The conflict within the community over whether to build or not to build in the 700 block of Elmwood Avenue is a fascinating transportation planning case, one that affords us the opportunity to think about development and transportation in new and creative ways. The mixed-use development planned by the Benchmark Co. is exactly what those of us who have waited for the emergence of Elmwood Avenue as a great destination have long hoped for. It is an opportunity that should not, despite the challenges that it presents, be lost.
Elmwood, like other increasingly dynamic and successful mixed-use districts like Allen Street and Hertel Avenue, wrestles with the challenges that come with growth. While eagerly welcoming new businesses — a restaurant on Allen, a store on Elmwood or Hertel — we wonder too about access, particularly about parking. Questions about parking — Is there enough? Where will they find it? Will they walk if they can't? — plague those of us in the business of neighborhood revitalization. Indeed, sometimes we get so worried that we are willing, like many people on Elmwood, to sacrifice what it is that we have so long wanted.
We need to begin to think differently about this challenge. What I am suggesting is a broader, context-sensitive solution that considers not only parking or the lack thereof — growth vs. parking — but the whole range of factors that have led to the emergence of these successful neighborhoods. This kind of approach will bring to the table a broad range of players, each with a major stake in the outcome. One thing we know is that problems like these can only be solved with active local participation.
With this in mind, I suggest that a planning team consisting of representatives of the City of Buffalo, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, selected design and planning professionals, neighborhood business owners and residential stakeholders be convened and charged with generating, within a specific time, a framework for understanding and resolving these problems.
How, for example, have high-density corridors in other cities handled this problem? What is the role and function of mass transportation? How, if it is deemed necessary, can new parking solutions — a ramp or a satellite facility — be integrated into the fabric of these dense neighborhoods? What is the relationship between neighborhood residents and these local mixed-use districts? Are there not pedestrian-oriented strategies that might be adapted?
These are the kinds of questions that, when answered by a team of intelligent professionals and passionate and informed citizens, will lead not to an unhappy trade-off, but rather a long-term solution that will improve the quality of our community life.
Mark Goldman is an author and has owned and operated small businesses in high-density Buffalo neighborhoods for more than 20 years.