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Development project could link city's past to its future

A recent Buffalo News story piqued my interest. It painted Buffalo negatively, as an urban prairie. The story spotlighted the growing problem of vacant lots and houses and urban flight.

Chicken or egg? Cause or effect? What does government deal with first? I don't have good answers to those questions, but I am aware of one idea that can engage the community in finding some answers.

When I worked in government, I was able to vet some really innovative projects and meet some extraordinary people. Alas, not all of the ideas went through to fruition, but now that my feet are again firmly planted in the real world, I can help some of the better ideas see the light of day.

During my days as Erie County commissioner of Environment and Planning, I became aware of the Designing to Live Sustainably (D2LS) project and often met with the founders. Instead of seeing these vacancies as a negative, they see them as a canvas for creating designs in the city that will re-establish the benefits of urban living, and envision them as parts of the whole that will lead to Buffalo leapfrogging into a sustainable model not yet implemented in other urban areas.

D2LS tackles Buffalo's dilemma. It urges us to find ways to save and preserve good housing stock, or incorporate the land that remains into uses that support an interconnected, revitalized functional neighborhood. It invites us to consciously challenge the conventional paradigms that have trapped Buffalo somewhere between yesterday and tomorrow.

The D2LS project plans a celebration of the city's creativity by inviting architects, planners, designers, students, developers, business people, community groups, elected officials — all citizens and innovators — to collectively re-envision the City of Buffalo through radical collaboration in order to defy the prevailing paradigm.

Entrants are asked to confront the conventional approaches to land use and zoning and build on initiatives already in place, such as the Buffalo Green Code and Framework for Regional Growth.

And since this is a celebration, all entries will be displayed at an opening gala event.

This may not be the answer to all our urban problems, but it is a way to engage experts and novices alike; to think honestly and creatively about ways to alter the course we are on now. The next step will be to find partners to help implement the winning concepts.

For me, this is a reward for discovering some great people and ideas while in public service. Together, we might uncover some practical solutions to urban decay through a novel design challenge.

Here's what you can do: email d2ls@gmail.com.

Kathy Konst is a former Erie County legislator and former commissioner of Environment and Planning.