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We’re Re-Opening the Statler… Why Not Re-Imagine Niagara Square?

By Charles Gordon

A few months ago on BRO, I suggested the need to transform Niagara Square into a great public space, a space that welcomes pedestrians, a space not overwhelming by automobile (see here). Now is the right time to thoughtfully redesign the Square— as we look forward to both the re-opening of the Statler Hotel and the late Fall dedication of the new US Courthouse across the street.  And, in doing so,  We can add tremendous $$$ [taxable] value to all nearby properties.
Buffalo has already witnessed wonderful transformations of Niagara Square for specific events.  Consider the annual Gus Macker Basketball tournament and its status as the most successful of its kind in North America.  Consider the Taste of Buffalo food festival.  On these special occasions, Niagara Square truly approximates the character, vibrancy, and use of a European public square:  a place to celebrate and not just to funnel traffic.
Consider one of the great European public Squares–Piazza di Spagna [“The Spanish Steps”] in Rome. This historic location in center of old Rome is one of the most popular center city gathering places -for residents and tourists alike.

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As photographs illustrate, the Spanish Steps features wonderful amphitheatre type stairs [great viewing angles], a focal point fountain, historic architecture as backdrop, and both vehicular and pedestrian access points around its 360 degree circumference.

Additional pedestrian friendly amenities abound– seating, bike-racks, and especially the small scale rough textured cobblestones that control vehicular traffic without the use of curbstones. Curbs divide, while textured paving promotes sharing between cars and people.

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Even though Piazza di Spagna services more vehicular traffic in two hours than Niagara Square does in a full day, the paving and the attention to pedestrian details forces traffic to proceed slower and, ultimately, safer. 
Miraculously, little traffic signage is required.   Piazza di Spagna also features many more vehicular access points than Niagara Square. 
Naturally,  service and maintenance needs for shop keepers and sanitation require regular vehicular only access.  By observation, these visits are scheduled very late at night/early in the morning so as not to be disruptive.

The bottom line:  Cars and people can function very well and
safely together when the uses are understood and then thoughtful design is
properly executed!

How do we more permanently
transform Niagara Square to resemble Piazza di Spagna?

We know that Niagara Sq was
originally envisioned as THE Civic arrival lobby for the City.  Its ceremonial purpose far outweighed its use
as major traffic artery;  like its great
European predecessors,  NS served as a
place to celebrate, to gather, NOT just
to get from one place to another.

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I suggest the following, based on existing
conditions analysis of infrastructure and traffic patterns:

-Reduce vehicular traffic lanes by at least 25% City
Population now 270,000 not almost 600,000 when current Square was implemented

-Widen sidewalks and plant  lots of mature trees to perimeter of Square ie in front of Statler, Federal Courthouse,  [especially]City Hall, Post Office Building,  City Courts to soften these areas, increase
feeling of intimacy and improve wind protection

-Create landscaped islands to narrow pedestrian access
points, to  promote a more human-friendly
scale,  and eliminate unnecessary  raised curbs wherever possible

-Reinforce pedestrian “desire lines” by repaving
significant portions of the existing driving surfaces with cobblestone type paving
material, especially at most  intensive
points of pedestrian-vehicular conflict including:

o   the steps of City Hall to the Square

o   across Court Street to the Square

o   future entry points from the Statler directly to the
Square

o   from new federal courthouse front steps/plaza to the
Square

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Finally, create
and implement a comprehensive landscaping plan at the base of City Hall–even integrating
the garden treatment with the entrance stairways to create a welcome mat, to soften the edges, reduce the intimidation factor of the hall,
provide pedestrian scale transitional
element, and finally to better link the Hall
entry experience to the Square.
   
 

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Future essays will explore:

·Niagara Square as an important link to the Waterfront
via Genesee Street,
 

·Establishing Niagara Square as the civic terminus for
a pedestrian friendly connection to Canalside/Commercial Slip

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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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