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No Backsliding on the Community Porch!

Porch view watercolor CaptionedThe one absolute, non-negotiable asset we must build on the Outer Harbor Waterfront is a large Community Porch overlooking a rolling Olmstedian meadow down to Lake Erie. We deserve nothing less and can accept nothing less, nowhere else. Trowbridge, Wolf, Michaels landscape architects have been given a contract for Buffalo Billion II improvements in the middle section of the Buffalo's Outer Harbor. A general understanding was reached in September 2017 meeting at Empire State Development Corporation offices between ESDC officials and community representatives, including The Campaign for Greater Buffalo, Waterkeeper, the Outer Harbor Coalition, and Assemblyman Sean Ryan, that included the Community Porch. There are fears that the designers may be taking a public input session (sticky notes applied to large maps) held in July as license to re-interpret what was previously agreed upon, itself as a result of an 18-month process  Here is the concept:

Cities of the northeast really come into their own in “porch weather.” Nothing creates a sense of contentment like sitting on a porch in a comfortable chair and watching the world go by. Except maybe going on vacation to a resort hotel with a big shady porch over- looking a soothing landscape. We can’t all be so lucky to have a nice porch of our own, nor be able to “rent” that privileged at a resort. But Buffalo can do something even better. It can build a grand hotel porch, without the hotel.

Buffalo’s done it before. Calvert Vaux designed the magnificent Parade House in The Parade (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Park) in the 1870’s; it’s mammoth two-story open porch was a democratic palace.

The single largest piece of open land on the Outer Harbor, its green heart, is the 67 acres of landfill between the Seaway Piers and the Bell Slip, and it is, approaching from north or south, the logical center of expectation. It is expansive and topographically advantageous. You stand there, Brigham-Young-like, and say “This is the place.”

This area cries out for two things. The first, a large “community porch” that stands on a promontory overlooking a meadow and the waters of Lake Erie. The second is the meadow itself, replete with a network of Olmstedian curving pathways that double as measured loops for runners or power-walkers around and through the naturalistic landscape.

In our conception of the porch, we combine the monumental scale of a 19th-century grand hotel porch with the Classical Revival Style, popular in American parks in the early 20th century (The colonnade in the Delaware Park Rose Garden is a an example of the style). The Classical Style lends an air of privilege that every Buffalonian should feel, living in a place that has a miles-long shoreline on an inland sea. If the Outer Harbor is a lakeshore greenbelt, this porch is the buckle.

Crests of a hills are where people build majestic houses and resort hotels. We cannot all afford to have our own house on the water, or “rent” a porch in the form of a stay at a resort hotel, but we can have the experience by merely building the porch. The porch is conceived as a shallow V facing southwest and northeast, its prow pointing west.

The plan, style, and siting allow the porch to be easily lengthened if demand warrants. Rather than being open- sided, the porch must have a front and a back; people sitting on it must feel comfortable and sheltered. The wall is pierced by window openings and a door. From the porch, the windows double as sitting ledges, while, approaching from the land side, the windows would frame a succession of discrete views toward the water.

The porch wings on the land side form a grassy courtyard that itself would be attractive and wind-sheltered. The porch edge invites sitting with legs outreached and arms back, while, this being a porch, there is plenty of room for rocking chairs and other types of seating.

The porch would be a natural for family reunions, wedding receptions, and the like. The porch should be made of durable materials, perhaps cast stone for the columns, clay tile for the roofs, and thick wooden decking for the porch surface. It is important that it, indeed, be a porch and that the columns and wall not rest simply on a paved surface. One must be able to feel the wood, here it reverberate to footfalls, and understand that it is a forgiving surface, should one fall.

To be sure, this porch can be designed, say, in the rustic style found in the Adirondacks or the national parks of the west, but those are more expensive to build and maintain, and not really common here. What is common is the columned porch. This is unmistakably a Buffalo porch, enlarged to civic scale, looking out onto our front yard. Come sit a spell.