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Bringing Back Utilitarian Beauty

When Buffalonian4Life (that’s his real name, but he also goes by The Rake), posted on a 700-block construction watch back in June, people got a good taste as to what The City can do to beautify our streetscapes (the right way). There appeared to be more room for trees to grow within street islands, there were bike lanes, and more mature trees were added (in the islands) instead of the saplings that never make it through a winter. Finally a street looked like it should… or at least it was a great start.

After that post was published, Buffalo Place added to the streetscape momentum in the form of a historic-looking clock at the corner of Main Street and Goodell. The clock looks great at that highly visible spot and adds a different perspective to that block – from what I understand, it replaced a clock that once stood in the same place). It’s effective too, because it makes people stop to look up at the architecture around them. Not long ago, this corner was a real mess. Unfortunately an historic building was recently lost nearby, and many of the mature trees were cut down in the wake of progress, but as the 700-block of Main Street continues to recover from its losses, there are some thoughtful additions being added to create a walkable commercial district.

Medallion-Buffalo-NY.jpg

Other objects-of-interest on the 700-block are the shiny gold Buffalo medallions that have been placed in front of the businesses. Like Elmwood Avenue’s stained glass numbered address markers, the medallions create a sense of pride for the district and are helpful to passersby who may be looking for a specific destination. Some people may think that these additions are insignificant (I remember the discussions from the Elmwood days), whereas others may look at the functional ornamentation and think, “This is a district that cares about the businesses and the people who frequent them.”

When Buffalo was experiencing a heyday, many of the utilitarian objects around the city were designed with ornate features. Lamp standards, sidewalk stamps… even manhole covers. It might have cost more than simply adding non-descript objects, though the end result was something that people, to this day, still revere (mostly through photos of the era).

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  • MrGreenJeans

    I walked through that ‘commercial district’, yesterday; there wasn’t much commerce in evidence. I might have passed 20 people in my 10 block round-trip. It’ll take me a week to get over the depression of seeing how dead is Downtown.
    hmm.. If nobody’s there to read a clock, does time still pass? 🙂

  • STEEL

    Yep you are right let’s not do anything to improve it either and let’s tell all those new businesses on this block to close up and we should make sure that no one ever builds anything in Buffalo again.
    I mean what exactly is your point? Are you saying that you just now discovered that Downtown Buffalo has declined economically and that you want to make sure everyone else knows because it has been kept as such a big secret?

  • Travelrrr

    Really breaks my heart to see the space where the Vernor used to be. I hope David Shifrin (former neglectful owner) and the like are taken to task going forward for ripping out pieces of our city’s soul.
    Have there been any more strict provisions put in place by our fearless Mayor and team to protect from such neglect in the future?

  • sbrof

    He said that to incite a reaction… nothing more.

  • sbrof

    This really has turned into a nice block. I do wonder if the removal of the Vernor building was worth it. I mean look at that shovel ready site years later… it looks like ALL the other ones… still ready.
    New construction is and always will be more expensive than renovation… the proof is in right in front of you.

  • Dan

    I’ve always said that when it comes to the built environment, Buffalo just doesn’t do details well. I sincerely hope this can change.

  • Travelrrr

    How could we turn the green space at the end of Main into a fabulous park…with outdoor art/benches?

  • flyguy

    Streetscape improvements really go a long way! Anything that can complement the pedestrian experience along a street contributes tremendously to neighborhood aesthetic and quality of life. This area will benefit from these improvements over time i’m sure.

  • grad94

    exactly. those new tax credits might have saved the vernor.
    ever noticed that when developers -do- want to do a new build, they invariably prefer a site with an existing building? so something gets demolished with sexy renderings of a shiny new build to come, and -surprise- it often doesn’t materialize. we’d have been better off mothballing the vacant building for a better day.
    the message from the market is clear: if our ‘shovel ready’ sites were that viable in terms of location location location, they still have occupied, functioning buildings on them.

  • sbrof

    Also quality materials are worth every penny. I often look in wonderment at the 1901 curb-inline server pieces. It has been there, and functioning, without any major problems for almost 110 years… 110 YEAR! If I could bold that I would… It is worth every penny to put in materials that will last a long long time. I am tired of watching brand new projects fall apart around the region after 1 year…

  • flyguy

    Basic streetscape improvements are necessary throughout the city. Simple things like updating sidewalks and curbs and ensuring street trees are consistent without large monotonous gaps of nothing are very very important. The re-tree initiative is a great help.

  • Buffalonian4life

    Would love to see this momentum continue throughout downtown, especially Washington street, where Rocco is creating critical mass, there needs to be a revamped and aethetic streetscape improvemenent, much like this one. I couldn’t be more pleased with the way the 700 block turned out!

  • MrGreenJeans

    Sorry, silly me. I’m obviously lying about feeling sad at seeing a nearly empty Main Street on a weekday afternoon; Broadfuster The Mindreader has found me out!
    On the positive side, it was nice to go directly to the teller at my bank, with only one other customer in the place.
    The sidewalk medallions will pave the way to the future, along with the other ‘amenities’. Pollyanna Rising says so.

  • queenie

    Nonsense. MrGreenJeans is absolutely correct. On my last trip to Buffalo I was more depressed than ever about downtown (which I have known for 60+ years).
    Empty! Empty! Empty streets. Creepy little shadow “businesses.” Parking lots totally dominate what used to be the urban fabric of a real city. People at lunchtime move along the sidewalks as though they are not supposed to be let outside, nonetheless WALK!

  • queenie

    Couldn’t agree with you more. Main Street is a total downer. Towns of one-quarter the population have more street life and energy. Buffalo is a relative ghost town except at its suburban fringes, but pretending to be a place of the future.

  • queenie

    I mean, what exactly is YOUR point?

  • queenie

    Oh, come on! Critical mass for what? Aesthetic streetscape improvement? You mean a couple of struggling saplings among the trash, broken pavements, and hideous streetlights?

  • Black Rock Lifer

    I disagree, I have been watching our city for the past 40 years or so and we definitely hit bottom years ago. There is a new energy and appreciation for urban living that is creating more demand and investment. Downtown has suffered but is starting to be repopulated and that critical mass will eventually bring more activity.
    We will not likely return to the downtown of the 1950’s or 60’s but we are making progress after decades of failing to recognize the great potential of our built environment.

  • EricOak

    There’s a resoundingly provincial, even suburban tone to your comments: that simple-minded, no proof, sweeping pronouncement about something you don’t live with everyday. Can we set up an appointment so that we can work on opening your eyes? Let me know when your next “trip” to Buffalo is.

  • EricOak

    When were you last at the corner of Main and Court Street on a summer day around noon when the farmer’s market is open? You might take a picture of that scene to remind you of reality.

  • STEEL

    Wow and to think that the news of Donwtown’s decline has been kept a secret from everyone until you really cool guys exposed the coverup. If you had only come out with this news just a few years earlier we could have saved the effort and money of rebuilding and upgrading this block. Hopefuly Termini and others investing in downtown read this site in time to can pull the plug on their proposed projects before it is too late.
    This is just block buster news and the Buffalo News and all the media have completely missed it. Donwtown is dead. Wow who would have known!

  • queenie

    There will be no next trip to Buffalo for me. A waste of good money and time. “Resoundingly provincial, even suburban”? Words neither clever nor meaningful on any level. Spare me, professor!

  • queenie

    Witty, as usual! But dream on, blather on, write on.

  • Lego1981

    I have to disagree that Downtown is ‘Dead’. Some hours and especially Sundays, yes, it can be alittle slow and quiet. But over-all, it seems to have more life than say 5-10 years ago. I noticed a few Saturdays ago while sitting by the window at Chow Chocolat (700 Block of Main) and noticed plenty of people walking by, parking on the block, going into the Theatre District and stopping in for coffee. I do remember how depressing this block was BEFORE the transformations to any of the buildings, and how ‘DEAD’ it was then.
    As for the rest of downtown, it just depends on the time of day, what business is open, is there an event? ect. That really helps in brining life to a block, a corner, and Downtown in general. I see the progress, new housing, and little businesses making a difference. We just need more developers and business’s to take a chance, move downtown…Each new progress brings new life.

  • ToTheTable

    I agree Lego.
    There is momentum building.

  • sbrof

    It’s all about the perspective you are coming from or what Utopian you are looking for. People always talk about the 24 hours activity city… which is just about a myth except for a couple places in a couple cities.
    The downtown core has made huge changes since I was a kid and the real depression was about. Now adays you can go to downtown and see people all over. Sure there are dead areas and dead times but that is to be expected. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Plus the word about the city’s architecture is getting out there. You can’t ride the train on a Saturday afternoon and walk around city hall without seeing people, often from other countries, about taking pictures and speaking German, French or something.

  • grad94

    i’d say downtown buffalo is definitely out of intensive care and is serious but stable. soon to be in fair condition.

  • GTB

    what is the status of the vacant site right behind that clock? is it up for sale??

  • BuffaloNiagaraPlanner

    I lived in the old Friends Meeting House next to the Quaker Bonnet Eatery on Allen Street and around the time that I was moving out, the owners were getting ready to put a new roof on the building. Sadly, the building lost its slate tile roof, but remarkably that was the ORIGINAL roof of the building. THE ROOF WAS 140 YEARS OLD!!!!
    Nothing is built to last anymore. In our economy of convenience, everything is disposable.

  • BuffaloNiagaraPlanner

    Street trees also help re-establish the street wall where empty lots/gaps exist as a result of demolitions.

  • BuffaloNiagaraPlanner

    I think you and Lego1981 are right on. Just 5 or 10 years ago, there was only a smattering of residential located in a few peripheral areas of Dowtown. I can think of at least 7 buildings Downtown that have been transformed into lofts over the past 10 years. Does anybody know how many actual units have been added? The 2010 Census is going to give us a real picture of the population change in the Downtown area over the past 10 years. There is a growing residential presence. Retail is on the rise, too, as evidenced in the 700 block of Main Street. I’m really looking forward to the reconstruction of the rest of Main Street.

  • rb09

    Chow Chocolate took over the Godiva space at the Walden Galleria.
    Are their days on main street numbered?

  • DOC

    Ever been to Wall Street in New York City at 5:30 PM on a weeknight or on the weekend? GHOST TOWN!! It’s all relative. I’ve all but stopped posting on BRO because of useless, pointless and argumentative comments like mine that have nothing to do with the story.

  • bhorvath

    Now this commentary is fun to read even if it’s been done 48 times before. Still fun. Still fun.
    “Buffalo is out of ICU and in stable condition”….
    Hmm, probably. It’s better than when I as a kid, for sure. Still left, came back, left again – just better opporunities for this particular one at this time. Come back when I don’t have to work, get some season tickets (Sabres).
    But,….. Saints Termini and the like only seem so saintly in the face of the Bailout / Tax Credit tabree. What’s next? That well is about to run dry.
    Who’s looking around the next corner?

  • whatever

    In the big picture, what makes it a huge positive to have some population shift into downtown who would otherwise live in Buffalo’s residential neighborhoods?
    If you’re assuming most of the new residents downtown otherwise would be living in the burbs, I doubt that’s true.

  • bhorvath

    Young people staying in the region would increase the population living downtown regardless of new housing (they would revitalize fringe neighborhoods).
    Build it and they will come? Nah, not for me, not my take.
    Keep them and it will grow.

  • Buffalonian4life

    I was implying that the street itself would get a makeover. Not just the streetscape- like this part of Main. That includes new (historic) street lights, sidewalks, pavement, and other aesthetic features to enhance this developing district.

  • BuffaloNiagaraPlanner

    No, I do not assume that new Downtown residents are choosing the City over the suburbs. Even if that were true, it would still be a population shift – a population shift on a regional level (Erie County and the Buffalo-Niagara MSA are losing population, as well). You raise a good point, though. If there is no net gain in population in the City, then the gain in population Downtown only amounts to redistribution of population within the City. Also, building new housing units Downtown when we have a glut of vacancies seems irresponsible on the surface, but the new units Downtown are enticing the population to spread across the City more equally. It brings a greater human presence to Downtown and begins to create a renewed vibrancy. It spreads the wealth, so to speak (and I use the term “wealth” very loosely).

  • lynnemarie

    From the experience of a twenty-two year old who grew up outside of the City, I’ve seen a giant influx of young people moving from outside of the City to the downtown area. I always find it so bizarre when I see people I went to high school now living in Buffalo. I don’t have the memories of Buffalo in the 1980’s or 1990’s like some people who commented do, but I do believe that young people are moving downtown to enjoy the walkability and the affordability. This may be anecdotal, but if I know dozens of people who have moved into Buffalo, I bet others do too.
    On a different note, there has been a lot of hatin’ on BRO lately, and its really bringing me down.

  • whatever

    Lynne, yes, some do move from burbs to city. But my point was the existing residential neighborhoods have a lot of need for them too – to replace others who move away from the city (whose numbers exceed those moving in, and have for a long time). My guess is most of the people who want to move from burbs to city don’t condition that move on being able to live downtown.
    Exchange of differing strong opinions isn’t necessarily hatin’. Do any of the comments above in this thread look like hate? They don’t to me. Just disagreement. Happens all the time, pretty much everywhere it’s allowed.

  • whatever

    Thanks BNP, it’s about time I raised a good point. I still question this part: “but the new units Downtown are enticing the population to spread across the City more equally”. What does that mean? So if in 10 years from now, a few thousand of Buffalo’s non-poor population have shifted away from some residential neighborhoods (say N or S Buffalo) to live in new residental downtown, that would be more “equal”? Than what?

  • BuffaloNiagaraPlanner

    We have little pools of population, investment, “prosperity” across the City and a lot of areas that have more or less “dried up” to varying degrees. We need to figure out how to make those areas successful again, even if it means spreading ourselves a little thin with existing resources. We can’t just ignore them and let them exist as dead islands within the City.
    Maybe working the phrase “more stable” into that sentence would’ve helped to communicate my point better.
    Here are a few more analogies, which probably also suck, but I’ll give it a shot:
    If I’m bleeding (economic decline) from the arm and the head, but I have bandages (population, economic stability)on my arm and I take a few of them and put them on my head, maybe I will bleed less.
    If I have a snowball and it’s rolling slowly down a hill and I take that snowball and cut it into two smaller snowballs and roll them down the hill, maybe both with grow in size.
    Maybe it’s a “robbing Peter to pay Paul” sort of solution, but it’s better than pretending Paul isn’t worth our attention because it will make Peter less wealthy.
    Stop me any time. I think I’m having diarrhea of the brain.

  • reflip

    “In the big picture, what makes it a huge positive to have some population shift into downtown who would otherwise live in Buffalo’s residential neighborhoods?”
    You’ve made this point numerous times on this website. In fact, almost every single time new housing developments are discussed here, you make this same comment, or some derivitive of it. “It’s just going to take residents away from other parts of the city…”
    So, I would like to ask: 1) So what? and 2) Do you have any data (or, even just a logical argument) to back up your claim, or is this just what you believe and nothing will ever change your mind?
    The people who will move into downtown lofts will come from numerous places. Where they come from is, arguably, completely irrelevant because clearly, they want to live downtown and their existing demand was previously unmet. So who cares where they used to live? Developers keep building new single-family houses in Newstead, Wheatfield, Clarence, et. al. You don’t seem to be bothered by where those people are coming from. Why is that?

  • bhorvath

    Lieber Lynnemarie, ich bin heute in deutscher Sprache sprechen, da es April Fools Day’s. Aber keine Narren, wir alle lieben einander. Wir sind eine groĂźe Gruppe von bezahlten Kommentatoren fĂĽr BRO. Die Kommentare sind manchmal so sind wir glĂĽcklich und manchmal sind wir traurig, ausgeglichen werden.

  • bhorvath

    Mein Deutsch saugt durch die Art und Weise.

  • whatever

    Lol – yeah right, reflip – I’m the first to ever point something out more than once on a blog! Especially this one!
    Do you ever notice your own repetitiveness here? There’s nothing wrong with you being repetitive either, but it seems odd then that you’d complain about me or anyone else for it. There’s no point in you and I trading Q&A. We can agree to disagree.
    I was asking BNP his/her opinion of the question (as you can see in the “replied to”) because I think he/she often has good insights here.

  • reflip

    Impressive non-responsiveness.

  • reflip

    Holy…. You are the queen of passive-aggressive comments on this website. But, since you have no desire to converse with me, I won’t bother to respond to any more of your posts. The last shot is yours if you want it….

  • whatever

    It isn’t about “shots”. It’s nothing personal – at least it shouldn’t be. All in good fun.
    You and I have gone back and forth on this topic before we look at it very differently. If I understand your position, you’re convinced public funding to have more of Buffalo’s residential be located downtown will be a positive for Buffalo. And I think using public money to add a big number of downtown units would further weaken Buffalo’s residential neighborhoods.
    It sounded like you were complaining about repetitive arguments. I thought you’d appreciate me not extending the argument another round by repeating anything that’s ever been said before about it.

  • The Kettle

    Whatever>”So if in 10 years from now, a few thousand of Buffalo’s non-poor population have shifted away from some residential neighborhoods (say N or S Buffalo) to live in new residental downtown, that would be more “equal”?
    We have been through this before. Generally speaking, renters dont leave $650/month flats to live in $1500/mo lofts. The people living in upscale downtown developments come more so at the expense of comparably priced upscale suburban housing (ie spindrift or quaker crossing) than N or S Buffalo.
    To answer your question, benefits of this investment include encouraging pedestrian activity, lowering vehicle miles traveled, reduced need for infrastructure, fewer demos, adding value to previously obsolete buildings etc.
    If that isnt enough, consider your own argument in favor of sprawl: Some people like living in patio homes and McMansions while others like lofts and high rises. Its good to have options.

  • whatever

    pitbull>”We have been through this before. Generally speaking, renters dont leave $650/month flats to live in $1500/mo lofts. ”
    $650 flats directly to $1500 lofts downtown, generally no.
    But that overlooks two things.
    First, the new publicly-subsidized residential downtown won’t be limited to $1500+ rents.
    For example, Termini’s plan for the Lafayette:
    “The building would also accommodate 115 apartments ranging in size from 800 square feet to 1,000 square feet. Rents would be in the $900 to $1,000 range. …”
    http://www.buffalonews.com/2010/02/23/966167/board-praises-hotel-lafayette.html
    Presumably the public subsidies will help keep his rents at $900-1000 instead of the $1500+ you mentioned. So we’ll take some tax $ paid by people who own and rent in Buffalo’s residential hoods and use it to shift population away from those into downtown.
    Second, what we’ve also “been through before” is that shifting isn’t always direct. It can be a ripple effect.
    Say a lot of people move from $900 apts in Elmwood V, Allentown, etc. to downtown. Then those become vacant and offered for rent and eventually supply-demand forces may narrow the price gap and people living in say $650-700 flats in North Buff for example may move to those. Then prices of those become competitive to attract tenants who otherwise might rent in University Heights (or Black Rock, or Hamlin Park, etc.) which leads to higher vacancies in the latter.
    Any way you look at it, it’s creating new residential units (in downtown’s case, perhaps trying to create a whole new residential district) with subsidized rents in a city with shrinking population. That has to have consequences for the rest of the city.

  • The Kettle

    Whatever> “First, the new publicly-subsidized residential downtown won’t be limited to $1500+ rents.”
    900-1000/mo is on the lower end of what is being offered in many of the newer units. Fair enough: generally speaking, renters dont leave $650/mo flats to live in $900-1500/mo lofts.
    Whatever> “So we’ll take some tax $ paid by people who own and rent in Buffalo’s residential hoods and use it to shift population away from those into downtown.”
    Not sure if you are talking about metro Buffalo or the city but either way that quote is misleading. The project in question is applying for historic tax credits (10 to 20% off select components of the rehab) from the national parks service and state historic preservation office. That means it is drawing on resources from the entire country not just “Buffalo’s residential hoods”.
    If IDA funding is involved you are drawing on county resources but the payback to that investment is more people living in the core of the region minimizing the need for infrastructure, vehicle miles traveled, demos etc all of which would have been paid for by the local government.
    Whatever> “Say a lot of people move from $900 apts in Elmwood V, Allentown, etc. to downtown. Then those become vacant and offered for rent and eventually supply-demand forces may narrow the price gap and people living in say $650-700 flats in North Buff for example may move to those”
    You brought a similar cycle in another discussion and it still doesnt make sense. The neighborhoods you mentioned are a totally different market than downtown offering a different lifestyle for a different price. A quick sample of apartment listings in the Artvoice under “Elmwood” showed 10 listings averaging $732 a month. It is kind of a stretch to assume the hundreds of people who have moved downtown this decade were all willing to fork over an extra $200-700 bucks a month just to move a few blocks south. Also, real estate in the above mentioned neighborhoods has been on a steady climb despite a sluggish economy and a national mortgage crisis. Would the Supply and Demand gods allow bidding wars on ordinary 3/3 doubles in N. Buffalo if the cycle you proposed was actually happening?
    Based on rents and where my neighbors said they came from whn I lived there, Id say most of the renters in these places are being attracted from other upscale rental developments in the region which are usually found in 3rd ring burbs. People paying 900-1500 to live in windsong place are more likely to be attracted to newer, comparably priced units downtown than people paying hundreds a month less to live in other city neighborhoods.