Design-assisted Suicide? Behind Glam Façades, projects are moving forward that are as Hostile to Urbanism as our 1960's Urban Renewal Nightmares
They may know how to count beans, make thumbtacks, and sell real estate, but Buffalo’s leadership class is blissfully unaware that its very efforts to revitalize downtown Buffalo are what is killing it. That should be clear to all. A 50-year record of failure has transformed downtown from a complex ecosystem of interdependent uses teeming with street life to a dehumanized streetscape that more closely resemble a somnolent suburban office park.
So what else is new?
They are at it again. Several projects are on the boards or have been completed are different only in architectural style to our worst Urban Renewal nightmares of the 1960’s. A few examples: the Federal court building, the IRS building, a new headquarters for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Western New York, the Erie County Public Safety building, and breathy reviews to the contrary, the Hauptmann-Woodward Institute. Typically, they are automobile-dependent, walled-off single use compounds, representing the continuing erosion of urban character (this, even as Chippewa Street and loft conversions demonstrate the market appeal of traditional urbanism). One could call it sprawl from within. Or Dumb Growth, if only it involved growth. Its really just shuffling existing jobs around at great public cost. Yet these are being sold to us, literally, as the “answer to our prayers.”
We ought not worship false gods. The Fall/Winter 2005/06 issue of Greater Buffalo looks at two of the more egregious examples of our would be salvation, the Federal Court (prior post) and Blue Cross headquarters (post to come). In addition, we look at a good example of mid-20th century urbanism threatened with demolition, the J.N. Adam store (better known as AM&A’s). The aim is to help understand how buildings can effect urban character.
Included in the leadership class we heap opprobrium on are development agencies like the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency (BURA), Downtown Development, Inc. (DDI). Buffalo Enterprise Development Corporation (BERC), and the Erie County Industrial Development Agency (ECIDA). The fact that they get administrative fees in the millions of dollars for large projects is often the thing which drives otherwise counterproductive projects in the first place. Political and business leaders comprise the bulk of these boards, and they disburse millions of dollars in federal and state funds without accountability.
That’s life in the mid-size city, but is doesn’t have to be. Projects happen, even in economically parched Buffalo. We must work harder than other cities to make sure those opportunities are turned to maximize public benefit and strengthening of the city. Where public money is involved, we must insist on it.
Everyone benefits when everyone benefits, and its time we demand that our urban policy reflect that.