By Charles Gordon:
Renewed interest in our Downtown waterfront has undeniably resulted in some improvement. Efforts continue to make the historic Central Wharf area more user friendly with the addition of painted chairs, some imported white sand, and a hot dog shack. Residents and visitors reacted positively to these changes, possibly because after the expenditure of untold millions of dollars in planning and design work the public is starved for anything resembling progress.
The reality is that this portion of the Commercial Slip re-creation is a visual eyesore. To most urban planning, architecture, waterfront experts and laypeople alike the results to date are a tremendous disappointment. Let’s not kid ourselves that “lighter, faster, quicker, cheaper” initiatives represent a comprehensive short term plan for what this area can be. The design and siting of the furniture, sand and hot dog shack would be just as comfortable on a suburban baseball field as they are on our spectacular, historic waterfront. Not to mention that the site is obscured by unmaintained construction detritus and generally looks abandoned by whoever is the responsible caretaker for ten months of the year, especially the “‘front door” Commercial Slip which is always filled with unsightly debris.
A professional colleague of mine told me that the mantra for New York City’s Olmsted Parks Conservancy [often considered the gold standard among world-wide public space caretakers] is:
Don’t tackle larger plans until you learn to “cut the grass and take out the trash”. Our Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy has taken tremendous steps forward to keeping our park system meticulously maintained.
In that spirit, here are 10 elements that can help shape the Lower Main Street Waterfront as we move forward:
1) Enhance the Gateways to Historic Streets – The entrance to the historic streets area at both Perry and Prime Streets are obscured by cyclone fencing, unkempt right-of-ways, worn out jersey barriers and ugly old signage. These elements have deteriorated over five long years of delayed progress. Many of us are surprised that the Buffalo Sabres haven’t sued the Waterfront Corporation for their inability to at least clean up THE front door to the First Niagara Center.
2) Extend linkages to the Riverwalk and DLW Terminal – The Downtown Inner Harbor has always envisioned Main Street terminating at the waterfront with activities on both sides.
3) Bring Central Wharf to Main Street – i.e. turn the “back door into the front door”. After five years, the cyclone fences, jersey barriers, construction debris and unkempt lawns still obscure and inhibit the access to a potentially attractive Central Wharf.
4) Simplify the Lighting Fixtures – Within a 1.5 block radius, I have spotted 5 different types of lighting fixtures. The whole City of Paris survives with three types of fixtures – there is something wrong with this picture!
5) Treat the base of the Skyway Piers – Whether we like it or not, the Skyway will be in place for at least another 2 generations – 35-50 years. There are 14 points where the Skyway support piers intersect the Commercial Slip district. Consider consistent landscaping, lighting, and graphics in some form to create visual appeal and consistency.
6) Screen the sewer substation and other utility “street furniture” – The sewer substation has and will continue to occupy a very prominent location – and attack our visual and olfactory senses – for years to come. We must design ways to properly screen this element and any other utility impediment.
7) Enhance the Water Edge Condition – Guard railings, although a necessary legal requirement, hinder direct contact with the water. Almost all other major North American and western European cities have figured out ways to safely enable direct contact with the water whether through stepping, amphitheater, or other means.
8) Care about Kiosk Design – We must care about the look of even a temporary hot dog stand by carefully considering its design and siting. The current hot dog stand looks like an import from a suburban baseball field.
9) Improve the traffic sign installation – There are far too many directional and other sign elements terribly installed, which create a physical and psychological barrier to access and ease of use.
10) Develop comprehensive idea – for designing, placing and maintaining street furniture including trash, seating, fencing and landscaping.
Item 10 highlights the smallest of details, the easiest to get right, and offers immediate benefit to everyone. Our waterfront planners and leaders cannot move forward on bigger picture items until we learn lesson ONE: Cut the grass and pick up the trash.
Click on any of the above images to enlarge