After nearly three years of research, community engagement, partnership building and planning by over 5,000 citizens and more than 700 local organizations, One Region Forward will be releasing its Regional Plan for Sustainable Development entitled “A New Way to Plan for Buffalo Niagara” at its upcoming Community Congress.
The open house-style event will be held on Thursday, February 12th from 5:30PM – 7:00PM at the Central Library in Downtown Buffalo, 1 Lafayette Square, Buffalo. The event is free and open to the public and will include hors d’oeuvres. You can register by visiting One Region Forward’s website.
Incorporating research, data and citizen feedback into a highly graphic format, the plan explores a variety of challenges currently facing the region, potentially strategies to address these challenges, and solutions already being implemented by organizations across Buffalo Niagara. By advocating for evidence-based policy making, the plan provides a basic framework for moving the region forward.
For those that are unable to attend the Community Congress, posters and plan summaries will be on display at the Central Library through the end of February.
What went into “A New Way to Plan for Buffalo Niagara?”
One Region Forward has brought together a diverse group of organizations and individuals from across Buffalo Niagara. A twenty two member steering committee was complemented by working teams made up of 100+ members. One Region Forward drew on leaders and subject matter experts from the public sector (GBNRTC, NFTA, Erie and Niagara Counties, UB Regional Institute, etc.) private sector (Buffalo Niagara Partnership, Uniland Development, Jaeckle Fleischmann & Mugel, LLP, etc.) and nonprofits (Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, PUSH Buffalo, Western New York Land Conservancy, etc.). While these groups and organizations have a wide range of missions and areas of focus, they are all working toward a future for Buffalo Niagara that is a more sustainable, resilient, equitable and opportunity-rich. “The power of A New Way to Plan for Buffalo Niagara is that no one organization or entity owns the plan, we all do.” stated Bob Shibley, Dean of UB’s School of Architecture and Planning.
Public participation and partnerships have also been critical to One Region Forward’s community-based approach to planning. Whether it was bringing the message of sustainability to communities through presentations and tabling at local events, making participation easier through Text It Forward, a text message-based campaign, making it more accessible through online tools like PhotoVoice, or providing a deeper level of engagement with the Citizen Planning School, these engagement efforts have created a truly citizen-driven vision for the region.
The plan itself is grounded in a comprehensive review of 160+ plans from across the region and the common values within them. These values were compared against data on how the region has developed over the past forty years to better understand the disconnect between the two. These past trends were then projected out forty years into the future to see what the region might look like with a business-as-usual approach to land use, transportation, and housing.
Citizens then participated in an interactive, hands-on mapping exercise that allowed them to plan what their future Buffalo Niagara would look like in 2050. Where would people live? How would they get around? What would new development look like? 115 citizen-created maps were used to build out three alternative scenarios for how the region could grow and develop over the next forty years.
Through a cost/benefit analysis of each development scenario, citizens were able to see the cost of their choices in terms of housing abandonment, loss of agricultural land, miles of road added, increases in the tax burden, and many other measures. Development patterns that encourage walkability and could be served better by transit were shown to have a greater return on public investment.
Through the work of community-based scenario planning and policy recommendations from working teams focused on issues of land use, transportation, housing, food access, and climate change, Buffalo Niagara has articulated a vision for itself grounded in the needs of its local community and built within a framework of local governance. Organizers of the plan believe the approach represents a “new way to plan for Buffalo Niagara,” that embraces a “bottom up” rather than a “top down” approach to advancing regional values. We recognize there is no ‘one size, fits all’ approach to building a sustainable, vibrant region” stated Hal Morse of the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council.
The plan addresses the challenges of housing abandonment, loss of agricultural land, transit access, and controlling rising infrastructure costs at the regional level while providing strategies to deal with these challenges that are grounded in the context of each community. These strategies are based in best practices already at work around the region. While redeveloping brownfields for job creation is championed as an effective land use strategy in our region’s cities (a strategy seen with the Solar City development at RiverBend), developing a better way to protect agricultural and ecologically sensitive lands is just as important for our rural towns and villages (a strategy behind the Town of Clarence’s Greenprint program). While very different in nature, both these strategies can help create great places and support a thriving local economy. Similarly, while the idea of encouraging Transit Oriented Development around existing Metro stations in our denser urban neighborhoods is coming into focus (a strategy currently seen at work on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus), in our region’s villages, complete streets projects are helping to reclaim multilane roadways for pedestrians and bicyclists (a strategy that the Village of Williamsville has embraced with their Picture Main Street Initiative). Again, while very different, both of these strategies better connect our places by expanding and diversifying our transportation options. Identifying and building on best practices from around the region will be critical to moving the region forward.
With the release of “A New Way to Plan for Buffalo Niagara” One Region Forward will transition out of the planning phase and into implementation thanks to the commitments of its many partner organizations. Join One Region Forward for their Community Congress on February 12th to learn more about the next steps for implementation, sign up for the Citizen Planning School, and take home a copy of the plan summary and get a first look at “A New Way to Plan for Buffalo Niagara”.