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Ben Perrone: Let’s recycle our assets and build a new Buffalo

I have lived on the West Side of Buffalo most of my life. In 1990, I bought an old warehouse on Plymouth Avenue near Connecticut Street, which I was able to make into a place to live, along with a large studio where I do my art. The recent interview of Karl Frizlen in The News reminds me how this neighborhood has changed in that time. He also points out how the East Side is “lagging behind a bit,” which is a kind description of a sad story.

Years ago, I proposed that the city rethink its idea to build suburban-style houses on streets that were designed for the horse-and-buggy years. We no longer sit on front porches watching our neighbors; we are too insecure for that.

My proposal included making a block into a park and building mixed housing around and facing the park in a way that made a secure place for living. These cul-de-sac parks could be “themed” in a way which, when added together, provided plenty of interaction and a much larger and secure East Side community.

After my proposal was heard, the Planning Division came up with the brilliant idea to rebuild the Connecticut Street neighborhood by encouraging a pushcart economy on the street.

The problem, of course, is that the city lacks the imagination, courage and money to undertake a huge rebuilding of the East Side. But planning and starting improvements in stages could be done.

Buffalo will never again be a city with a population of 500,000 people, but the opportunity to make it into a wonderful place to live and work is still here. I see a city that could have another park like Delaware Park close to the downtown area. This would increase the value of adjacent properties and encourage business development around the park and in the downtown area. Imagine walking from downtown to a wonderful green area to eat your lunch or play golf or tennis.

Institutions that now have problems expanding, such as the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Buffalo Zoo and D’Youville and Erie Community colleges, could consider having annexes on the East Side, waterfront or downtown. If the Medical Campus is going to bring thousands of people into the area, won’t they need and want more housing and recreation opportunities? Is the time right to take advantage of this expansion to make a plan for a more advanced Buffalo?

Robert Coles, the renowned Buffalo architect who was once involved in a losing battle to bring the University at Buffalo downtown, reminded me of that lost opportunity. It reinforced the flight from the city to the suburbs and continued the breakdown of Buffalo communities and schools. The movement of the university to the waterfront certainly would have made an early and important difference in the city’s evolution.

When the Kensington Expressway was built, it destroyed part of the Olmsted Parks street plan and divided a neighborhood. Many of the houses affected were moved to another location. Relocating homes in order to rebuild blocks that have been torn apart is still an option and an opportunity for recycling our assets.

I don’t have all the answers and I know I haven’t addressed all of the problems. I‘m sure that there are more better-equipped people to put forth their thoughts, and I hope they will do that.