A visit to Armory Square in Syracuse reveals a thoughtfully planned, densely built urban shopping district that Downtown Buffalo could take a few notes from. A couple of things that I came away with during a recent visit:
A) There’s no reason that we can’t construct buildings that pay tribute to our existing urban fabric
B) The Green Code couldn’t come to Buffalo soon enough – attractive signage goes a long way
c) Dense building stock offers collective opportunities for numerous small businesses
There is an entire block within Armory Square that is much newer construction than the historic blocks that flank it. If you weren’t paying close attention I bet that you wouldn’t even notice. That’s because there are plenty of patios and flowers and urban lamp standards and tasteful signage… plus the newer brick building (virtually an entire block) loosely mimics the designs of nearby historic structures, and creates a density that is conducive to walking, shopping and dining. Developer Rocco Termini pulled off this sort of feat successfully at the 400 block on Ellicott Street (think SeaBar area). If the sprawling M&T Bank parking lot across the street from Rocco’s development was to get a similar treatment as Armory Square, then we would have a district that would be similar in nature to the photos that we see here (no, this is not rocket science).
Whether we attempt to construct buildings that look historic, or modern, or a combination of both, there is no doubt that urban density is of utmost importance. Walking around Armory Square, one can see that there are no vacant corner lots – there are buildings instead. In fact, it’s hard to find a parking lot… but we easily found available parking meters. Think about the parking lots across from New Era on Delaware Avenue. Can you imagine if those were filled in with buildings? If narrow buildings were constructed along Delaware, there would still be space for parking lots in the back. Then there’s Court Street… when will that infill project begin? Opportunities upon opportunities. And no, these types of infill projects would not create squares per se, but the result would still help to create dense urban districts.
When we stopped for lunch at a restaurant occupying the newer structure in Armory Square, we discussed where in Buffalo such a similar historic commercial density occurs. Main Street (at Roosevelt Plaza along the Metro Rail) immediately came to mind (although that’s not exactly a square). I look forward to the day that the entire street is open again, as the collections of buildings that exist are like no other in the city. Hopefully the imminent success of Main Street will have spin-off successes on intersecting streets and neighborhoods.
Main Street is thankfully mostly intact. But there are other districts in Buffalo that desperately need infill – such as The Cobblestone District. Take one of those massive lots down along, say Mississippi, and build it up. Then you would have a real victory. The block across the street is already completed thanks to developer Sam Savarino. There is so much potential there it’s unreal.
Now think of the remaining lots at Canalside. Rocco Termini once showed me his idea (renderings) of Canalside and what it could look like if he was allowed to take a stab at it. Stunning! And not so distant from the walkable neighborhood that is Armory Square.
Larkinville also has the potential to recreate itself in this fashion. The process is already underway. That district has created its own style of public square, and will hopefully someday have even more urban density surrounding it as the neighborhood gets built up.
I’m not saying that we need to build these types of squares all around the city. We can learn a lot from the square mentality though. Once again I’m talking about infill – and the perception that there is a square. Think of the huge corner lot on Grant Street sits between West Ferry and Lafayette. That corner could benefit from infill and bridge the commercial district in the process. There are a couple of lots on West Ferry that could do the same thing, while connecting Grant Street to Richmond in the process. There are plenty of commercial districts in Buffalo that would re-energize almost overnight if the right parking lots were converted to mixed use structures. I’m not even going to get started on the key Benchmark location on Elmwood, and the benefits that that would bring to the already successful street (at least from West Ferry to Forest). Elmwood from West Ferry to Allentown still suffers from lack of a Green Code.
What I am saying is that there are plenty of places around the city that we need to look at as massive opportunities rather than missed opportunities. Building density is so important when it comes to having a walkable city. Buffalo is so close in so many areas… we just need to identify opportunities and hope that the property owners… or should I say parking lot owners (and some property owners) can be somewhat sensible and let progress take its course.