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Other layers of information to be revealed from that aerial image taken in 1951

Submitted by DeanerPPX (Dean Evaniak):
After reading STEEL’s article, “Seriously, isn’t it time to save what’s left?” (and the comments that it generated), I wanted to put my own widescreen iMac and Photoshop skills to the test. While STEEL’s images were startling, I felt that there were other layers of information to be revealed from that aerial image taken in 1951.
See lead image – 2009 B Density Change
I quickly downloaded the image he used, and lined it up with a photo from 2009 posted on Google Earth. I then attempted to reverse-engineer the same information using the more current photo, flipping back and forth to verify STEEL’s research. Along the way, I took a few extra steps to separate the urban fabric which we have completely lost from the urban fabric which has been replaced over the past six decades.
I felt it was important to show that as stark as our city’s losses have been, perhaps it wasn’t quite as startling as his image suggests. I started by masking out areas that were a complete loss. Vacant lots and urban prairies are highlighted in red, while sites that still retain some use as a surface parking lot are orange. I realized how much effort STEEL had put into his image, as this was a daunting task. I did not go parcel by parcel and lot by lot as he did, rather I only highlighted city blocks, half block, or notable examples.
1951 E Demolished.jpg
1951 E Demolished
2009 E Demolished Color.jpg
2009 E Demolished
For larger areas like the lower east side, I simply used yellow to highlight blocks that retain some of their old buildings but at a significantly lower density. I did the same for the lower west side, which has been largely razed and rebuilt (but at a drastically lower density as well).
1951 D At Risk.jpg
1951 D At Risk
2009 D At Risk Color.jpg
2009 D At Risk
I found it necessary to use green to highlight parks, plazas, squares and recreational areas. Surprisingly, we have MORE or these than we did in 1951, most notably along the marina, inner harbor, and in the Shelton Square/Division Park area of downtown. The green space around the Niagara Street exit of the 190 is subject to interpretation, so I balanced that off by highlighting the grassy area across from LaSalle Park as vacant lot.
Then I moved on to differentiate the urban areas that have been preserved from the areas that have been replaced with something new. The marina, the medical campus, and downtown development helped to reclaim some of those barren zones. Certainly, some of theses redevelopments are questionable. I didn’t know how to handle places like the Convention Center or Main Place Mall. In the end, I decided that anything that remained mostly as it had been in 1951 would be highlighted in purple. Anything such as the city court or bus station would be blue. It may not be the most aesthetically pleasing redevelopment, but if it still has a definite function it’s blue. Buildings such as parking ramps, however, I did downgrade to yellow.
There were several new buildings along the 190 that were not present in 1951. I cannot tell if they are vacant or in use, so I decided to mark them as blue. Some sites, such as the Donovan Building were constructed after 1951, abandoned, and are now about to begin a new life as part of Canal Side, so 60 years seems to span more than one lifetime for a variety of sites.
1951 C Preserved.jpg
1951 C Preserved 
2009 C Preserved Color.jpg
2009 C Preserved
My map isn’t foolproof. I did not spend nearly as much time on it as STEEL did. There are errors here and there, as I was working at a much lower resolution and was verifying information via satellite image rather than city record. Some may point out obvious discrepancies such as the Trico building or the Aud site. There is a tiny bit of artistic license used, as I adjusted contrast so the 2009 image would better simulate the sun angle of the 1951 photo. But if anyone would like to take their own stab at it, I kept the layered Photoshop file and can easily email it to anyone who requests it.
I don’t mean to refute anything that STEEL said in his article, quite the contrary as I believe most of his points are reflected in my images as well. But I do hope this evening of effort gives a slightly different depth of perspective as to how much we truly have lost, and what we have done with all those shovel-ready sites over the past 60 years.
2009 B Density Change Color.jpg
2009 B Density Change

Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

Sometimes the authors at Buffalo Rising work on collaborative efforts in order to cover various events and stories. These posts can not be attributed to one single author, as it is a combined effort. Often times a formation of a post gets started by one writer and passed along to one or more writers before completion. At times there are author attributions at the end of one of these posts. Other times, “Buffalo Rising” is simply offered up as the creator of the article. In either case, the writing is original to Buffalo Rising.

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  • Jesse

    This is what the original work should have looked like. Nothing personal to steel but this is much more informative.
    For instance, look at the 190 coming in from the East: Completely obliterated much more than just its own ridiculously elevated corridor.
    Washington and Main leading down to the Arena are depressing as well.
    Good job on this.

  • RaChaCha

    Wow!! Impressive.
    Somewhat related, do you (or any commenters) know where I might find a population density map of Buffalo–?
    Oh, and what font is that–?

  • DeanerPPX

    Actually, the 190 was a big surprise to me. In 1951, it was mostly railroad land, so the thruway didn’t obliterate as much as I had expected. I hesitated to mask that as vacant, because it was already largely vacant in 1951. If anything, there was significant reconstruction of sites on either side of it. Those structures are probably underutilized in the decades since, however.
    If I had been working with an image from the 1940s or earlier, we would have seen MUCH more drastic change on both the east and west sides. A lot of that was tempered by the fact that thruway construction was already underway in 1951.
    The 33 and the aborted downtown loop created their own level of bulldozer frenzy, not to mention disruption of already intact neighborhoods.

  • sbrof

    How do you want it? by Census Track \ BlockGroup, data 1990-2000? Have GIS can make. If I get my hands on 2010 numbers I would love to do a three decade comparison across block groups.

  • DeanerPPX

    Serpentine, one of my favorites!!
    A VERY quick google search brought up these two interesting sites for population density maps (as well as a treasure trove of other statistical and historic data)

  • RaChaCha

    Hot dog!! By block group, and a 1990 & 2000 set would be interesting for comparison. I’m having an ongoing discussion with a planner about what parts of Our Fair City are most densely populated, and I’d say a block group population density map would help in homing in on those. BTW, is block group the most granular data available, or is it also available down to the block level (if I’m understanding the distinction)–?
    Thanks! Do you have my email address?

  • brownteeth

    I noticed the same thing in regard to the 190. I can now understand why they decided to build it where they did. It’s just too bad they didn’t tunnel it from Smith street to at least the Peace Bridge.
    The older image really does show just how industrial and dirty the lower downtown/waterfront area was. I know we all bitch about demolished buildings and missed opportunities but there are some much nicer spots now than in 1951. The whole erie basin marina to Lasalle park for instance is much better now than in 1951. That may be why they built housing projects there, no one else probably wanted to live near a polluted industrial waterfront.
    It is apparent though from both aerials that the two major bad decisions made that probably had the most impact was adding the 190 (mostly around downtown itself), and allowing developers to build over existing streets. Those two really choked the city from accessing what is now one of our most valuable assets, the waterfront. However, I imagine that part of the waterfront was not very clean or desirable to be near in the 50’s.

  • RaChaCha

    Hot dog!! By block group, and a 1990 & 2000 set would be interesting for comparison. I’m having an ongoing discussion with a planner about what parts of Our Fair City are most densely populated, and I’d say a block group population density map would help in homing in on those. BTW, is block group the most granular data available, or is it also available down to the block level (if I’m understanding the distinction)–?
    Thanks! Do you have my email address?

  • fixBuffalo

    Thanks for the post. has a very useful set of maps that can be used for similar comparative purposes. Their data set begins in 1959 and ends in 2006. Here’s the 1959 map of Buffalo, NY –
    Click on the ‘Compare’ menu tab and choose ‘slide’ to see how built environment has changed over time. Endlessly fascinating – especially when you drill down and poke around the “33” – yikes.

  • RaChaCha

    Serpentine is the font–? Wow, serpentine is also my fav stone (often found in/on neoclassical buildings):

  • PaulBuffalo

    Dean, thank you for taking on this project and executing it in such clear detail. (That’s not a slight to Steel, either, who introduced this info to us all.) Great job.

  • DOC

    Too much work for something we all already know intuitively. We need to increase the critical mass of residents in the city. There is not motivation to get people here. YET. But it’s coming. Our elected officials and our residents still short-change the metro Buffalo region through their comments and their rolling-over and showing their bellies when it comes to defending this city. Our newscasters make disparaging remarks about the weather (get ready Buffalo it’s gonna be really tough), we absolutely must have a fire somewhere EVERY night on the news, we say things like “big blue water tower” (instead of I-90/290 interchange). We say “Galleria Mall” and worse yet, don’t know the nuance of difference between the two! Think of it. It’s like Hooterville. A new company, in spite of the quality of life in Buffalo and the lower cost of doing business here, will opt for relocating to New York City where it’s 10 times more expensive to live, open a business, enroll kids in private school, find a decent place to live. We have a 20 minute commute NYC a 2 hour commute. Can’t have a decent home in metro NYC unless its in another state. Yet there is no impetus to advertise our worth, value, quality of life and plenty of beautiful old buildings to live in. Which comes first: the chicken or the egg? Do we build and they come or do they come and we build? Tough question. I’ll bet a billion bucks we can get this thing turned around.

  • DeanerPPX

    I should thank Steel again myself. This would have taken DAYS, not hours if I didn’t have his work to reference against! And, as you mentioned, I wouldn’t have even thought to take on the challenge if he hadn’t put forth the idea in the first place.
    Thanks, Steel!

  • DTK2OD

    Very informative, indeed! Although, I’m curious as to what metrics you used to determine density. I would think that the density of a super block single-use structuce like Coca Cola Field or First Niagara Center would be much lower than that of the multiple multi-use buildings they replaced. Were you using ground cover?

  • Rand503

    Sure. But dirt can be removed. Industrial buildings can be repurposed. There was still no reason to demolish them.
    I wouldn’t say that we are better off without them. We have lost a chapter of Buffalo history and that can’t be replicated, try as the Canal park might.
    There are whole towns in europe and elsewhere that were pretty much open sewers and rat infested. Today they are tourist destinations. Good thing the burghers of France and Belgium didn’t just put up nice new parks in their place.


    Great work!- you are fast. I do Think you need another color though. The Fruit Belt and far west side show up as mostly intact when they are actually at least 50% gone on most blocks. You also don’t show the true impact of the Kensington which has a lot of adjacent vacant land. If you look at the comparison map you can clearly see the site clearing going on for the kensington construction
    I would also like to reiterate that the purpose of my map was simply to show how extreme the removal of historic fabric has been. It is very interesting to compare my 1951 map to the 1959 map in that comparison web site. just 8 years later shows huge swaths of removal already. That comparison map site has decent resolution too so you can get a really good look at the very cool and dense retail strips that were wiped away on the radial streets.

  • DeanerPPX

    I didn’t use metrics so much as personal judgement calls. I’m sure there are several instances that might be called into question.
    The stadium and arena are definitely ‘in use’ and generate significant activity, so I qualified them as “similar or greater density”. Parking ramps and even parking lots still generate revenue, but I felt that they contributed less to the city than if the previous structures had been repurposed, so those went yellow or orange.
    The Elm-Oak corridor does have several new builds, but they are generally suburban-style office buildings that contribute less than what they replaced. The Convention Center and Main Place were tough calls, but they do at least have the potential to match what was there previously, so those went blue.
    Several blocks on the east and west sides had lost housing to varying degrees. Honestly, I simply guesstimated their effects. The new apartment units on the west side were simply less tightly packed than in 1951. Housing loss on the east side was sporadic, so I highlighted areas that had multiple vacant lots and averaged out the rest. The area north of the 33 lost several homes, but not to the same degree as the area below Genessee. For each of those areas, I relied heavily on Steel’s research, as well as what could be viewed on Google Earth.
    The outer and inner harbor were another area of concern. As much as I tried to limit myself by the restrictions of the given dates 1951 and 2009, the under-use of the area called for harsher standards. I was more lenient with the 1951 cutoff date, as that area was heavily used in the ’30s and ’40s. On the other hand, there are several projects underway in 2012 that had been stalled or just in planning stages in 2009, so the vacant lots on the Aud site, 700 block and medical campus will have disappeared if one were to revisit this map five years from now.
    A huge consideration which I completely ignored is building vacancy versus lot vacancy. As with the Donovan Building, the 1951 streetscape was completely replaced yet the ‘new’ building currently sits empty. AM&As and Trico remain physically the same as they did originally, even though they are also currently unused. I tried to remain consistent with Steel’s original post by focusing on the potential for reuse of existing buildings, whether or not that has actually been realized yet. Certainly, the Elmwood block north of the new courthouse has the /potential/ to become home to the City Tower or other highrise, but currently it is just a parking lot.
    Overall, this map is entirely not based on statistics, metrics or demographics. There are admittedly many faults and errors within it, and my personal judgement may have distorted some minor details. The purpose was entirely to put forth an informal observation based on visual guidelines apparent from the difference between the two historical photographs. I just added some color to the never-ending grey area of this debate 😉

  • DeanerPPX

    Honestly, in the end, I think the images that speak the loudest are the ones without any color. Those two black-and-white images are best viewed side by side and say more than any of the other layers I added.
    For anyone who is interested, I cropped them to match as exactly as I could. If you are able to download them and view the two photos in an image viewer, you can toggle back and forth to see the changes without any shift in perspective. You can also do this within your browser by right-clicking each photo to ‘view image’.
    From there, anyone can draw their own conclusions.
    Buffalo is a remarkably dynamic city. In less than a century, it went from complete wilderness to economic powerhouse. In less than a decade, it went from vibrantly complex to visibly declining. Over just the past couple years, we’ve seen yet another shift toward the positive. The next few years will be exciting to watch!

  • phrank

    Check out this article I stumbled upon that relates to this topic:
    It’s been up for a month and I don’t know how we all apparently missed it. Interesting. And the authors appear to not be from Buffalo.

  • buffalofalling

    You don’t need a GIS to get some basic population denisty maps, go to Social Explorer and on their free site, you can map data (limited buit it has pop density) by census tract and some other census geos. If you know a friend or family member who is a student/faculty at UB, they can get access to the entire site through the UB Library.
    Great site, I’ve pointed it out here before.
    As for these maps, way better and using GIS and remote sensing software will provide a way better means to make a real map(s) that tells a story that readers can comprehend.

  • Nicholas Tyler Miller

    I have those maps.

  • brownteeth

    I’m not suggesting it’s good they’re gone, just that I understand why they did it. It’s easy to look at an old factory building today and say it would make a great mixed use building, but back then these places were filthy and associated with danger, disease, hard life and toxins.
    Remember, those buildings weren’t all warehouses for stark clean linens, they fabricated and housed a lot of hazardous goods without the EPA or OSHA and when they closed no one cleaned up after them. Even now, they may look clean but I bet the ground around them is not habitable.
    The people living around here were poor blue collar workers that lived there because it was close to their factory jobs. It was a matter of survival, not being hip and trendy.
    My point once again is that while I agree it is a shame we lost that building stock I can understand why the decision may have been made then. Furthermore, although the connectivity to the waterfront may be lost today, the waterfront is a much more desireable place to be now then it was in 1951.

  • Crisa

    You needn’t assure me. I remember what you do.
    I also remember years later when neighborhoods were eliminated so that the Scajaquada snd Kensington Expressways could be dug; and dug sooo deep in some areas, (where overpasses would be built), that I wondered if those deep areas would forever be filling up with water and cars would be submerged! That didn’t happen, at least not so far. lol
    Speaking not only of wornout structures but also of tenaments, I never will forget the rusty air and the rust- colored tenaments filled with many small children that used to exist across from the steel mills in Lackawanna.

  • Pegger

    Crisa over the years I have noticed that you and I have reported so many common experiences. So we must be of a similar age and from the same era. No specifics needed! lol
    I think it might be interesting if the staff at BR conducted an informal sociogram of the readership based on a limited list of criteria. It would be done anonymously, of course, to ensure privacy.
    I would find it interesting to find out just who we are collectively, how we cluster in sub groups, and where we fall in areas of interest. Demographics could be very revealing.
    Whenever I see your posts (and those of certain others), this is where my thoughts go. I think it would be a worthwhile endeavor to conduct such a survey.

  • Crisa

    Hello. Thanks for commenting! I have several interests and deep concerns and love that I can research, contact and comment online at other online places. But when it comes to Buffalo past and present, this BRO is my fav to comment, not just read…
    Your “…how we cluster in sub groups” cracks me up–makes me feel like a member of an ant colony–ants being about as sub, industrious and clustered as creatures can get.
    I am a lady guessing you are a gentleman??? For myself, your choice of wordings suggests you are not simply (but not simplistically) a wife, mother or grandmother who discovered the wonders of the Internet. But yes, your memory of Buffalo goes back in realtime just about as far as mine does!
    Buffalo Rising may want to follow up on your suggestions, but if you are suggesting a break from anonymity, personally, I appreciate anonymity, if that is what you mean?
    As far as a “sociogram”, Internet places already do chart their own progress, even internationally. All web sites can do that, it is online. The public can read that too and BRising can post where their own is located if they wish to. But, as far as I can discern, that information does not reach into teeny-tiny clusters of who, individually or as a group, goes to or is coming from, (except for being enabled to infilterate someone’s personal computer!)
    This BRising is a great memory trigger for me, but, it doesn’t help to remember all that I do without proof and pictures anyway! It IS all in my mind! lol

  • Pegger

    Thanks for responding!
    I meant anonymously only using statistical info. I sure didn’t want to be pegged as a housewife, mother or grandmother! That was very amusing!
    We, as ants in the Buffalo Ant Farm and of similar age and era, do have that one thing in common- we have a memory trigger in BRO!
    You made my day!

  • Crisa

    Thank you and sorry. I was slow to notice that your generic icon is a male profile! Pegger, Peggy; isn’t that Russian(?) guy in a credit card ad named Peggy? jk

  • GIS_Ninja

    DeanerPPX, you mentioned sharing your resulting layers. I would like to convert them into GIS data. How can I go about getting them. Thanks, and great work.