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The Black Rock-Riverside Waterfront Deserves Transformational Planning

In 2014, I sat in on a number of public meetings regarding the potential of future brownfield sites (BOAs) along the waterfront. When it was time to discuss the future of the Niagara Street corridor, the removal/downgrade of the I-90 was posed by an audience member, causing the crowd to burst into applause. Unfortunately, the answer to the question was met with a simple, “We’re nowhere near that stage yet.”

The statement was disappointing to say the least, because Buffalo should be examining all possible ways to return the waterfront to the people… now. Even if the removal/downgrade is part of a longterm plan, we need to know that it’s on The City’s radar. The community wants the freeway gone. It’s inexcusable to say that, “We’re simply not at that point yet.” .

The following interview was conducted with urban activist Matt Ricchiazzi, who recently posted his views regarding the removal of the I-190 along the waterfront on his website called Buffalo Chronicle. Along with the article were a series of images that helped to map out the project.

As for the realignment that you have mapped out, where does the traffic flow once it is removed from the waterfront?

We have an opportunity to remove about 100,000 cars daily off the waterfront and reroute them along the CSX railway’s right of way, which runs parallel to Military Road through Black Rock, Riverside, and Tonawanda.

Moving this vehicular infrastructure off of the waterfront will have many benefits. The city will be able to repurpose 76 acres of prime waterfront land for public park space – which will have a transformative quality of life impact on the residents of Black Rock and Riverside.

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Homeowners in those neighborhoods will enjoy new wealth as their property values increase with influxes of new residents. Real estate developers will see enormous new opportunities for investment, which will eventually grow the city’s property tax base.

Industrial firms along the Military Road corridor will have improved access to the interstate system, as will residents of North Buffalo and Tonawanda. Even commuters from the north towns will experience a slightly shorter commute.

Urban activist Tim Tielman has been preaching something similar for years. Thoughts?

Those with urban design sensibilities can see how much this highway has cost our community in terms of urban disinvestment, lost property tax base, inhibited development opportunities, and detrimental quality of life impacts. We have one of the most beautiful waterfronts in the world. Younger people see this intuitively, but we need more people like Tim Tielman – who was ahead of his time on a lot of urban design issues – to challenge the normative postures of bureaucrats and politicians who have squandered our city for too long.

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I’m sometimes reluctant to frame this as a generational issue, but in a very real way the generation that currently controls the city needs to (re)educate itself, which I think we have seen to a very limited extent over the last few years. Those who sit on the boards of entities like ECHDC, BURC, PBA, NFTA and many others are largely still stuck in a 1960s mindset that presumes that expressways are heavenly and that maintaining socio-spatial segregation patterns should be the objective of their planning.

We have an NFTA whose board thinks that cutting services and divesting from public transit is the wave of their future. We have a PBA whose board is more driven by the awarding of construction contracts than the public health impacts of tons of diesel carcinogens systematically poisoning one of the most densely populated sections of the region. We have an ECHDC whose board has lusted for big box stores, suburban style condos, and surface parking lots on our waterfront. If Tielman were serving on any of those boards, we would have vastly different and far more catalytic outcomes.

Like Tielman, I am deeply discontented with the quality of political and civic leadership in this city. I would encourage him to run for Mayor.

How do we get the politicians on board with this timely removal?

Our city is very poorly served by our political culture — which rewards politicians who sit down and shut up, and scolds those who are willing to go out on a limb and articulate a bold idea or an innovative policy approach.

Case in point: Robin Schiminger has been in the state assembly since the 1970s and I’ve never seen him in person once, or have ever heard him offer up an idea that wasn’t in the form of a well manicured press release. I would be surprised if more than 10-15% of the electorate would be able to recognize him in a line up. But you can bet he will be reelected for the next ten years – our democracy poorer as a result.

Conversely, when Chris Jacobs offered up a bold and compelling strategy to revive the Broadway Fillmore neighborhood as a social services hub that would catalyze new investment and activity in the struggling section of the city, he was lambasted by bloggers and personally attacked by Democrat operatives.

The only politician I can remember ever calling for the removal of the Scajaquada – during campaign season nonetheless – was Eddie Egriu.

You can see why so few politicians are willing to be “first movers” on any major project or policy. Our electorate needs to start rewarding political courage, and formally organizing around urban development issues.

Often, I’m told by well meaning people to refrain from making planning so political, and to instead frame issues in non-partisan ways. While that perspective may be more congruent with the region’s stifling and vicious political culture, it profoundly misunderstands planning. There is no way that the body politic can engage in a meaningful discourse on our socio-spatial development without it being intensely political.

We’re talking about removing a highway from the waterfront, but the issue at hand has relatively little to do with asphalt or exit ramps. It’s about a democracy that privileges the interests of suburban commuters ahead of residents in their own neighborhoods. It’s about a city that has contented itself with 1960s era socio-spatial segregation patterns that are among the worst in the nation. It’s about infrastructure investment that subsidizes automobile owners with billions in highway construction and then starves off our public transit system. It’s about staggeringly persistent pockets of intergenerational inequality. It’s about spatial form that alienates us from one another.

I am often interacting with various politicians – who, in private conversations, are willing to confess how supportive they are of highway removal. Some politicians are even excited by efforts to realign the I-190, to cover the Kensington, to remove the Scajaquada, to downgrade Route 5, or to repurposing the Skyway.

But they are not going to take the political risk of being the first mover on these issues, because they are still relatively controversial. In the absence of political leadership, we need civic leaders and activists to do the heavy lifting and cultivate the public consensus.

Don’t get me wrong, there are indeed bright spots: Councilman Joe Golombek of Riverside is excellent on urban design and quality of life issues – far ahead of his time. And Assemblyman Sean Ryan is finally starting to step up. Tim Kennedy has been, at times, forward thinking.

But others, like David Rivera of the Niagara district, is callous and dismissive. Mike LoCurto in the Delaware district has disappointed me, because he is a trained urban planner and I would have expected more of him – particularly on the Scajaquada issue.

Marc Panepinto doesn’t have much of a record yet, but he should be applauded for his support of the Peace Bridge neighborhood’s public health concerns. He’s the first state senator to vocalize that he stands with residents rather than the bridge authority.

We need a far more concerted lobbying and intergovernmental affairs effort on urban design and our region’s socio-spatial development patterns. I will be organizing a more formal campaign to make these issues relevant in the current election cycle. Please do reach out if you are interested in joining the organizing committee. You can contact me at matthew.ricchiazzi@enkindlecapital.com.

All of our common councilmen are up for reelection this year. I hope we can muster up some candidates worth supporting!

 

Written by queenseyes

queenseyes

Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside, Buffalo Porchfest, and Paint vs. Paint. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market on Elmwood. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at Statler City, the Hertel Alley Street Art Festival, and The Flutterby Festival.

Contact Newell Nussbaumer | Newell@BuffaloRising.com

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