This Wednesday, Williamsville mayor Brian Kulpa will be hosting Congress for the New Urbanism president, John Norquist and New York State Director of Smart Growth, Paul Beyer, in a seminar titled Smart Growth in the Village Centers. The forum is open and free to the public. The event flier notes that Western New York’s villages are models for sustainable development in the suburbs and bills the itself as a conversation about why adding value to these places is a key to the future.
Since taking office, Mayor Kulpa has focused much of his attention on strengthening and restoring the tight-knit walkable urbanism of the historic downtown Williamsville area, centered on Main Street and the old red mill building. Much of the original character of the village has been shredded by the wide river of traffic that Main Street has become as it roars through the village. To turn back the dominance of cars and trucks, the Mayor has promoted his Picture Main Street program. The plan is to rebalance Main Street in favor of people and reclaim some of the original charm the historic village once had. The plan includes “tactical urbanism” festival events designed to show people what they have lost as well as a plan for a redesigned Main Street which will place more emphasis on walkability and less emphasis on moving masses of cars through the village at high-speed.
It is heartening to see the some of the towns and villages awaken to the importance of walkable urban places in the metro region. The towns with strong urban centers will be the successful towns of the future. Williamsville is not alone in recognizing this. Hamburg and East Aurora have made great strides in strengthening the walkable urbanism of their centers. But, Williamsville will not have an easy path ahead. The forces that choose cars over everything else are strong. They want their cars to move quickly and they don’t really care much about what is between them and their destination.
I am often accused of being anti suburb on this forum because of my characterization of sprawl and its negative impacts. But as I have pointed out over and over and over and over again, sprawl is a societal problem, not a city versus suburb issue. It is not about where but about how a place is built. The region’s towns and villages have been damaged by sprawl almost as severely as the City of Buffalo. Sprawl has taken a huge toll on Williamsville as Man Street has become wider and noisier to accommodate more and more of those people who choose to live in remote places dependent on driving a car everywhere.
The sprawl mentality needs to end for the good of the region and our planet. Forums such as Smart Growth in the Village Centers is a good place to start. If the cycle of sprawl can be broken in the suburbs it will quickly fade into a sad part of our history.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014, 7-9 p.m
Williamsville South High School
5950 Main Street, Williamsville BY 14221
Images are from the Williamsville Facebook Page