Thursday is Day Four of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Central Terminal study. The study team is in their final stretch, working with the study sponsors to put together the report to be presented at 9AM Friday at the Buffalo Museum of Science. You’re invited.
Yesterday I got some insight into Tuesday’s marathon stakeholder interviews. A local transportation official told me they accomplished all those interviews by dividing up the ULI team, and grouping the stakeholders. The transportation official was grouped with two other stakeholders, and across the table were two members of the ULI team. Of many such sessions are a marathon day of interviews made.
Because the head of the ULI team and another team member are landscape architects by profession, it seems appropriate to take a look at the Central Terminal complex and its surroundings through a green filter.
In addition to all the other reuse options, like the one we posted about yesterday, and complementing them, the Central Terminal complex could also be a kind of nature center, outdoor recreation center, or even an ecological education center.
One reason this opportunity is so great at the Central Terminal is that it was originally located, not surprisingly, in the area of the city with the most extensive and intensive rail development. This image from 1903 shows how extensive it was, even before the Central Terminal itself was added at the location circled.
Taking full advantage of this opportunity would involve, essentially, a scaling-up of the Urban Habitat Project that has inspired neighborhood residents and visitors to the Central Terminal for over a half decade. Dave Majewski spearheaded this project, with the support of ecologically minded Central Terminal Restoration Committee (CTRC) trustees like Yuri Hreshchyshyn.
The award-winning Urban Habitat Project (UHP) takes advantage of a characteristic present in many of the large former industrial and commercial sites found throughout Buffalo but especially strung out along the Belt Line. At these sites, often acres of land have been unutilized or underutilized for decades, and have become sites of natural regeneration. The Central Terminal is an exemplar of this, and the UHP could be considered an ur-project for what could be done all along the Belt Line corridor – making the Belt Line into a kind of green belt through neighborhoods around Buffalo.
If we follow the lead of the UHP, and scale it up, the opportunity is to create a connected network of protected, tended, and enhanced green spaces. This would be important not just ecologically, but also because it would bring nature into the neighborhoods, and also recreational opportunities for hiking, biking, and running. Having nature at hand is also good for the soul, as America’s first environmentalists, the Transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau, discovered.
More recently, Buffalo’s most famous artist, Charles Burchfield, spent his life surrounding himself with nature, but often depicting it juxtaposed with neighborhoods and industrial sites. Last year, a retrospective show at the Burchfield-Penney Art Center traced Burchfield’s life of intense devotion to nature. Seen through that lens, and seen through nature, the Central Terminal complex is, in a way, a Burchfieldian landscape.
We also know, from the recent embrace of Biophilia, and Professor Timothy Beatley’s Biophilic Cities initiative, and the exploration of “Nature Deficit Disorder” in the groundbreaking book, Last Child in the Woods, that we need to engage children with nature early and often.
So in addition to the necessary work of rehabbing buildings, and creating “something big” at the Central Terminal, we need to recognize the other opportunity there. The Central Terminal can be a place to experience and learn about nature, bird watch, plant a tree, take a nature walk, or serve as a hub and jumping off point not just (hopefully) for rail excursions, but also for urban hiking and biking through an extensive, interconnected network of green spaces and green corridors.
Let’s take a look at some specific opportunities.
Belt Line Greenway
I’ve been fortunate to have taken several tours of the Belt Line with Buffalo’s Belt Line guru, Chris Hawley, most recently in 2015, when Chris and I both served as advisors to UB Professor Kerry Traynor’s studio class studying the Belt Line as a cultural landscape. One of the things I have always found most intriguing about the Belt Line corridor is all the green space within and along the corridor. Some of this is due to now-unused former industrial land, and some to parcels being landlocked between connecting rail lines.
But the section of the Belt Line that seems most like a greenway corridor is that between the Central Terminal complex and the Larkin District. In fact, on the Williams Street edge of the complex, you can look straight southwest to the Larkin District. That section of the Belt Line may have once been six-tracks wide, not including industrial sidings, but now has just two. The remaining width is now a largely green corridor that would seem to lend itself to a “rails-with-trails” project.
And in the Larkin District, a 2013 UB studio class explored the potential for an extensive greenway network linking the Larkin District with downtown, the Buffalo River, and surrounding neighborhoods.
The greenway potential here is substantial.
Central Terminal Grounds
Scaling up the UHP on the grounds of the Central Terminal complex could provide acres of habitat. Many of these would be publicly accessible for nature walks, but some, because of nearby hazards such as active rail use might not be. Here is a diagram showing the extensive amount of green space around the complex.
When I first met Central Terminal Restoration Committee Trustee Yuri Hreshchyshyn, it was at a meeting where he was discussing a plan he helped develop that would green Paderewski Drive, turning it into a green street or a kind of parkway. The genesis of that idea was the sad fact that most of the buildings along Paderewski have been demolished. That is even more so now than a decade ago when the plan was developed.
After the debut of the Olmsted park and parkway system in Buffalo, parkways became synonymous with prosperity. As other parts of the city developed, like South Buffalo, they wanted their own parkways. Long-neglected Memorial Drive, especially with its large circle at the gateway to the Central Terminal, could and should become such a parkway. The quality of life in the Elmwood Village and South Buffalo are greatly enhanced by their beautiful parkways. Why shouldn’t the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood have one?
The Central Terminal was built at the apex of steam railroading, and NY Central knew all the tricks. To heat the passenger cars of trains waiting at the platforms, they built an extensive steam heating system extending back nearly a mile from the passenger platforms. Steam pipes were laid in concrete trenches in the ground. Today, the trenches and pipes are still there, in various states of decay. They are a potential hazard, but also a potential opportunity to create linear wetlands by planting species such as cattail, the roots of which are less likely to damage the concrete and pipes. Species with deeper, tougher root systems could be planted in the land between the trenches.
Some of the flat roof space at the Central Terminal could become “green roof” space to capture rainwater and provide habitat for pollinators. Even the roofs of the passenger platforms – how cool would that be? Some of the complex’ flat roofs, for example, on the two-story railway express building, are severely decayed or even collapsing due to lack of maintenance. But like all things the railroad built, they were generally over-engineered, so a proper restoration may allow them to accommodate green roofs.
Roofs that can’t become green roofs can still have their rainwater runoff handled via “green infrastructure” on the ground – bioswales, constructed wetlands, or even rain cisterns that would be available for non-potable water needs at the complex.
Just east of the Central Terminal complex is a former Erie-Lackawanna connecting branch that used to cross the NY Central on a bridge. That bridge is gone, but the right-of-way on either side remains. To the north, the embankment and the land around it is like a mini nature preserve in the neighborhood around St. John Kanty Church. To the south, the right-of-way is largely covered with demolition debris, but has developed its own ecology. It runs along the east edge of the Lovejoy neighborhood.
Enhancement of this corridor would provide close-to-home nature and recreational opportunities to two neighborhoods. A pedestrian bridge over the main line here could closely link two neighborhoods that are now almost entirely disconnected from each other.
East of the Central Terminal complex, parallel to Amity Street, there is a wide swath of green space on what was formerly a connecting spur to the Lovejoy branch mentioned earlier. Many streets in the neighborhood around St. John Kanty Church dead-end on this space. There has been a lot of natural regeneration in this area, but also a lot of illegal dumping and illicit uses. Enhanced and cared-for, this space could be a natural and recreational asset to the neighborhood around St. John Kanty Church.
Since these green opportunities would be compatible with, and complement, any and all other reuses of the Central Terminal complex – except for building out the grounds, but that wouldn’t be a good use of the complex, anyway – it would make sense to include them in the recommendations.
Whatever else is in the works for the Central Terminal, let the ecologists and landscape architects loose. All the species that use the Central Terminal complex, including our own, will benefit.