If Buffalo is to maintain the resurgence that has taken root over the past few years, it needs to plan for it. Yes, continued development could happen by accident, but it’s dangerous to leave growth up to chance and likely to produce less desirable results. Planning, for the short and long terms, will help to ensure that today’s revival is a seed that takes root, rather than one that blows away in the wind.
That’s part of what makes the 20-year Downtown Infrastructure Master Plan so welcome. While details remain vague, the plan is intriguing enough to merit some degree of optimism and further development.
The plan targets four areas of downtown for millions of dollars of improvements in areas including its streetscape, lighting, sidewalks, bicycle lanes and other infrastructure. The goal is to make downtown more walkable, more appealing to residents and more attractive to private investment.
To make the area more cohesive and pedestrian-friendly, the plan aims to improve access and connections. It calls for traffic calming, more accessible green space and public space, and a “softening” of barriers like highway overpasses.
With those strategies, planners hope to create a flexible framework for future public-sector investments and projects. It’s an organized approach that allows for revisions and, most importantly, builds upon the success that Buffalo is enjoying right now.
The plan cost $150,000 to develop and will be worth that and much more if the city follows its outlines. It was funded with grants from National Grid USA and National Fuel Gas Co., with input from the Buffalo Urban Development Corp., the city’s Office of Strategic Planning, the Department of Public Works, Buffalo Niagara Partnership, downtown transit agencies and a mixture of businesses, residents and other stakeholders. It can be accessed at the BUDC website, buffalourbandevelopment.com.
The plan aims to support and leverage the billions of dollars in public and private investment that have been pouring into the city, at Canalside, Larkinville, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and other areas. Already, the city has either completed or is working on projects involving Ellicott Street, Seneca Street, Genesee Street and Pearl Street. The new projects will also tie in the city’s investments along Niagara Street, from the Peace Bridge to downtown.
The first goal is to complete the Cars Sharing Main Street project. That leads to the other “nodes” or districts in the plan, all of which share a connection to Main Street. They include the civic node, which takes in government and office buildings and includes Niagara and Lafayette squares; the entertainment node, which is centered around Chippewa Street and the Theater District, and the Erie and Shelton node, which will reconnect Michigan Street and Erie Community College to Lake Erie and include Fireman’s and Five Flags parks.
“Over the last 60 years, we’ve spent a lot of time building barriers,” said Dan Leonard, director of economic development at the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. “The plan here is to incrementally see how we can address some of those barriers.”
With hundreds of millions of dollars of development completed or underway downtown, a master plan is perhaps overdue, but it is never too late to coordinate improvements in the infrastructure.
All in all, this appears to be a well-considered plan, but one that will be of no use if it becomes just another report gathering dust on some city shelf. That shouldn’t be allowed to happen and perhaps there is reason to believe that it won’t. Buffalo appears to have turned a corner – it is becoming its true self, so there is reason to hope that this forward-looking plan will not be forgotten, but put into useful play.