. The Homeland Security Department is planning to expand an area at the entry to the Peace Bridge to make room for new inspection facilities and parking. That plan would require the demolition of five and a half blocks in a diverse working-class neighborhood with a rich architectural history, from late-19th-century Italianate mansions to modest two-family homes built in the 1920s.

Local preservationists argue that protecting the city’s historic neighborhoods is fundamental to the city’s survival. Pointing out that bridge traffic is steadily shrinking, they are pressing the government to upgrade the train system and dismantle parts of the elevated freeway to allow better access to the riverfront. Not only would they like to see Olmsted’s late-19th-century vision restored; they would also like to see it joined to a more comprehensive vision for the city’s future.

At this point there is no concrete plan to counter the government’s, but the potential is great. The city’s architectural fabric is rich. It has an active grass-roots preservation movement. And few sites better sum up the challenges of trying to save a shrinking city. I for one would love to see what a talented architect could accomplish if his imagination were given free rein over such a promising site.

The entire story is worth reading, so have at it.

Also worth a look is this story from AlterNet dealing with the next wave of slums -- in outer-ring suburbs.

Suburbia's least desirable neighborhoods -- aging, middle-class tract-home developments far from city centers and mass transit lines -- are America's emerging slums, characterized by poverty, crime and other social ills. 

I don't see that happening here, not yet, anyway. Then again, I have never gotten the appeal of, say, Lancaster. Doesn't seem to be any there, there.



Economic Development | Recommended reading
comments powered by Disqus