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Montreal keeps urbanism humming in winter by keeping sidewalks clear.

Freedom of movement is an essential human requirement. Cities and towns that best accommodate this are places people want to live and enterprises can flourish. This matters not only in summer, when most of us visit and take our pictures of bustling streets and squares.

"Bustling streets and squares" in North America are invariably in neighborhoods established before 1940, when buildings and circulation were oriented to pedestrians. When we don't clear snow from sidewalks, we force those worried about slipping and falling cooped up inside. We also keep disabled people inside. To the degree that it is hard and unpleasant to walk on unshoveled walks or narrowed paths, we all stay inside or drive to a plowed parking lot in a strip mall. That hurts people and hurts traditional neighborhood shopping- and gathering places and undermines public health.

That just kills traditional neighborhoods. The evidence is all about us in Buffalo.

Not all North American cities ignore the needs of pedestrians and traditional neighborhoods in winter. Montreal and Quebec City don't. As the collection of postcards below shows, Montrealers are proud of their city, how romantic and neighborly it can be to be out and about in winter, and how they handle snow. Photographers even run out and take pictures before the snow is cleared away. I've seen this happen, and seen a phalanx of snowblowers, dump trucks, and sidewalk tractors go into action.

Virtually the entire City of Buffalo was built out by 1940. A big reason the city's neighborhood shops were undermined was anti-pedestrian bias in transportation. It manifests itself to this day in impassable public sidewalks that radically reduce pedestrian flows past businesses for five months a year.

It is time the city clears all sidewalks on bus routes, commercial areas, and near schools. Montreal does it, Quebec City does it. They thrive in winter. Why not Buffalo?



Campaign for Greater Buffalo proposes to bridge access gap on waterfront

Cloudwalk from Wharf
Just prior to the December 11 windstorm during which a chunk of the Great Northern grain elevator's brick cladding tumbled to the ground, setting off an epic preservation battle that continues in the courts, The Campaign for Greater Buffalo completed renderings of a new type of pedestrian bridge to solve another waterfront problem, one of access and equity hiding in plain site: The Buffalo Outer Harbor is practicably inaccessible to people using public transit or simply walking or riding their bikes.

As the crow flies (or cars speed across the Skyway), only 800 feet separate Central Wharf and downtown Buffalo from the opposite shore of the Buffalo River, yet this becomes 3.8 miles (almost eight miles round-trip) on the ground for walkers, bikers and transit users, who must, if they can, make due with existing roadways. The problem will only become more glaring as the hundreds of millions of dollars proposed to be spent on Outer Harbor parks and other improvements forge ahead.

Greater Buffalo Cloudwalk Dec 2021 1

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Members of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo have advocated for preserving, restoring, and appreciating the historic assets of the Buffalo River since the 1980s. This includes creating the Cobblestone Historic District and waging a federal court battle to save and restore the Commercial Slip, Central Wharf, and the Canal District’s historic street.

Those goals are more important than ever to the success of both the Inner Harbor, Outer Harbor, and social justice. Recently, the Empire State Development Corporation's Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation approved controversial plans for spending millions of dollars on an outdoor concert facility at the far south end of its Outer Harbor lands. The plan is to take the decades-old summer concert series from downtown, where it is accessible to everyone, and place it where it is only practically accessible by car.

Congressman Brian Higgins has unveiled proposals for expanding a public park along the south bank of the Buffalo River from the Buffalo Light upstream to the head of Fuhrmann Boulevard and a proposed boardwalk and park connecting stretching to the Connecting Terminal Elevator. Public transit, bicycle, and, pedestrian access are overlooked, other than as an adjunct to existing roadways. Those impose an almost eight-mile roundtrip barrier from Central Wharf on walkers, bike riders, and transit users.

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The Cloudwalk would make the Outer Harbor accessible to the hundreds of thousands of public transit users via Metrorrail and Metrobus which connect to it.

The tremendous unspoken success of the Canal District and Central Wharf is their accessibility and use by all classes of residents and visitors. That springs directly from the fact that they are directly on Metrorail at the base of downtown. We must extend that success to the Outer Harbor. Especially in light of the vision set forth in the 2004 masterplan mandated by the federal district court, wherein the Canal District is to be built-out in the manner the neighborhood was before being demolished for, among other things, the Skyway and Memorial Auditorium. The  Canal District and Outer Harbor would be two mutually supportive parts of a livable whole. The Canal District being historically dense, complex, and full of urban recreational opportunity, and the Outer Harbor offering open-space recreation and learning.


Cloudwalk 1A Connecting Terminal end
The couth end of the Cloudwalk would be at the rooftop of the Connecting Terminal grain elevator, offering sweeping views of lake, river, and city (above). The passenger elevator would connect to the planned boardwalk between the Connecting Terminal and Lighthouse Park (Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation proposal below). Times Beach and Wilkeson Point are across the street.

First Bflo River Marina GPP Nov. 2020

But the livable whole can only exist if everyone can benefit. Access must not be denied by distance, cost, or season, but must be convenient, comfortable, abundant, and free. A pedestrian bridge is essential. It makes the downtown and the Old First Ward livability index go up. Soaring over social, mobility, and equity barriers, it points toward a sustainable future. And actually, it is not a new type of bridge type, but one that is thousands of years old. It only is just now becoming used in new ways, primarily in the rugged, windy, and wintry mountains of central Europe.

The Campaign is working with the leading designer of long-span pedestrian bridges in the U.S., Experiential Resources, or ERI. Chief designer and co-owner of ERI, Todd Domeck, told WKBW-TV that the design has many advantages for an urban area. "They're safe. They're utilitarian. It's an economical choice to transport people, and like all bridges, inherently they bring people together. To bring people together on a beautiful structure is what we want to do." Domeck says his team could build the suspension bridge in about a year. WKBW's story is here.

Bridging the access gap on the Buffalo waterfront is just the beginning. Regionally, long-span low-cost pedestrian bridges  solve a lot of access problems particular to Western New York and nearby Canada. Think of spanning the Niagara River between Prospect Park and Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls. Connecting Youngstown with Niagara-on-the-Lake. Crossing the Erie Canal below the Flight of Five in Lockport. Economically useful all. That they’d be fun is a bonus.

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Big win: Campaign granted preliminary injunction on Great Northern

Great Northern perspective 1 cover

The Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture has been granted a preliminary injunction to preserve the Great Northern grain elevator pending a decision by the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division for the Fourth Department on the issues raised by the Campaign regarding an emergency demolition order issued by the City of Buffalo and a lower court ruling favoring the City early last month.

“We are glad that the court agreed with the need for an injunction to prevent any action to demolish the Great Northern,” said Campaign attorney Richard Berger. Campaign lead attorney Richard Lippes said “We are grateful that the appellate court recognized the importance of the Great Northern to Buffalo and beyond."

The Campaign sued the City of Buffalo and Archer Daniels Midland Milling to block the emergency demolition in December in State Supreme Court. The elevator sustained damage to its brick cladding during a windstorm on December 11. On December 17 the city issued an emergency demolition order. The Campaign contends that the building is structural sound, that demolition is unnecessary, and that ADM should be required to repair and maintain the building, which they have not done during its ownership dating to 1993. The Great Northern has been a designated Buffalo landmark since 1990.

Starting with the classic Friday-Afternoon-Special-During-Holiday-Season demo order, the Campaign has been battling hard to save one of the city's most important buildings. Things don't let up: the process is being expedited, with records and papers  due by March 1, two weeks from today. The case will be heard in the term beginning March 28. A decision would be expected sometime in June.

"We're optimistic about winning on the merits," said Campaign Executive Director Tim Tielman. "We're thankful to all those who have contributed their time and treasure to date. There are thousands of dollars in additional expenses ahead, so we hope Western New Yorkers can contribute to us get the Great Northern over the finish line.

Download  preliminary injunction

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ADM good at cutting jobs, not maintaining landmarks

Kelly Island Carol Highsmith med res 2018
ADM flour mill was built adjacent to the Great Northern grain elevator (top) in 1928. The Great Northern, Washburn-Crosby, and Wheeler (remnants below)elevators of Kelly Island form the most architecturally significant collection of grain elevators in the world. The Great Northern is threatened with an emergency demolition order currently being fought in court by The Campaign for Greater Buffalo. Photo (detail): Carol Highsmith 2018.

By Michael Pesarchick

Despite its massive size and iconic presence on the Buffalo waterfront, the Archer-Daniels-Midland (ADM) plant on Ganson Street – home of the endangered Great Northern Elevator – employs relatively few people. According to Anthony Barker, President of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 36G, ADM employs roughly 60 union workers at the flour mill, about 20 per shift. Another 15 to 20 people work in management.

This is well below the 400-plus working at the General Mills cereal plant next door, and a far cry from the plant’s employment levels under original owner Pillsbury. The mill, opened in 1928, was conceived by Pillsbury to operate in conjunction with the Great Northern, built in 1897 as a storage and transfer elevator. Once the mill opened, the Great Northern was used only to receive and store wheat for the mill.

In April 1992 ADM entered into a joint-venture with Pillsbury to manage the plant. Within days after signing the agreement, ADM cut the number of grain millers working at the plant from 82 to 55, according to the union.

The union also claimed that ADM had cut wages by $2 per hour. It was enough to trigger a brief strike on April 23-24, 1992, when ADM threatened to bring in replacement workers. The Grain Millers union was able to reach an agreement with ADM in May 1992 that promised to rehire 17 fired employees and restore wages.

Before the 1992 Pillsbury/ADM joint agreement, the mill was for decades the center of Buffalo’s flour milling prowess. In 1951 it hosted a group of German labor leaders. “It is truly an experience to see such mass operation actually in operation,” Ludwig Diedrich of the Executive Council of Berlin Trade Unions told the Buffalo Evening News.

Later that decade, the Buffalo Courier-Express reported there were 26 grain mills and plants across Buffalo in 1958, with 1,600 employees belonging to the American Federation of Grain Millers (AFL-CIO) Local 110 chapter. Combined, the facilities were producing over 4,000 tons of flour per day.

The Great Northern Elevator was so efficient in tandem with the mill that Pillsbury sold its Pool Elevator on the Outer Harbor to Cargill the next year. Company president George S. Pillsbury announced a $600,000 investment in the mill in 1966. The investment came as Pillsbury’s domestic flour business had tripled since WWII, with production at the Buffalo plant doubling. “It is to our own interest to keep Buffalo strong as a milling center,” Pillsbury told the Evening News.

He acknowledged the plant, Pillsbury’s largest, was responsible for 34% of the company’s flour output, but also that it cost more to produce a bag of flour in Buffalo than any of the company's eight other mills. The investment would came at the cost of jobs. “Mr. Pillsbury sees this as an ‘opportunity to increase productivity,’ which clearly means that some jobs vacated by retirement will not be filled,” the Evening News reported.

That prediction came true. By 1972, when deadly five-alarm fire at the plant made the news, only 185 were employed.

Great Northern Highsmith 2018
The Great Northern photographed by Carol Highsmith in 2018. ADM has owned it and the adjacent flour mill since 1993.

Those employees were unionized, and the Great Northern, with the last grain scoopers in the nation, represented an easy cost center to eliminate. In 1981 Pillsbury bought the Standard Elevator on St. Clair Street, which had a vacuum system to unload ships and an efficient system of conveyor belts to distribute grain within. Closing the Great Northern cost 30 union jobs. Pillsbury official James Gelfand told the Evening News that it was not “economically feasible to renovate the elevator” and that the Great Northern Elevator was not able to handle truck deliveries. It would, apparently, be cheaper to unload and store grain at the Standard and to truck grain from there directly to the mill as needed, rather than to pay scoopers to assist with the unloading at the Great Northern.

Employment at the mill continued to decline through the 1980s. By 1989, Business First reported only 146 employees were employed at the Pillsbury Mill, 100 of which were members of the union. Pillsbury and ADM entered into the joint venture which caused the job cuts and brief strike three years later.


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The agreement that ended the strike would be the last between ADM and the Grain Millers for some time. In February 1996, members of the International Longshoremen’s Association, Local 1286, which represented the idled scoopers and the truck drivers, accused ADM of union busting and threatening more job cuts, including running the Standard Elevator with five employees instead of 13, the News reported. Local 1286 teamed with Local 36 to petition then-presidential candidate Bob Dole, who had financial ties to ADM, to support the unions.

That was also the period when ADM was attempting to get a demolition permit for the Great Northern the first time. In 1995 the scoopers and grain millers joined the Preservation Coalition of Erie County (the spiritual ancestor of The Campaign for Greater Buffalo) in the successful effort to fend off the demolition. In March 1996 a union-preservationist rally was held on Court Street denouncing ADM and its attempt to demolish the elevator and eliminate jobs.