As Buffalo's blue-ribbon advisory board moves closer to a recommendation on the fate of the landmark Buffalo State Hospital and its grounds, members must remain keenly aware of a basic tenet of good urban planning: Think well into the future.
The bold 19th century civic vision that commissioned the architectural gems designed by H.H. Richardson and the landscaping by Frederick Law Olmsted deserves an equal echo in current efforts to craft this site's 21st century role. In trying to be as inclusive as possible in hearing community plans and proposals, the advisory board also must think beyond boundaries and vested interests in its consideration of the site and its context.
So far, there is no sign this board will develop an overarching recommendation for the entire 89-acre site, including the role of the Buffalo Psychiatric Center in the future of both the land and the adjoining museum district. Despite urging from Gov. Pataki, Mayor Masiello has not expanded the board's purview beyond the 50 acres originally offered by the state.
It would be a serious mistake to simply parcel out this acreage to a series of limited-scope projects, however worthy they may be. What is desperately needed is a vision that looks beyond potential building lots and toward the role this key site plays in a vibrant district of cultural attractions.
There understandably must be a role for the existing psychiatric facility, deeply rooted in this historic complex despite poor state stewardship of the Richardson buildings. Although far smaller than it once was in terms of resident patients, the center still provides needed outpatient services for thousands of mental-health clients who now live in local communities. Relocation to a new facility could be disruptive to those clients and a costly burden for taxpayers -- strong arguments the center rightly has been required to make.
Whatever the particulars of the panel's final recommendation, the continuation of quality care for this vulnerable segment of our community must not be compromised.
There also undoubtedly will be solid opportunities for Buffalo State College usage, a new city school, an improved Burchfield-Penney Art Center or a new architectural heritage visitors' center. The task force has not even finished hearing new proposals, although it hopes to wrap up its recommendation next month.
A random arrangement of flowers, though, doesn't guarantee a meaningful bouquet. No array of valuable ideas can override the need for a comprehensive developmental goal; developing this piecemeal is the wrong way to go.
Given site complexities and the daunting $60 million estimate to restore Richardson's twin Romanesque towers and the rest of the central historic buildings, the state probably will have to seek multiple developers. But designing a mix of uses shouldn't preclude an overarching vision of the role this community wants the Psychiatric Center site to play in the district and the city.
The H.H. Richardson Advisory Board has an opportunity to incorporate that vision in its eventual report to Masiello. Both the board and the mayor should make sure such a vision is relayed strongly to the governor and to the Empire State Development Corp. as it prepares the state's request for redevelopment proposals.