Sprawl has become so ubiquitous in our society that most times we don't even notice it. We pay through the nose for it, we use it, and we are abused by it in our daily lives but we barely take note of the real consequences of it. To many of us, sprawl is the norm and we do not even question why things are the way they are (crappy is just the way things are supposed to be right?). But sprawl building is not normal and does not need to be the way we do things. We need to pay attention to sprawl, its hidden costs, and other compromises it forces on us and we do need to question why we do such a horrible job creating our built environment these days. As an architect I do take note most times. Some of what I notice is too small for a full post so I thought I would bundle some thoughts and observations into a super post on sprawl. If it works I might continue this as a regular thing. So here goes in no particular order:
1. Driving on Colvin Blvd. last week (I was going to a store which is only available in a sprawl style malls) I made a wrong turn and became trapped on the 290 (the direction signs were ridiculous). Suburban roads are often planned in a very hap hazard way with highly incomprehensible and illogical patterns. A mile and a half or so later I was finally able to get off the highway at which point I found myself at the outer fringes of the University of Buffalo North Campus. The powers that be continue to build up this massive tundra scape style campus, dumping millions of dollars into it even though it has long been recognized as a giant blunder. The thinking goes that we have already invested so much in the thing that it is too late to pull out. Odd that it was OK to abandon a city when it was not working but this crappy campus has to be driven over a cliff before we give up on it.
The road I was on runs by some recently added student housing. The new buildings are all pretty much ugly, identical, cheaply built, and monotonous. The prison camp style rows of multi unit structures are surrounded by parking sprinkled with bland decorative "green space". I wondered how many potential students have been repulsed when the university proudly shows them around this campus. I thought about U of M at Ann Arbor. I thought about of U W Madison. Look them up and check out the fantastic cities around these campuses and tell me which schools have a leg up when competing for the best and brightest students and faculty.
"... continuing on our tour you will note that we run a school bus shuttle every 10 minutes to the mall which is right down the street a mile or two!".
2. Also on Colvin (at Sheridan I believe) I came to an intersection with a dead Rite Aid on one corner and a brand new Rite Aid on the other (lead photo). They were almost identical in size and appearance. I guess the 10 year lease was up on the dead one. Worry not, however. The new Rite Aid replaced a dead gas station on that corner. The new gas station is on a third corner of this intersection. How long can we continue on as a society and a nation in such a wasteful manner? Maybe one of those IDAs will extend some tax breaks to tear down the old Rite Aid and build a new one in a few years. They probably need to start planning now... there likely is only 7 or 8 years left on that new lease.
3. Here is a doozy. The State said that they will not reduce the speed on Route 198 to below 40 miles per hour. This of course is the highway that cuts Buffalo's beautiful Delaware Park in half. There really should not be a highway through the middle of this park. It is a travesty that it is there. Decisions on what should happen with this roadway should not be left in the hands of an Albany traffic engineering bureaucrat. Local leadership (is there any?) needs to stand up with a loud voice to demand it be rebuilt to its original design and intent. Many people believe or can easily be led to believe that a highway needs to be there simply because it is already there. Buffalo has far more highways than a city its size needs, but most likely the people will buy into the warped logic of a traffic engineering bureaucrat whose whole life is devoted to making sure cars move as fast as possible at the expense of everything else. The Buffalo News ran a story on this but buried it deep within a recent issue of their scarcely read Saturday issue. Will anyone stand up to the State spending a few million dollars to apply a bandaid to this gaping wound of a highway. They want to reduce it from 50 miles per hour to 40 miles per hour. What this really means is that cars are going to be moving at 50 miles per hour instead of 60. Woot! Can't wait to ride my bike along there. Will officials grab at the publicity of having any project rather than fight for the right project?
4. The News also noted that ECC will be moving its One Stop Jobs Center to the Amherst Campus form the South Campus. If there is anything good in this story it might be that the college officials are coming to their senses and may be making initial moves to get rid of one of the three redundant campuses (can we hope?). Of course they are still putting this jobs center in a remote location away from public transit and far from the region's most dense cluster of jobs. That would be downtown Buffalo. Of course downtown Buffalo, with its high concentration of high paying employers and multitude of transportation options from all parts of the region, would have been the logical choice for locating this jobs facility. Logic schmodgic! ECC officials did tout the fact that the new Jobs Center on the Amherst campus will be near a bus stop. Hope the people in Orchard Park have a car while they look for a job. The bus ride to Amherst will take more than an hour.
5. In yet another Saturday story The News wrote of the Clarence town board considering a moratorium on multi family housing. Apartments, or multi family housing also tends to be a code phrase in many places for the poor or undesirables and is often highly restricted if not outright banned. Often the only acceptable multifamily residential development in exurban towns like Clarence tend to be complexes built for the elderly. In fact, in this case Clarence is considering an exemption from the moratorium for senior citizen apartment developments. The stated reason for the proposed moratorium was to to take a breather so that zoning guidelines can be developed to deal with the strain that "might" come with a surge in new development. 5 proposed apartment developments have been been discussed as possible new projects in the town. Some on the town board expressed concern over the impact on sewers, traffic and schools that these projects could impose on the town. These are legitimate concerns. Certainly these projects will have an impact on town services but so would an equal number of single family houses. Compact housing development is actually a way to reduce demand on municipal services but typically towns like Clarence eliminate this benefit by requiring large amounts of open land and separation of uses which pretty much assures use of cars and lots of traffic since you have to use your car to do everything. Wouldn't it be refreshing if Clarence stated that the moratorium was a way to focus development into the core of the metro area rather than to gain time for planning how to expand infrastructure and services outward. "Metro Buffalo - fewer people taking up more space and growing."
6. The Water Department notes that the City's water infrastructure was built to serve 700,000 residents. It currently serves only about 260,000.
7. I was on Elmwood Avenue several times over the last week. Each time I noticed that the street had many many open parking spaces, as many as 13 on the Spot Coffee block one day. In each case all (and I mean all plus many sign posts) of the bike racks were completely full of bikes. No one ever complains that there is not enough bike parking.
8. Took a ride on the Miss Buffalo. The first half of the ride was spectacular as we headed out into the lake. The second half of the tour not so much. The second half takes you down the Black Rock Canal where you get to hear the roar of the Niagara Section of the Throughway. Buffalo has highways running within a few hundred feet of its entire waterfront. In the case of the Black Rock the super highway is often directly adjacent to the water. Much of it covers the most historic man made object in Buffalo, the Erie Canal. Waterfront property is rare and should be a major asset in Buffalo. In most places it is highly desirable and very expensive. It is an asset Buffalo has that Amherst will never have but this asset has been rendered worthless so that suburban people can move in cars quickly from remote places. The ramps shown in the image here also obliterate the mouth of the Scajaquada Creek.
Imagine this as an attractive waterfront with a creekside park running all the way up to Delaware Park. Then imagine Humboldt Parkway restored so that you can then travel all the way to the Buffalo Museum of Science without leaving a park. But, we have to be satisfied with imagining because we have decided to provide quick travel by car for people who choose to live in remote places. By the way, the access roads adjacent to the Kensington superhighway are still cynically called Humboldt Parkway.
Finally, the drawing below showing one interpretation of the Peace Bridge plan speaks volumes with nothing additional needed from me. For this and other great art from Buffalo artist Michael Harmon go to MichaelTHarmon.com