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Having spent time driving around Buffalo before speaking Tuesday night at the "Smart Growth Is Smart Business" series, architect and planner Neal Payton offered some observations about what he'd seen.

Bear in mind that Payton's topic was "Starting With What We Have -- Reinvestment and Redesign of Existing Neighborhoods to Create Economic Impact."

And that economic impact, Payton told the audience at Nichols School, comes from mixed-use development; that is, developments offering a combination of housing, retail and green spaces.

What locals call the Elmwood Village and burgeoning downtown housing opportunities were two positives cited by Payton.

Isolated lakefront housing was a negative.

And though he didn't mention it specifically about Buffalo, Payton spoke repeatedly about parking spaces.

"No one wants to look at parked cars," he said. "It's just not pretty."

"Even highly decorated parking garages aren't that good," Payton continued, "because they kill life."

Those remarks, in particular, prompted chuckles among audience members familiar with the surface parking lots and ramps that dominate some areas of downtown.

Payton spoke at the second of eight community seminars, which run through December. The May 17 keynote speaker will be Christine Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey and former administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

"Mixed-use development is about creating value. It makes great places to live," said Payton, director of urban design and town planning for Torti Gallas and Partners in Silver Spring, Md.

Payton said his talk Tuesday was one he had prepared for the National Association of Homebuilders. "The reason the builders care about it is because . . . (it's) where the money is."

He referred to the "Charter of the New Urbanism," developed by the Congress for the New Urbanism.

"It's not about the architecture. It's about making things like diverse neighborhoods," Payton said. Designing as much for pedestrians as for cars.

"It's about understanding parking," he said. In examples he displayed, parking ramps were concealed by housing or retail units incorporated along the perimeter, or built underground with development above.

"Connecting streets creates value -- (an) absolutely proven fact," Payton said, and Buffalo's lakefront housing prevents that.

"Why would you do that?" Payton asked.


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