Maryland has Fells Point, Boston has Charles Street, New York City has Bleecker Street, and Seattle has Columbia City… neighborhoods with only 2-3 storied buildings. Sometimes a four story is tossed in but they tend to be narrow, and in keeping with the rhythm of the street. Every city has at least one, if not two or three neighborhoods that are encased in a bell jar and under heavy preservation. They do this because as a city morphs and changes, whole neighborhoods need to be intact or risk loosing tourism, a mix of character and attracting families.
Of the three, tourism is an easy thing to understand because it is not just the locals supporting all the restaurants and hotels. Without tourist dollars, cities have to find replacement jobs somewhere. A mix of character where ancient, old, modernist and maybe even on the edge design creates interests; keeps young, old and those in between interested… and those tourist dollars coming in. A mix of character for cities like Boston and others means a combination of a stand alone building such as The Old State House in the midst of sky scrappers, but also the flip side of entire neighborhoods preserved right down to the original cobble stones, curbs, wood frame windows, and gas globe lamps being enshrined but electrified.
Families too are easy to understand, simply put… no greenspace? Heavy traffic? No quaint shops easy to get kids in and out of? No families. To put it another way… how many families do you see living in Midtown Manhattan vs. Greenwich Village? But who needs families right? Buffalo has a lot of large wooden four bedroom houses that only families would drop the money on to keep up for more than ten years. Families also stay for more than ten years in one place. Once the parents are vested (whether it was for a human or furry kid)… they stay on for the long haul stabilizing housing markets.
Who is Boston? We can look around and easily see who Boston is. Someone who would light the torches and hunt down the naysayer and even after evidence of innocence is presented… burn them at the stake. What is intriguing about Boston is no one is ignorant enough to tell a Bostonian, “Why don’t you let developers put in a new build on Charles Street?” (Or at least… there is no evidence this person still exists.) Charles Street and others are where the people in the skyscrapers go to remind themselves that yeah, they make a quarter million a year… but they are still human and can mix with human scale people.
For a city like Buffalo, not exactly a five or ten+ million plus person metropolis, we have to think like a Bostonian. Remember they were not always that big. But let’s turn our attention to the pipsqueak. To put this in perspective, our New York City was a tiny thing throughout colonial times… so small Philadelphia and Boston made fun of how backwards it was… until it grew up that is. While NYC experienced two major fires that destroyed most of its colonial era history, Boston refused to let it go.
We have Buffalo-style bottom-up momentum, why don’t we have Boston’s top-down fierceness? One could imagine the bottom-up outcry of “TRAITOR” from the mod if a development was approved for Charles Street. Or for a cobblestone street to be paved? Or when finding a brick road under pavement, despite the salty air and large trucks, of course it has to be restored. Sure they seem a little extreme… but look at the results. Imagine they had an Allen Street with all the cork and charm and someone suggested sidewalk parking… I mean… they wouldn’t. Parking on sidewalks where bars and alcohol mix only means one thing, accidents and blocked streets. Plus you can’t touch the curb, it’s preserved.
For Buffalo, people are asking which buildings define us? Which neighborhoods, right down to the clapboard, should be preserved? And which should be developed? Why don’t we have something between a historic district and a preservation district like a conservation district where the view from the sidewalk is preserved – windows and all – but the rear is developed as one pleases? Including allowing glass block.
We want to drive development. So why don’t we give incentives to other streets for mega development – like Broadway; it has that name for a reason. Sony has already dropped a major investment rather quietly into a tech company in downtown Buffalo… we should ask them to build a badass modern display of brilliance on Broadway. It is scaled perfectly for mega buildings and would stretch the jobs across a number of neighborhoods while connecting to the startup hub downtown. The small homes behind the larger tech buildings and shops can be intermix with fabulous infill. But we lack the ferocity of a Bostonian, we are the nice city, but we can’t be the city that gets stepped over. We need the momentum of a herd to get our leadership to find their inner stampede and to steer it into the future.
We can easily cherry pick how other cities have developed in a way that brings jobs to everyone, and develop the character of the city. Boston is still Boston with its two-story Charles Street and its skyscrapers. The question, really is… if Buffalo has the audacity to do it too. And do it right.