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Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper!

If you attended the Aspirations and Inspirations speaker event this afternoon at City Honors, hopefully you came away with one thing. That ‘one thing’ is that there are multitudes of Buffalonians who continue to ask for a new direction when it comes to re-envisioning our waterfront yet unfortunately the ‘business as usual’ mentality persists. Why look for single million dollar silver bullet projects over and over when, as Fred Kent, founder of and director of Project for Public Spaces puts it, “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper.” There’s absolutely no reason that we shouldn’t have a public market at the Inner Harbor at this point in time, filled with buskers, artists, food, etc.

Do we need to build a multi-million dollar market place in order to see some action? No. What if we build one that can be utilized right away? Let’s create our own action… let’s not wait for the big boxes and the mega developers to build something that is not really what we want anyways. Haven’t we been saying that all along? Why can’t we have creative and practical decision-makers crafting immediate plans designed to attract visitors by springtime? Why not listen to some of the locals who have been preaching this stuff for years – people like Roger Schroeder who submitted to BRO his concept for a simplistic market/shelter system that could be implemented in months. These are the ideas that are still featured in innovative and trendy design magazines. These are the ideas that are considered short-term wins.
We’ve said it hundreds of times – how did a Naval Museum get built that was intended to have a first floor cafe, yet somehow the cafe never made it past the drawing board? It’s missed opportunities like this that make us want to tear our hair out. I bet that we could get the architecture and design students from the University at Buffalo to come up with affordable short-term goals that would appeal to thousands of people right now. What are the credentials of the people who are making these waterfront decisions for us? Do they really have the expertise to deliver? Are they tapping into the minds and ideas of tried and true visionaries who have succeeded in other cities? What on earth are we waiting for? Now that we have the historic Cobblestone street grid back, let’s provide key amenities right away. Tony Goldman (check out his site) talked about using the $40,000,000+ earmarked for the faux canal to create a unique destination that incorporates the Inner and Outer Harbor. Let’s get out of our own way and dedicate some of the funds to artists who can transform the grain elevators into awesome colorfully-lit spectacles and attractions. Then take the giant lawn at the Outer Harbor and make it into an undulating, tiered park setting featuring kiosks designed to look like canal-era boats. Gee, I wonder who could help pull off that project… John Montague maybe? These are just a couple of ideas… why don’t we ever hear creative ideas from the current planners?
Can’t we find someone who really understands a sense of place to help us put together all of the pieces that we already have scattered about? Has anyone in charge ever seriously listened to Joan Bozer? Why do the decision makers think that they can go it alone, when there are so many talented people at their disposal? We need to get some small cost/ big impact projects under our belts. We’re so close-minded to the projects that are right under our noses. Why? Because the big decisions will continue to be made behind closed doors by the same people who have been making the wrong decisions for far too long. Having Riverkeeper Julie O’Neill’s input on the board of the ECHDC is a step in the right direction, but it’s only one step. Hopefully there will be some fresh collaboration efforts made in the future. I was happy to see that Jordan Levy made it to the talks today. Hopefully he came away with a sense that there are other ways to go about planning our waterfront.

Tony Goldman hit the nail on the head when he said that we should hold property owners accountable who would see that our architectural heritage is put in jeopardy. Fine their asses and make their lives miserable until they do the right thing and relinquish or invest in their properties. Preaching to the choir? Maybe. Maybe not. There were some people (once again, like Jordan Levy) sitting in that room listening to non-political words of wisdom coming from the mouths of experienced thinkers and planners. Why shouldn’t the grain elevators be lit and painted? Why don’t we have objects of interest at the Outer Harbor? Why don’t we have a temporary market place at the Commercial Slip? Because the politicos don’t really care about the short term wins. They would much rather see giant cranes in the air building big box shrines that they can cut a ribbon in front of while punching in the cost of the project into their calculators. Is it driven by ego? Is it because they feel that their names are attached to the project and that means that they’re gonna plow forward and show the public that they were right all along?

When was the last time you saw a truly passionate person talking about our waterfront? Today I saw a bunch of them. Planning our waterfront should be a passionate process, not driven by a few egos with no track records. So far all we have seen are more studies, more consultants, more meetings, more prescriptions, more money thrown away and no real results. Let’s get the Joan Bozers, John Montagues and Roger Schroeders seats at the decision making tables, or we’re just going to see the same failed attempts to feed grandiose, unobtainable plans to a public that can’t stomach the same bland slop over and over.

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Written by queenseyes


Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at The Hotel @ The Lafayette, and the Madd Tiki Winter Luau. Other projects: Navigetter.

Contact Newell Nussbaumer |

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  1. Apparently all we need is a sculpture park and our prayers will be answered. I am waiting for an example of where this has worked, but if Slowrolling can provide that, then we should be all set for our future.

  2. I was there…and it was very interesting and inspiring to how simple these destinations can be with just a little ingenuity and common sense. The current plan for the harbor doesn’t stimulate any part of a person to go and enjoy that space time and time again. It is a space that people will venture to, to get what they need and move on. It instead, needs to be like a park or an urban park/square, where places spruce up around it because people are already there. Please stop the current plans for the harbor and Queenseyes should post links to where people could contact people who can change the current plans.

  3. an excellent presentation. turnout was amazing (500+/-?). In terms of community participation it was as off the charts as Peace Bridge design forums a decade ago.
    Very compelling argument made by the presenters for a larger concept of varied uses, homegrown in terms of function and design, tied together by parks. Cheaper construction, cheap rents, public uses revolving around repeat uses, not visit for an event and go home. Congrats to the Goldman brothers for building the momentum toward a far better project.

  4. Ustreamed it. Ustream should be used for every meeting and presentation that the public is entitled to attend. No matter where you are, if there’s a computer nearby, you are there. Think about all those common council meetings and forums scheduled during the day that the working public can’t make. It’s recorded for later view.

  5. A full-tilt public market has already been planned for the canal area, as a complement to the hotel/restaurant/retail plan. I worked closely with the very astute and experienced consultant hired by the ECHDC to scout the region for purveyors, ideas, etc. for an artisan food market. I feel that, from the plans I’ve seen and what I know, there’s no reason why this market alone wouldn’t be enough to really begin the project. Being from Seattle I am fully aware of what kind of excitement and attraction a well run public market can be. If we started with that, and then filled in the blanks as we went along–proving its success over time to other interested (and equally interesting) parties–I think it would be a more organic process.
    I also think that my friend Patrick Lango’s idea of turning said market into a hands-on learning museum (where kids can find out about where food comes from and how it is made), and where wannabe food artisans could come intern with skilled and practiced foodmakers, we’d really be on to something unique, viable, important and fun.

  6. I should probably mention, since Queenseyes has raised questions about the qualifications of decision makers, that while I can’t speak for the choices the ECHDC has made in regards to other aspects of the project, the consultant they hired for this public market part of the project is the founder of San Fransisco’s Ferry building market and Napa Valley’s Oxbow Market. The man knows what he is doing and was both surprised and impressed with what he discovered here in terms of talent, farms and food.

  7. As well, I mentioned this to Mark Goldman and he liked the idea, Gary White, the Custom Hatter over on Broadway, suggested an artisan/craftsman aspect where masters (hatter, glass blower, tanner, etc) can ply their trade, do demonstrations and hold educational seminars, much like you were describing above. This is very similar to what is done on Olvera Street in Los Angeles.

  8. I attended the presentations this afternoon with a friend. We both left feeling somewhat discouraged and jaded about the waterfront because it was as if the ECHDC really wasn’t listening to anyone but the ECHDC. It also felt like we are still at square one when it comes to the waterfront. Although work has progressed on the waterfront, we still lack a grand vision and master plan. This is indicative of the complete lack of leadership in Buffalo. I was surprised by the lack of local government representation at this presentation. I would have expected to see some of our elected leaders, or at least a few more representatives from the ECHDC. Their lack of participation speaks volumes about what they think of the waterfront proposals.
    We have been talking about what to do with the waterfront for over 40 years, and we are still in the starting blocks in many respects. We need the ECHDC, the Mayor, the Common Council, Brian Higgins, Chuck Shumer, and the rest of our elected officials to step up and take the bull by the horns with this. It has been 40+ years of debates and debacles, and we are still trying to figure out what to do with one of the greatest assets that we have in Buffalo. One of our greatest strengths is locked away behind a chain link fence, waiting for someone or something to show us the way.
    I am sorry if this comes across as too negative, but I am having a difficult time getting excited about the hypothetical concepts and arguments that were presented today. I wish we were at the stage of voting for the best ideas, or at a point where we were turning down offers for development. Unfortunately, we aren’t at that stage of the project after decades of discussion.
    Buffalo’s greatest strength may be our proximity to the water. Water is our heritage, and water is our future. Why are we letting a small group of closed minded individuals hold that hostage for another four or five decades. I just don’t believe that the ECHDC are good stewards of our future, and they need to go. Sadly, I don’t believe that this will happen, anymore than I believe that the NFTA will get out of the way. Our elected leaders are not strong enough to make change that is this significant and unpopular with the elite politicos of our area. So I am afraid that the presentations today were for naught. They made many in the room feel good about what could be, but unfortunately we need fewer promises and more action.
    Sadly, I think I finally lost faith in the future of our waterfront today.

  9. sorry to hear of your discouragement. Agree about the absence of any public and ECHDC presence. Poor on their part. Not unprecedented, but poor. Not permanent, though. If public pressure builds, they’ll get on board.
    If 20 or 50 people showed up for this presentation, I’d be more pessimistic. This size audience for this kind of presentation was significant. The politicians mostly missed it, but if they knew how many people would be there they wouldn’t have.
    It should be required of every elected official in Buffalo and Erie County government to watch the video of this meeting. Homework: call and write public officials calling their attention to the video. This is exactly the type of issue that Hoyt eats up. Higgins, too. I can’t imagine David Franczyk doesn’t get on board. I loved Curtis Haynes and he’d get on board I’ll bet. But I’ve also met Darius Pridgen. I’ll bet he can be persuaded on this issue, and relatively easily. If Pridgen gets won over, then Brown would be more free to follow (without appearing to cave to Franczyk, or Hoyt, etc.).
    I will say this for Tony Masiello: He was receptive. He listened to people. He’d give you the time of day (unlike, say, Jimmy Griffin). The only experience I had with Brown, when he was a state senator, was generally positive. I’m not certain he’s open to persuasion on this, but I’ll bet he could be sold. Just bring out that many people another time or two. Crowds of involved voters have a way of galvanizing political agendas.
    We stopped a bad plan once. Buffalo very nearly lived with a fake canal terminus in a generic any-city waterfront. Preservationists and others had fewer than half today’s turnout at their bigger events. And that effort prevailed. It carried the day because it was soundly reasoned and argued and it persuaded people. Today’s presentation was persuasive, too.
    The exit of Bass Pro gives us the best opportunity to hijack the runaway ECHDC project we’ve ever had. Now is the time to sell the public on a different vision. The politicians will follow. Call and write their offices, everybody. It’s hoaky, but it works.

  10. I felt both speakers raised good points and I think that their message was right on task, even though they didn’t lead public discussion as effectively as I was hoping. We, the people of Buffalo, need to help make the waterfront a destination that we all own and enjoy; not just a space where we invite guests for an event now and again, but one where we can ‘take off our shoes’ and experience on a daily basis. Doing that lighter, cheaper, and quicker makes sense, and small victories are a good start.
    I like the idea of a market on the waterfront, perhaps right against the water’s edge so people can get close to the water. That makes perfect sense if we have a community of artisans, artists, craftspeople and tradespeople that would be willing to make it happen!
    As a smaller, even shorter-term goal, I was intrigued by the suggestion that we highlight a unique aspect of our of the waterfront, the grain elevators/silos near HSBC arena, by lighting them up at night with energy-efficient lighting. It may sound silly, but a simple change like that can make a strong statement about public attitude. Say what you want about the state of the Central Terminal, but that tower brightens the night sky on the East Side quite impressively.
    As a newcomer to Buffalo, I’m curious to know what all of you think about this idea. If you all think it is something worth exploring, I am definitely willing to put in some time to investigate.

  11. Someone complained that our heritage of the Underground Railroad was being ignored, someone else hoped that we don’t paint the grain elevators – and I was reminded of how messy democracy can be. Let’s face it, no matter what is built and how great it is – many will complain of the lost opportunities.
    We all love our Olmsted Park system – but realize that it was not designed by committee, but ONE man’s vision. We would never allow that to happen today. Public input for urban development is great, but at some point, it needs to be filtered and put into action by a group – or maybe better yet – an individual, who is not trying to please everyone.
    It’s about getting the RIGHT people to make the decisions. And when it comes to development in Buffalo, I am beginning to wonder if we have seen the enemy – and the enemy is US.

  12. queenseyes, you inadvertently insulted roger schroeder when you called his market design ‘simplistic.’
    “Overly simple; In a manner that simplifies a concept or issue so that its nuance and complexity are lost or important details are overlooked.”

  13. Regarding the food market idea, that should be located in the second floor of the train station at the end of the metro line. It is on the edge of the water with an interesting industrial view and a peak at the mouth of the Buffalo river.
    One point reinforced by the presenters was the necessity of the attractions we create to reach out into the edges of the neighborhood like an octopus. Stretch the borders. Create different uses in different places and connect them with green space, as opposed to concentrating them like a shopping mall as a singular use destination. Multiple uses, multiple destinations, close (but not exactly adjacent) locations.

  14. the farmer’s market is and will remain the premier place to buy directly from farmers. I don’t envision this downtown market replacing it. The downtown market would be more analogous to Reading Station in Philly, or more similar to a Broadway Market, as opposed to the Farmer’s Market, at least as I see it.
    Reading Market (philly) is a bigger better Broadway Market with lots of lunch stands catering to all the downtown foot traffic.

  15. There is large distinction between a farmers market and a public market. I don’t think anyone is trying to take away from the food resources we have in the region, but rather to grow and improve that sector in a way that is appealing to outsiders and insiders resulting in a viable, profitable and lively business that is beneficial to its community and those who have taken the risk to be part of the project.

  16. Does anyone have thoughts on lighting the grain elevators/silos near the arena? I thought it was a simple idea presented at the meeting that might have a big immediate impact on the visual appearance of the waterfront. I’m new to town so I really want to know what other people from the area think, to gather some consensus.
    If there’s any interest, I’m willing to start investigating to see if it is a do-able option.

  17. Retail should be an afterthought supported by a larger draw. We have the broadway market and I ask how many support it. I see the comfort and consistency of a wegmans as more appealing to most modern consumers. I am sorry but I dont agree with the market idea.

  18. Lets go beyond lighting it and turn it into something appealing instead of just highlighting it as decay porn. Can you imagine what a great platform this would be for image projection. Please watch the video. Imagine the size of the grain elevators as a platform for this kind of experience.

  19. slowrolling,
    When was the last time you were at Faneuil hall, the Ferry Building, Pike Place Market, etc.? You can’t compare the Broadway Market–or even the more successful Rochester market or Cleveland’s West Side market–to any of the larger public markets which include restaurants, cultural and art experiences, unique vendors, live music, etc.
    The Broadway Market will hopefully continue to improve, but it will never be comparable to any of these things unless someone invests several zillions of dollars in repairing and improving the length of Broadway from the city to the market and the neighborhood surrounding the market itself. There is a new life for the market as a neighborhood hub, but I don’t believe it will ever be a year round draw to tourists the way a waterfront public market/park/restaurant/concert venue would be.

  20. Their ideas reminded me, favorably, of rapid prototyping used in software development. You gather basic user requirements quickly, build that fast, install it, and then let actual usage determine what works and what fails. I find it especially successful when developing in new areas.
    The long, and oftentimes unsuccessful, traditional methods of software development, where you can spend years defining every characteristic of a design without testing the basic premise with users, spurred this old joke:
    A woman had been married three times and was still a virgin.
    Somebody asked her how that could be possible.
    “Well,” she said. “The first time I married an octogenarian and he died before we could consummate the marriage.”
    “The second time I married a naval officer and war broke out on our wedding day.”
    “The third time I married a programmer and he just
    sat on the edge of the bed and kept telling me how good it was going to be.” 🙂
    Substitute ECHDC for programmer in that last sentence to understand why our waterfront is still in its virginity. The speakers were saying it would be best to let her get a little action, to see what she likes, before committing to a marriage. So to speak. And I wholeheartedly agree.

  21. “should be a passionate process, not driven by a few egos with no track records”
    Yeah, because passionate people who haven’t earned a dime don’t have egos…
    Good call, Dagner. Just get something going down there…

  22. That’s a brilliant idea! If you can’t make it to a public meeting or don’t learn about it until later, having it online and archived is a great way to increase public awareness.

  23. Jordan Levy was at the presentation, sat across the aisle from me. unfortunately, he spend 90% of the time with his face in his blackberry… didn’t exactly make me feel great about the idea of this guy trying to make a vibrant public community, when he can’t even pay attention to whats around him, himself.
    Not because of this, but I don’t think that ECHDC could have chosen a worse leader for this generational project.

  24. I really like that idea about projecting images onto the grain elevators. The Quebec example is pretty impressive!
    Perhaps we don’t need to do something quite to that scale, at least at first. Maybe we could project a stationary image of some sort that depicts a valuable aspect of Buffalo’s heritage in a positive light; no pun intended.
    But I don’t intend to just sit at my computer and talk about this; if you guys think this is a good short-term goal for our waterfront, let’s start taking action! Are there any people or groups in Buffalo that might have some expertise in light projection or an interest in contributing to such a process? I’m pretty new in town, so I’m not entirely aware of everything that’s out there yet.
    If anyone has any thoughts on this, I’m willing to start making some phone calls.

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