If you attended the Aspirations and Inspirations speaker event this afternoon at City Honors, hopefully you came away with one thing. That ‘one thing’ is that there are multitudes of Buffalonians who continue to ask for a new direction when it comes to re-envisioning our waterfront yet unfortunately the ‘business as usual’ mentality persists. Why look for single million dollar silver bullet projects over and over when, as Fred Kent, founder of and director of Project for Public Spaces puts it, “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper.” There’s absolutely no reason that we shouldn’t have a public market at the Inner Harbor at this point in time, filled with buskers, artists, food, etc.
Do we need to build a multi-million dollar market place in order to see some action? No. What if we build one that can be utilized right away? Let’s create our own action… let’s not wait for the big boxes and the mega developers to build something that is not really what we want anyways. Haven’t we been saying that all along? Why can’t we have creative and practical decision-makers crafting immediate plans designed to attract visitors by springtime? Why not listen to some of the locals who have been preaching this stuff for years – people like Roger Schroeder who submitted to BRO his concept for a simplistic market/shelter system that could be implemented in months. These are the ideas that are still featured in innovative and trendy design magazines. These are the ideas that are considered short-term wins.
We’ve said it hundreds of times – how did a Naval Museum get built that was intended to have a first floor cafe, yet somehow the cafe never made it past the drawing board? It’s missed opportunities like this that make us want to tear our hair out. I bet that we could get the architecture and design students from the University at Buffalo to come up with affordable short-term goals that would appeal to thousands of people right now. What are the credentials of the people who are making these waterfront decisions for us? Do they really have the expertise to deliver? Are they tapping into the minds and ideas of tried and true visionaries who have succeeded in other cities? What on earth are we waiting for? Now that we have the historic Cobblestone street grid back, let’s provide key amenities right away. Tony Goldman (check out his site) talked about using the $40,000,000+ earmarked for the faux canal to create a unique destination that incorporates the Inner and Outer Harbor. Let’s get out of our own way and dedicate some of the funds to artists who can transform the grain elevators into awesome colorfully-lit spectacles and attractions. Then take the giant lawn at the Outer Harbor and make it into an undulating, tiered park setting featuring kiosks designed to look like canal-era boats. Gee, I wonder who could help pull off that project… John Montague maybe? These are just a couple of ideas… why don’t we ever hear creative ideas from the current planners?
Can’t we find someone who really understands a sense of place to help us put together all of the pieces that we already have scattered about? Has anyone in charge ever seriously listened to Joan Bozer? Why do the decision makers think that they can go it alone, when there are so many talented people at their disposal? We need to get some small cost/ big impact projects under our belts. We’re so close-minded to the projects that are right under our noses. Why? Because the big decisions will continue to be made behind closed doors by the same people who have been making the wrong decisions for far too long. Having Riverkeeper Julie O’Neill’s input on the board of the ECHDC is a step in the right direction, but it’s only one step. Hopefully there will be some fresh collaboration efforts made in the future. I was happy to see that Jordan Levy made it to the talks today. Hopefully he came away with a sense that there are other ways to go about planning our waterfront.
Tony Goldman hit the nail on the head when he said that we should hold property owners accountable who would see that our architectural heritage is put in jeopardy. Fine their asses and make their lives miserable until they do the right thing and relinquish or invest in their properties. Preaching to the choir? Maybe. Maybe not. There were some people (once again, like Jordan Levy) sitting in that room listening to non-political words of wisdom coming from the mouths of experienced thinkers and planners. Why shouldn’t the grain elevators be lit and painted? Why don’t we have objects of interest at the Outer Harbor? Why don’t we have a temporary market place at the Commercial Slip? Because the politicos don’t really care about the short term wins. They would much rather see giant cranes in the air building big box shrines that they can cut a ribbon in front of while punching in the cost of the project into their calculators. Is it driven by ego? Is it because they feel that their names are attached to the project and that means that they’re gonna plow forward and show the public that they were right all along?
When was the last time you saw a truly passionate person talking about our waterfront? Today I saw a bunch of them. Planning our waterfront should be a passionate process, not driven by a few egos with no track records. So far all we have seen are more studies, more consultants, more meetings, more prescriptions, more money thrown away and no real results. Let’s get the Joan Bozers, John Montagues and Roger Schroeders seats at the decision making tables, or we’re just going to see the same failed attempts to feed grandiose, unobtainable plans to a public that can’t stomach the same bland slop over and over.