The Campaign for Greater Buffalo has been an active participant and advocate in the years-long process to preserve and restore the buildings and grounds of H.H. Richardson's and Olmsted & Vaux's Buffalo Psychiatric Center. A public meeting was held in September of 2009 to unveil a Master Plan and in December, a public hearing was held to solicit comment on a Draft Scoping Report on implementing the Master Plan, the first step in the environmental review process.
While The Campaign has been generally supportive of the proposals as they have been developed and the process of public participation, there has always been a sticking point: the proposal for a east-west roadway through the National Historic Landmark site which would act to connect Grant Street with Elmwood Avenue. That has been in the Richardson Center Corporation's thinking for some time. The Campaign feels it would lead to the perception and actuality of cleaving the site into two pieces, with the area to the north logically being used for new office buildings, either for Buffalo State College or private enterprise. Indeed, the philosophy that developing some of the site to "help pay for" the restoration and development of the historic buildings (and what would remain of the grounds) as necessary or desirable, is what is driving the proposal.
Between the time glossy Master Plan booklets were printed and distributed in the fall and the Draft Scoping Document for a Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS) was published in December, an additional north-south road through the site appeared. Essentially an extension of Richmond Avenue, it would necessitate the demolition of the National-Register-eligable Male Attendant's Home. This, and the siting and character of relocated parking lots to serve Psychiatric Center staff, would effectively cleave the site into four distinct pieces, and seriously effect the future function and integrity of the site as a single entity, one of the great works of American design.
The site in 2006, prior to construction of the Burchfield-Penney Art Center and its parking lot on the NE corner
Olmsted's vision preserved: Conceptual sketch illustrating The Campaign's goal of retaining resources. Green band: Encircling parkland; Red dashed lines: Axes from Administration building to Buffalo State College residential and academic core; Purple line: Axis of existing Female Ward E and site of demolished Men’s Ward E; Yellow triangle and dot: Viewshed looking SE from point which affords only view of entire remaining core complex from ground to skyline
Here is the text of The Campaign's written comments on the DGEIS, sent on January 15, 2010:
The Richardson-Olmsted Complex, as it is today known, has been a focus of the popular preservation movement of Buffalo since the birth of that movement in the late 1970’s. The Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture has had, since its creation in 2002, also been vitally concerned about the property. From 2002, it has developed and refined a series of proposals, as a means to work through historic preservation issues internally, present these issues to the public, effect the preservation and future use of the site, and, finally, to aid in evaluating the proposals and plans of others, such as the one before us.
Drawings illustrating our proposals were completed in February of 2008, and, with minor changes, reflect our thoughts to date. For the purpose of these comments, reference Richardson Park: Proposed site plan, a schematic overlay (showing a greenbelt of parkland, and a yellow field of vision from a point on the encircling roadway, and solid and dashed axis lines), and Figure 6.1-1 Alternative 1- East West Address Road (Scheme A). The two former illustrations are attached.
The Richardson Park proposal started with existing conditions, with three principals in mind: 1) Protect the resource, 2) reestablish the circular procession around the main buildings, and thus the sequence of experiences that is central to Olmsted’s plans for large projects. 3) Enhance accessibility to the surrounding city and the central Buffalo State College campus.
These principles often mesh with the “Guiding Principles of the Master Plan,” as ennumerated in The Richardson Olmsted Complex Master Plan 2009 booklet and the more extensive Master Plan for the Richardson Olmsted Complex, both of September 2009. While the principles often mesh, the proposed execution, as illustrated in Alternative 1, often does not. These are the points we feel should be be addressed in the GEIS. It should be noted that the general plan as illustrated in the booklet is much different than the later sketch of Alternative 1, and that the booklet as designed and distributed, is much more accessible to the general public than the Draft Scoping Report. Consequently, the public may not be fully aware of the significance of the changes to the site proposed in Alternative 1 of December 2009.
Most of the issues boil down to a the Master Plan’s desire to split the site into several parts. One part of the current site is to be “held” for development with new structures on the notion that this should and would help “pay for” preserving what green space were to remain and the rehabilitation of the historic buildings on the site. The mechanism which would make this thinkable and possible is an east-west “Address Road” which would connect Grant street (via Bradley Street) to Elmwood Avenue, with approximately 30% to 40% of the site to the north of this road clearly being cut off from the rest of the site through the physical attributes of the roadway, the volume and character of the traffic, and the “fallow” perception of the that would then be between two heavily trafficked roadways: Rockwell Road and the new east-west road.
It must be made clear what exactly an “Address” road is, and how the east west orientation through the site accomplishes its objectives. Further, it must be shown that an Olmstedian loop road would not achieve the same objectives.
The splitting of the site by the east-west road is exacerbated by two other circulation decisions. First, as the east-west road would split the site into north and south sections, a new north-south connector between Rockwell Road and Forest Avenue would splinter the site further, resulting the unmistakable preception that the Buffalo Psychiatric Center and its portion of the site are physically and tempermentally separate and distinct, which would likely worsen over time. Building this connector would also require the demolition of the National-Register eligible Male Attendants’ Home. Second, Olmsted’s looped circulation plan is destroyed by eliminating the section of roadway along the Female wards and foregoing the opportunity to rebuild the Olmsedian loop in the northeast quadrant of the site, between the Burchfield-Penney art center and the Reception Building.
These actions would inflict a seemingly irreversable and fundamental harm to the function and perception of the site as a unified entity. The integrity and feeling of the resource, both as designed and potentially restored, would be lost. The new east-west and north-south roads would amount to thoroughfares. The much higher volume of drivers on them would simply be rushing through on shortcuts to other destinations, rather than using a graceful roadway to visit the site and appreciate its scenery. The volume of traffic would further increase with new construction, whether for Buffalo state or private offices. Further, the parking belt enfolding the BPC along the south east corner of the site would only lead to an institutional sense of apartness that would likely grow with time.
It must be demonstrated that the goals and objectives of the project cannot be met by simply being faithful to the designers’ intent by reestablishing a circulation loop that would discourage through traffic and visually and practically unify the site as parkland, from Elmwood Avenue to Rees Street and from Forest Avenue to Rockwell Road. Such a loop would have much lower traffic volumes, and thus be friendlier to pedestrians and bicyclists whether traveling along the road or crossing it.
The notion of creating a new entry on the back, or north, side of the complex would not be ruled out by such a road. In some ways, it could be enhanced. For example, the subways that exist on either side of the Administration building could be reopened for cars, engaging visitors with the building and landscape in a unique and memorable way (the volume would likely be low — and slow — relative to overall site visitation). They would all experience the complex sequentially as Olmsted and Richardson intended. This is also the route which works with the architectural and landscape signaling that is a language understood by all visitors; it is a route that strangers seeking direction will be given by natives, and, indeed, it is the route given by GPS navigation systems. Only visitors arriving by motorcoach would have to take the loop road around to the north. Using only the proposed east-west and north-south routes would require extensive, conspicuous, and intrusive signage to lead strangers along a counter-intuitive path. Where else can one actually drive through a historic building? Why subvert the grand arrival sequence?
Principle IV, “extending the Olmsted Parks System,” does not appear to be optimally met by the east-west road route, either. Its orientation and the implicit new construction would seem to lead precisely through the area with minimal Olmstedian character, rather than through the reconstructed and preserved landscape along Forest and Elmwood avenues.
Land use issues which must be examined very closely revolve around the notion of how much and where to put new construction. This analyisis must include a discussion of the carrying capacity of the site, and when a desireable stasis has been reached. Many contemplated uses may have institutional mandates of constant growth which conflict with the carrying capacity, i.e., when the site loses its essential character. It would seem that the least intrusive place to put new construction is in the triangle of land created by the orientation of tthe Richardson buildings and Rockwell Road. That area should also be campus-like, in other words, without internal automobile roadways. The land use discussion should be show why the use of the northwest quadrant for new construction is thought to be clearly superior to this arrangement and why this more central area cannot meet the notions of new construction adavnced in the draft Master Plan.
The last major topic that needs thorough analysis in the GEIS is a component of both land use and transportation: automobile parking. Looking at the drawings, there is the implication of free parking, which maximizes demand and space that must be provided, with all the ramifications thereof. The Master Plan and GEIS must take responsibility for establishing a parking philosophy. Our perspective would call for an explicit parking management plan that controls demand for parking through flexible pricing. No on should be able to park on these state lands for free; it is not an entitlement. This should include BPC and Buffalo State College visitors and staff, as well as visitors to the historic parklands and buildings. Parking revenues can be used to offset maintenance and capital costs. Drivers must pay for the cost of providing parking so as not to impose this burden on everyone else. Well designed structured parking is the perhaps the most acceptable and least intrusive way to institute paid parking for commuters to the site.