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BRIDGE PROJECT SHOULD ALLOW US TO RESTORE HISTORIC FRONT PARK

Buffalo, on the eve of the millennium, is also on the brink of a huge binational project that will cost millions of dollars. This project will directly impact Buffalo's historic park system. I refer, of course, to the expansion of the Peace Bridge.

Over the years, transportation infrastructure has repeatedly damaged Buffalo's historic system of parks. This was a system that encouraged people from different walks of life to enjoy the luxury of a park. There was ample, convenient green space, which also provided a framework for the growing city.

Delaware Park was romantic rural escapism from commerce and industry. Front Park and Martin Luther King Park were neighborhood parks on the East and West Sides. Front Park, on the West Side, was also close to downtown. The two smaller parks were for active recreation and had playgrounds, athletic facilities, refreshments and band shells.

The site for Front Park was also a venue that showcased the natural beauty of this area. The view from the park encompassed the source of the Niagara River, the shimmering waters of Lake Erie and the Canadian shoreline. The crest of the bluff overlooking the water was dedicated to be used forever by the people as parkland.

Today, sections of the Scajaquada Expressway, Kensington Expressway, Interstate 190 and the Peace Bridge plaza and its connecting ramps have destroyed the cohesiveness, and in some cases the integrity and intent, of Buffalo's parks.

Located at the border crossing between Fort Erie and Buffalo, Front Park was designed and built by the great landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

When he described the site he said, "It has a character of magnificence . . . it possesses views that are unique to this area. . . . It is admirably suited to the entertainment of public guests and other occasions of civic display."

I believe that if the current plan for the bridge and plaza expansion is implemented, this park will continue to fall far short of its original purpose and true potential.

Today, cities that are recovering their waterfronts and restoring their parks are experiencing renewed vitality. Many cities -- Baltimore, Louisville, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Boston, Chicago, Seattle and New York City -- have found that by restoring their Olmsted park systems they are also restoring their images and making their cities more livable. Our community deserves no less.

How can we undo the terrible damage wrought on Buffalo's park system by transportation infrastructure?

Let's start by recovering Front Park as fully as possible. Other cities are finding ways to finance the removal of infrastructure to reconnect with their waterfronts.

In Buffalo, the Peace Bridge Authority and the state Department of Transportation are already preparing to spend enormous sums of money on a project that could perhaps be tweaked to include the return of significant parkland.

What are we waiting for? Is there going to be a better time to thoroughly examine all potential sites for the Peace Bridge plaza on the U.S. side?

Restoring the missing link of Buffalo's foundation for urban planning, its park system, would refocus attention on Buffalo's strengths -- its liveability and its heritage of design. As Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan pointed out, the history of Western New York's economic decline is littered with past mistakes.

Restoring Front Park would recover a vital component of the historic three-park and parkway system as well as an important neighborhood park and a valuable asset for the gateway to the United States.

Do we want to enter the millennium with an exciting, well-thought-out plan that maximizes the potential of this enormous investment or shall we have a second-rate effort to symbolize this region?

I suggest the architects and planners go back to the drawing board and, this time, do their homework.

PAMELA J. EARL lives in Buffalo and is a landscape designer.
For writer guidelines for columns appearing in this space, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Opinion Pages Guidelines, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.

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