When it comes to the Outer Harbor, there are a couple of different trains of thought. There are those who feel that less is more. There are others who feel that Buffalo is ready to show that it can build once again.
No matter which camp that you fall into, there is no doubt that Buffalonians are passionate when it comes to their viewpoints and stances. We’ve seen the stadium vision for the Outer Harbor, and the sports fields, and the marinas. We’ve also seen the counter Olmstedian take on what this are of the waterfront should look like.
Just last night, as I was scouring info for a Shoreline Sweep, I came across Riverkeeper’s vision for a scaled down “Smart Growth” Outer Harbor. At the same time, I received an email from a local developer (yes, developer) who appeared to have a similar mindset, surprisingly. Following is what the developer had to say:
Seems we (as a community) get way ahead of ourselves with our development schemes. As if we had sole rights and responsibilities to develop the full vision of our “future” city. What if that concept was actually irresponsible ? As we all know, currently we are very focused on our future waterfront as if it was (like many projects) the one thing that will “make” us (either the thing to heal our past transgressions or be the bright new way to our future). We are almost using the same framework we appalled by past planners, kind of an urban sprawl, driven by the idea of being exciting by being “new and different” … new bridge, new stadium etc.
As a counterpoint:
Take a look a LaSalle Park about a third of the size of the “new” waterfront currently being “over designed”. LaSalle is in a state of poor repair with few amenities. But what potential! At the edge of our gridded street of the lower west side able to connect existing neighborhoods to our waterfront. Will the distraction of the “new waterfront” divert money, excitement and ideas from places like this ?
I think it would be constructive to view our city comprehensively especially by those that fund these planners… to see the big project an aggregate of the many small projects.
To me what is disturbing, is the amount of detail in the plans, the lack of visioning for the bigger picture. The bigger view that our great city is made up of unique little parts. We need to plan for what we want to plan in the future (a city can be an evolving unfinished project leaving potential rather than missteps for our further inhabitants).
Do not get me wrong, this place needs to be planned to some extent, but are we planning condos for Toronto residents driven from an expensive market? Or looking to improve our city for all our residents ?
Of course it is a balance but a better review and airing of our objectives seems in order, then a clear view of who’s interest we are serving and why.
It was around the same time that I found myself reading the above email that I came across Riverkeeper’s alternative vision for the Outer Harbor (see here). The vision is a similar mindset to the one that the developer was laying out. Instead of getting ahead of ourselves, Riverkeeper is proposing a more sensitive approach to the waterfront, and one that would set Buffalo apart from other waterfront communities. The term “public trust” is touched upon in this vision, and discusses the importance of creating a waterfront around existing utility and transportation infrastructure.
If we examine the Outer Harbor as a whole, and look at its history, you can almost hear it saying what should go where and why. There are ways to connect and protect the environmental assets that have thrived at this site (Times Beach, Tifft Nature Preserve, Lake Erie). There are also inherent locations that can be viewed as optimum places for long term and short term amenities. There are manmade and natural assets that already exist, that should be capitalizes upon of course. There appear to be more appropriate places for “development” that reflect and enhance the current state of the Outer Harbor.
Environmental and natural habitat resources/amenities should not be playing second fiddle, rather they should be emphasizes as part of the overall orchestration of this phenomenal opportunity. In the end, there should be a sense of balance that we can all live with.