By James E. Carr
Recent News articles have spotlighted the conundrum of trying to increase the region’s access to our rich collection of waterfront resources even while water quality remains poor and in some cases is worsening. The Buffalo River, Buffalo Harbor, Lake Erie and the Niagara River, to name just a few, are seeing increasing numbers of visitors, both local residents as well as tourists from near and far.
People have a natural affinity for water and a city’s waterfront has always been the locus of both its economy and its image.
Buffalo has been later than most in improving the waterfront. We are, however, finally awakening to new opportunities as shown by Greenway legislation for the Niagara River, recognition for the Erie Canal corridor and now the impetus for making our waterfront publicly accessible. One benefit of these changes can be seen in the seemingly unending number of new hotels being erected across the region.
One stark shortfall of this evolving appreciation for our waterfront is the dearth of places where our citizens can actually put their feet in the water without endangering their health. A few months ago an Assembly committee held a hearing at which it was revealed that regional beaches were closing with increasing frequency due to poor water quality. Buffalo’s new state park will not have public swimming.
Buffalo’s citizenry deserves a beach where families can relax on warm sand while the kids splash in clean water. In a city where more than a third of its citizens lack access to a car, it is not appropriate to say they can vacation in Florida or drive to Beaver Island.
Across the nation and around the world, other cities have faced this problem and found a solution. Paris has trucked in sand for more than a decade to provide a beach experience alongside the Seine. Toronto has done the same at its so-called Sugar Beach (Google it).
We can do the same, at a ridiculously low cost. Picture using Terminal B, part of Buffalo’s old port complex, as the site of an indoor/outdoor four-season swimming complex. Imagine the old warehouse with a glass wall facing Lake Erie, with children and adults reclining on warm sand regardless of the weather outside. On sunny days people could relax outside. In the fall they could swim in comfort.
This proposal, already proven successful in other cities, is part of a more comprehensive plan for the entire terminal complex. For examples, a central location for numerous small existing and proposed museums, an indoor four-season sports complex, entertainment options, restaurants, bicycle rental options, fishing gear, a Great Lakes cruise terminal and much more.
Buffalo’s waterfront should be a public amenity. It should not be privatized for the benefit of a wealthy few.
James E. Carr, of Buffalo, is a retired urban planner.