Summer is here, and Buffalo's waterfront looks the best it has in over seventy-five years. In accordance with this progress, Buffalo Citybration is again partnering with Buffalo's community and organizations to for their sixth annual, four-day festival (June 23-26) on the waterfront. Concurrently, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation's (ECHDC) master plan is continuing to take shape - taken for granted for decades and previously shrouded in red tape, our waterfront is emerging.
Citybration epitomises what the waterfront represents: a community-driven idea geared to stimulate both communal and economic growth and to celebrate Buffalo's rich history and future potential. Start by celebrating the Best of WNY with Buffalo Spree magazine at Shea's on Thursday evening. Then catch a Hot Air Balloon Ride on the Outer Harbor or attend the free Sunset Reception atop City Hall on Friday evening (June 24, 6:00-9:00pm). Get your friends together and compete for prizes during a QR-coded Scavenger Hunt that will base itself at the Pearl Street Grill on Saturday afternoon and require teams to explore and learn about all aspects of the waterfront. Later Saturday evening, a Floating Cocktail Party will launch from Templeton Landing and lazily drift to Dug's Dive and back, sipping all the while. Sunday celebrates Canal Side starting with a Free Cheerios Breakfast on the Boardwalk followed by the Citybrate the Waterfront Festival, which will feature local artists and artisans, food vendors, neighborhood organizations, storytellers, performances, a children's area, green initiatives, the Estrela, and much more. Self-guided Sunday strolls are encouraged, and tours will be available all day. Citybration ends with a fun bicycle ride from Canal Side to Dug's Dive where some good food and a Rusty Chain might be appropriate. All in all, Citybration will showcase a wide variety of events (for more information, visit citybration.com). Invite your friends and family for a great time and celebrate the things our city and waterfront stand for most: community.
It's a party with a purpose, says founder Marti Gorman. "Every year we celebrate the City of Buffalo. This year we are working with ECHDC, Project for Public Spaces, and Friends of the Buffalo Waterfront to showcase our evolving waterfront assets, highlight the growing opportunities this area offers, and celebrate the many successes we are enjoying on Buffalo's beautiful waterfront. Every Citybration activity is designed to help connect the Inner Harbor and Buffalo Riverfront to the Outer Harbor and to remind everyone that our downtown is actually ON the waterfront." All this done in compliance with Citybration's mission: to help keep our best and brightest here, bring back those who have left, and to attract new entrepreneurs and professionals. In doing so, Citybration proactively addresses the retention and attraction problems that plague Buffalo and makes the 10,000+ annual attendees better ambassadors for the city. The waterfront's ongoing transformation provides a glimpse into the potential for tomorrow's Buffalo.
Albeit ten years in the making, the ECHDC and their developmental plan has gained some steady momentum over the past few years. It has been a bumpy and frustrating road, but we are getting closer to realizing the unified and accessible waterfront we have sought for so long. Our grandiose vision of a thriving city is decades away but whose foundations for which are being built now. Moreover, a self-sustaining waterfront at Canal Side may only be several years off. It has been a long time coming, but plan is turning to action. After years of financial and political uncertainty, protests, lawsuits, and modified project plans, things are beginning to take shape; the ECHDC is making strides. Would it have been nice for the original board to have had some urban planning experience; to take community concern into account before a public lawsuit forced them to; for a dispersal of Canal Side developmental rights and/or not given to a mediocre strip-mall specialist (Benderson)? The answer to these questions is yes, but there's no sense in crying over spilt milk. Instead, we must appreciate what we presently have and apply what we've learned to what we'll do in the future.
It was under these pretenses that I decided to see the improvements first hand. I went on a bike ride that would encompass the whole waterfront and south side of Buffalo. I started by traveling south from Erie Basin Marina through Canal Side, the Cobblestone District, and into the old First Ward. Ohio St. joined with Fuhrmann Blvd. as I past Tifft Nature Preserve, the Small Boat Harbor, and Gallagher Beach. I turned around in Woodlawn and, upon my return to the city, ventured onto Kelly Island and the Outer Harbor. After seven hours on my 3-speed Huffy Timberline, an intimate portrait of our city was revealed to me that I had never known. I couldn't wrap my mind around how such a critical and intrinsic portion of land could be neglected for so long by its city. Furthermore, a resounding theme of potential bothered me along my ride. I don't want Buffalo to be the little city full of potential anymore; none of us do. We want Buffalo to be a city where potential is realized, achieved, and built upon. The first steps in this long process have been hashed and new ones are being forged. Yesterday is something to learn from, and resentment can quickly turn to optimism, if you let it.
We have been jerked around for decades and again over the past ten years, but tangible changes have been made and are continuing. Water taxi service by way of the Queen City Water Ferry opened three weeks ago, Buffalo Riverfest Park just had a ribbon cutting, a food venue will set up at the Commercial Slip, facility reconfiguration and restoration of 'Chinaman's Lighthouse' will soon commence, public canal construction is slated to start this fall and be finished by next summer/fall, Donovan building proposals are currently being accepted, and a 150 room hotel is currently undergoing draft plans for the old Bass Pro site. In addition, plans for the Outer Harbor are developing, including: a bridge connecting the inner and outer harbors (foot of Main or Erie St.), Lakefront Meadows Park, and a sand-covered Gallagher Beach. This progress, however, is not what I'm most excited about.
Much of the controversy and frustration surrounding the Canal Side project can be attributed to non-communication and a lack of compromise. In writing this article, I encountered this selfishness first hand and realized why nothing ever gets done in this city: stubbornness and myopic viewpoints. Figureheads like Mark Goldman and Tim Tielman are considered by some to be obstructionists, and the ECHDC has been far from perfect. In truth, both sides are to blame. Until just recently, strong wills and deaf agendas have stunted and dictated much of the development.
Following a huge public forum at City Honors in November 2010, ECHDC Chairman Jordan Levy created three subcommittees to activate the Historic District, the Buffalo River, and Outer Harbor projects. Mark Goldman, Tim Tielman, and a slew of other influential Buffalonians were appointed committee chairs. As a result, a more democratic process was initiated that allows appointees to act as liaisons for their greater communities; communication has finally been actualized. Correspondingly, 'Friends of the Buffalo Waterfront' was just formed in April, which is an organization dedicated to presenting the citizens of Buffalo with opportunities to participate in development, stay informed of current waterfront plans, and keep the momentum going.
Because of this headway, the ECHDC and its former opponents can now work in concert towards the common goal instead of trying to sabotage and stymie the other in what was the definition of counter productivity. This congruence should naturally pool ideas, resources, social networks, and serve to alleviate differences of opinion much quicker. Consequently, these subcommittees should also yield a more efficient and expedited way of getting things accomplished in future phases and projects. What does this all mean? We get a better and more inclusive waterfront faster. This is the reason behind my optimism.
Some of you might view my thinking as naive, and many people view Canal Side as a failure. On the contrary, I feel we are sitting prettier now than ever before. Canal Side will serve as a catalyst and as the foundation of tomorrow's waterfront from which we have to learn and build from. Too, we must consider the scope of this project. It is massive and, considering other Buffalo waterfront initiatives, really the first of its kind to get off the ground; this is where we must draw our optimism. The mistakes and uncertainty over the past decade have been glaring and frustrating but must be half expected. The ball has started rolling, and the ECHDC is coming around, seemingly learning from its mistakes. The appointment of Julie O'Neill, incorporation of subcommittees, and partnership with Project for Public Spaces (PPS) are key moves which will only focus and expedite the developmental process. With these gathered resources, momentum, and creative, innovative ideas, future Outer Harbor development could be great. Now, I'm not saying that everything from here on out will be smooth sailing, but the bumps along the way should get smaller and become less frequent.
What we need now is to appreciate this progressive trend. One way of accomplishing this is through the generation and continuation of public support. More than 300 events are reportedly scheduled to take place on the inner harbor this summer (triple the amount of 2010). Events like Citybration and organizations like Friends of the Buffalo Waterfront are critical because they promote the waterfront and provide the public with opportunities to both have fun and stay abreast of current development. It is paramount we all see our waterfront first hand, appreciate it, and continue to support it through its current and most important infancy. Doing this will serve as the stimulus needed to bolster demand and allow it to blossom into the waterfront we all know it can be and deserve.