During a recent trip to Boston, I made it a point to stop over to Newbury Street, the city’s version on Elmwood Avenue. I was surprised how much the area had grown (population-wise) since I last visited over a decade ago. The density of historic buildings that lined the street was an excellent backdrop for shopping, dining and people watching. Numerous cafés lined the street, and there were plenty of historic mixed-use walk-ups, and walk-downs – every aspect of the street was utilized to the fullest. The district was alive with people who were shopping, eating, drinking, and simply living their daily lives to the fullest.
Elmwood Avenue is the closest street that Buffalo has to Newbury Street, as far as liveliness goes. But it still does not have the same streetscape vitality that is found in Boston for a number of reasons (population, building density, wealth, etc). Elmwood is great, but it’s also a hodgepodge of new and old, and certainly doesn’t have the illustrious brownstone structures that make Newbury Street so formidable when it comes to world renowned commercial districts. The buildings are drop dead gorgeous. If Buffalo’s Midway buildings had been extended down Delaware Avenue on both sides of the street, and filled to the brim with businesses, that would give a sense about what I’m describing.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking Elmwood Avenue – I love the street for what it is, and what it is becoming. It’s just that most great cities have something similar to Newbury Street – historic, interconnected, architecturally significant buildings of a larger scale that are perfectly suited for living, dining and retail. Main Street in Downtown Buffalo has the most potential to become something along these lines. Main Street has just begun to realize its full potential, as it once achieved back in this city’s heyday (see lead image). A walk down Main Street on any given weekend sends mixed emotions to visitors. There is a sense that at one point the street was bustling with people, but that that era had come to an end abruptly (which is true). There are now pioneers in this urban core that are attempting to make a go of it (Furnishings for example). At the same time, people need to accustom themselves to changing their mindsets that shopping in Downtown Buffalo is not only possible, it can be invigorating. I’m not talking about the crowds of people that excite the spirit, I’m talking about the architecture… the buildings… the history… that once made Buffalo one of the richest cities in the world.
While much of that rich built environment in Buffalo’s downtown core was leveled, Main Street somehow withstood the disastrous forces of urban renewal. Therefore, Main Street will one day be returned to its rightful place, among the Newbury Streets and Spring Streets (NYC). A recent article in New York Magazine puts a lot of what I’m talking about into perspective. The article is titled The Psychological Costs of Boring Buildings. Buffalo has some of the boring buildings that author Jacoba Urist refers to, and unfortunately new ones are being built all the time. At the same time, this city has got some head turning buildings (even flashes of density) that many cities would bend over backwards to have. The greatest part about Main Street in Downtown Buffalo is that it is still there… awaiting a second time go around that will one day inspire another generation of people.
Newbury Street – Wikipedia
Elmwood – Visit Buffalo Niagara
Downtown Buffalo – Davvid