Buffalo could learn a lot from The Perth Cultural Centre (as seen in this Project for Public Spaces article). What was once an area that featured brutalist buildings, stark landscaping, and poor walkability (see why walkability is important) has now been transformed into a public plaza, where people gather to eat lunch, meet up with friends, admire public art, and simply live. Some of the public assets that were added included free wi-fi, adding shade and seating, creating water features, and… get this… taking the top floor of a parking ramp and transforming it into an urban community garden. The occupants of the buildings (many cultural) were asked to bring programming to the outside of their buildings, in order to create cultural amenities that would enhance the new Public Square.
All of the place making actions that we have seen at The Perth Cultural Centre did not require millions of dollars. The model was based on the Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper model.
Now take a look at Niagara Square and Lafayette Square in Buffalo. There are so many lessons that we can learn, but the problem with the “Powers That Be” in this city is that they adhere to the thought of “If it’s not broken, then don’t fix it.” The problem is, these public squares are broken for a lot of different reasons. They are not people friendly and there are not public amenities (tables and chairs, food carts, activities, etc.) to draw people into their midst. These squares are used for people to get from one place to the next. The City is more concerned with creating new places than modifying the old places. We need to be doing both in order to make Buffalo a truly livable place.
Lafayette Square is finally reawakening, with businesses and hotels setting up shop. We much look at ways to activate the square – bring some music back. Work with local cultural institutions to host art demonstrations. Build a small bandshell. Create light demonstrations.
As for Niagara Square, let a couple of food trucks pull up and serve food. Throw out some café tables and chairs, and let buskers set up. Then, take a look at all of the dead buildings around the square (like this one), and figure out how to incorporated unique, untapped assets from all of them.
Most importantly, wave all of the @#*% fees that are associated with hosting events in these squares. The events can still be regulated, but the City is notorious for charging groups and organizations for tent fees, event fees, food truck fees, insurance fees… there are so many fees that it’s cost prohibitive to do anything. I get the insurance aspect, but everything else is just nickel and diming people to death.
The City should set up some sort of committee similar to what the Erie Canal Harbor Development Committee has in place. The committee is in charge of soliciting people, groups and organizations to activate places at the Inner Harbor. There is even money in place to help groups get their ideas off the ground, and people in authoritative position to get the balls rolling. Why is that the only public place in the city where that happens?
I bet that people would be surprised at how quickly these squares could be brought back to life. The bones are already there… now it’s important to get some meat back on the bones.