Buffalo in Sunday New York Times. Again.

Nicolai Ouroussoff, the New York Times author who recently profiled Buffalo’s rich architectural history, has a compelling article in today’s Times.  In today’s Reinventing America’s Cities, Ouroussoff discusses the ongoing neglect of American cities.  

If you haven’t read the article, do so.  After addressing New Orleans, Los Angeles, and The Bronx, Ouroussoff writes about Buffalo – a city he seemingly has fondness and hope for:  

Perhaps the most intriguing test case for reimagining our failing cities is in Buffalo, where the federal government is pressing ahead with a plan to expand its border crossing facilities. The city was once a center of architectural experimentation, with landmarks by virtually every great American architect of the late 19th and early 20th century. Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., the father of American landscaping, created a string of elegant public parks intended for the city’s factory workers.


Like other Rust Belt cities, Buffalo began its decline more than a half-century ago, a victim of failing industries and suburban flight. Large sections of Olmsted’s parks and boulevards were demolished; an elevated expressway sliced through one of these parks, cutting it off from the riverfront; many of downtown’s once-proud buildings were left abandoned.


Yet rather than reverse that trend, the government now seems determined to accelerate it. The Homeland Security Department is planning to expand an area at the entry to the Peace Bridge to make room for new inspection facilities and parking. That plan would require the demolition of five and a half blocks in a diverse working-class neighborhood with a rich architectural history, from late-19th-century Italianate mansions to modest two-family homes built in the 1920s.


Local preservationists argue that protecting the city’s historic neighborhoods is fundamental to the city’s survival. Pointing out that bridge traffic is steadily shrinking, they are pressing the government to upgrade the train system and dismantle parts of the elevated freeway to allow better access to the riverfront. Not only would they like to see Olmsted’s late-19th-century vision restored; they would also like to see it joined to a more comprehensive vision for the city’s future.


At this point there is no concrete plan to counter the government’s, but the potential is great. The city’s architectural fabric is rich. It has an active grass-roots preservation movement. And few sites better sum up the challenges of trying to save a shrinking city. I for one would love to see what a talented architect could accomplish if his imagination were given free rein over such a promising site.  

As he does in many of his articles, Ouroussoff touches on the core disintegration of urban environments and the need for smart investment in meaningful infrastructure.  While China and Europe continue to invest in pro-urban density initiatives, like high-speed rail, America’s most recent stimulus plan has money designated for high-speed rail lines but many argue it’s not nearly enough.  

Many Buffalo Rising readers consistently advocate for public policy that supports urban density as Mr. Ouroussoff does in his most recent article. But whether our local governments or the Obama administration is sympathetic to these views is debatable.  

About the author  ⁄ bluedevil

19 comments
hamp
hamp

Bluedevil-

How do I get a copy of that picture of City Hall?

varickwt
varickwt

I think Hamp one of the reasons why immigrants cannot be counted in the ranks of the employed or un-employed is the fact that they own their own businesses and cater to their own people. They support each other in that way and that is why Deerfield, MI works. Lackawanna has a thriving Yemeni community and this is bascially the same business model for them, right? They also have business with family and are willing to work 12-16 hour days to get ahead. We in this country have forgotten about free enterprise...but that's another debate.

I personally spend most of my time outside of Buffalo but kept my double in N. Buffalo and have been investing in my property and hopefully leading by example. I would like to come back to Buffalo if I could find decent employment here. I also think that one day Buffalo will be on the rise when people realize what is here.

whatever
whatever

About the people moving into the city, I'm just not a fan of generalizations. Everything I see tells me more are still leaving than moving in, city-wide. The next Census will reveal a lot.

But I do agree with you that it would be positive for Buffalo to attract and keep more immigrants. I'd be curious to compare immigrant retention rates 5 years afer arrival, Buffalo vs. national average. I can't imagine it's any different from non-immigrants, in that people vote with their feet by going where they find more opportunity. Jobs, jobs, jobs, business, business, business.

sonyactivision
sonyactivision

They're optimists and they seek the security of numbers since Muslims are often mistreated or feel that way in smaller communities. Yet these are the very people that rebuild neighborhoods and cities that others fled long ago. As much as one hears the whines about Buffalo's cold snowy winters, it amazes me how resilient people who have emigrated here from warm climates can be :)

hamp
hamp

I am quite aware of the city's problems. And I do see things, both good and bad.

I am an optimist at heart. When I see apartments being constructed, and lofts being built, this indicates to me that people want to live in the city.

And regarding immigrants and why they would want to stay. I met a woman just last week. She moved to the U.S. from Haiti, first settling in Providence, Rhode Island. She moved to Buffalo last year (sight unseen), because a friend living here told her that she could buy her own home. She moved here, and she likes it very much.

Also, the largest number of Arab immigrants in the United States reside in Detroit. This has been true for a few decades. More and more keep coming, and they stay. The Detroit area has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

So why do they stay? I guess they're optimists too.

hamp
hamp

OK STEEL, I'll raise you one. You've got it wrong.

I'm reaching back to my planning classes for this one.

The census asks respondents to list where he/she was living on a certain date. That includes living in a dormatory, or off campus housing.

Yes, parents might list their little darlings as living with them, but it is technically the wrong way to do it.

whatever
whatever

You can spin it all you want, but it's not only the Census estimates who say Buffalo is continuing to lose population in recent years.

I'm sure you respect the Fix Buffalo blog. He has posted quite a few times about this, and cited numerical analysis that's totally independent ot the yearly Census estimates (although reaching a similar conclusion).

Here's one example of his posting about that, and there's others too:

http://fixbuffalo.blogspot.com/2008/09/undeliverable-new-numbers.html

hamp, is it possible that due to your personal deeply held belief in the City of Buffalo that you're in denial about its population situation? You so much want to believe that it's growing, maybe you've convinced yourself that's happening regardless of what calm objective data says?

Do you think numbers presented by Fix Buffalo are wrong? Hey, I'd like to see Buffalo have a true rebound some day too, but until or unless that ever happens, the numbers FixBuffalo reports, and those untrustworthy Census estimates, do agree with what I see with my eyes around here.

(Btw, I agree with your idea to encourage immigrants but once they become adjusted to U.S. life, why wouldn't most of them move to more jobs-healthy areas? Today's anti-business budget from Albany is another in a long string of more of the same. Funny how a proposed 16 cent monthly hike in electric bills last week was met on BR with protest, petitions, and outrage, but this budget seems perfectly acceptable).

Lorem Ipsum
Lorem Ipsum

I'm a huge Fisher fan, too. It is irritating to recall that he was deputy county executive and was unable to enact any of the policies and programs he now promotes. Another reason to resent Joel Giambra.

The NY Times attention to Buffalo has been outstanding, though there is this exaggeration: "Large sections of Olmsted's parks and boulevards were demolished." One park was mostly destroyed (Front) and one parkway was destroyed (Humboldt). Not exactly "large sections."

STEEL
STEEL

Actually hamp you have that wrong.

College students may or may not be counted. Dorm residents are not counted in the college city. They are counted in their home city. Students living off campus may or may not be counted but since students tend to move around a lot it is likely they would not be counted anyplace at home or college. It is possible that students could also be double counted. If their parents include them on a form and they also respond to a survey at their off campus apartment.

hamp
hamp

Population numbers are a very tricky thing.

First off, the most accurate numbers are census numbers. These are only taken once every ten years. Any other numbers you see are estimates.

Also, population decline does not necessarily mean people are moving out. Population decline can be caused by deaths exceeding births. No one has to "move" to make the population show a decline.

It is interesting that college students are counted where they live. So even if you are from Syracuse, and you go to UB, you are counted as a citizen of Amherst or Buffalo (depending on the dorm you live in). When most UB students moved to Amherst, Buffalo's population showed a decline, Amherst showed an increase.

Also, most states in the eastern U.S. would show population declines if it was not for new immigrants. So, we should be encouraging and welcoming immigrants.

Lauren
Lauren

I have to say I agree with "Queen City"...I think people are ready to move into the city, but not necessarily from the suburbs. Those who moved to the suburbs moved there because they enjoy that type of environment, if they wanted city living it would have been just as easy a move to do so. However, I think the people further south are easly forgotten...I personally am a resident of Chautauqua county in a very small town called Brocton. I am not origianlly from there, I am from Syracuse and very much miss that lifestyle, therefore I am currently working toward moving to the city of Buffalo...but my point being is that there are many many people from outside counties that do move to or would like to move to Buffalo. A lot of the people who are born in these smaller towns and want to experience city life move to Buffalo, what better place to do that. Not only can they be in the atmosphere they like but do not have to go a far distance from their home and family. I know personally I love to see such a grassroots effort to perserve and revive Buffalo, and I would love to become a part of that...and I think that there are a lot of people to the south of you that would love to do the same.

Black Rock Advocate
Black Rock Advocate

Black Rock and Riverside are well represented in this article though not by name.

The Kettle
The Kettle

I hate to say it but I think you are right. Many people will talk fondly about Buffalo going back to the good old days but when the rubber hits the road they will back off. People may say their in favor of restoring the parkways and expanding light rail but if it came down to it they would likley fight to keep the expressway they use every day and petition to stop a transit line from going through their quiet town. Just look at the lack of outcry over the rebuilding of elevated rt 5 and the preservation of the skyway. If you ask a typical southtowner Im sure they would say they would love to see Buffalos southern shoreline developed but not if it means taking away their ticket to a brief commute.

QueenCity
QueenCity

Lets just put a few cards on the table for our NYTimes friend.

1) The West Village between Elmwood and Niagara, will not get the real property values it deserves up to Allentown until they rebrick or recobble the streets and put the trees back.

2) The Peace Bridge will not happen until the plaza is on the Canadian side.

3) Downtown wont happen until the Light Rail is connected to both the Airport and UB Amherst.

4) Historical Tourism wont happen until we have full diversity of our history like rebuilt Pan Am Gateways & Fountains, LaSalles Griffin and actual Canal Barges docked in our wharf district, and lets not forget 1812 burning of Buffalo, Fort Porter and Adm Perry/Civil War Naval Yards.

Lets also remind our downstate friends at the NYTimes why Buffalo fails.

1) Buffalo politicians are to leashed to the albany democratic party.

2) Buffalo unions are to coddled by albany lobbies and albany democratic party.

3) Albany skims off whatever surpluses Buffalo manages to find to re-invest in its future. The $500million Power Authority theft and the theft of un-used power allocated to Buffalo and Niagara Falls without compensation, the tolls are another, the Metropolitan Bond Act which forces upstate to pay for NYC subways in exchange for a few new buses, do we really need to continue.

People are using the light rail because Buffalonians are poor and finding its a convenient way to save money.

Downtown retail can never be anything more than an alternative to suburban retail, nor can it ever be larger than suburban retail.

People are ready to move into the city but its the developers that are holding back the trend not the population. People want the convenience of light rail and neighborhood shopping, safe streets, good schools, plowed streets, off street parking and inexpensive but upscale homes. When the developers put together residential developments that meet that criteria, then people wont hesitate to come back. There is a significant portion of WNYers that dont want a house on an acre of land, infact most who want a $100k, $200k or $300k patio home would easily prefer a downtown townhome or condo or apartment. Issue is and has been that developers for the last 60 years have been focussed on the suburbs.

whatever
whatever

hamp>"That's why people are moving into the city."

Isn't population still dropping faster in Buffalo than it is Erie County as a whole?

hamp
hamp

People are ready. That's why so many lofts are being built. That's why people are moving into the city. That's why transit ridership is up. That's why people are interested in car sharing. That's why Main St., Hertel, Elmwood etc are being revived.

Finally, look at the people that post on this site and the comments they make. People are ready.

nick
nick

Yes, but are people in Buffalo really looking to have a true urban renaissance? People love the easy commutes, the easy of life, cheap real estate, all the things that a majority of people seem to enjoy about Buffalo do not lead me to believe that a change in the status quo is desired by most.

hamp
hamp

Schumer and our other representatives should run with this.

Now is the time to make Buffalo a case study of how to revive America's older industrial cities. Let's start with the stimulus funding. We need to spend it in ways that will revitalize our neighborhoods and the city core.

Regarding the Peace Bridge. If we're going to be spending hundreds of millions dollars, the city must get some real benefits. Let's start with a restored Front Park and a revitalized west side neighborhood.

pwallinder
pwallinder

My absolute hero about the importance of a functioning city is Bruce Fisher, who has written many very interesting articles about Buffalo- its rich architecture- and the necessity for Buffalonian's to protect this beautiful City from the dangers of sprawl, car dependency and much more.

I am in favor of relocating the bridge plaza to the Canadian side, the Government need to figure out how, they work for us, right?

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