In many ways, big and small, it’s as though Buffalo is waking up from a long sleep. The evidence is all around, especially along the city’s long-neglected waterfront.
The renewed sense of commitment and purpose is already making a difference around the Inner and Outer harbors, and now the attention is moving north. Plans are afoot to repair and improve LaSalle Park, located at the spot where the Niagara River drains the vast expanse of Lake Erie.
It could hardly be a more dramatic view, and it could hardly have been more abused. Its roads are pockmarked and debris often mars the grounds. It’s a park that belongs to a beleaguered city, and until recently, that was Buffalo. But Buffalo isn’t the place it was a few years ago. Because of several influences, particularly the development of Canalside and the Buffalo Billion, the city has a renewed sense of confidence in evidence in many neighborhoods.
The planned restoration of LaSalle Park is a natural outgrowth of Buffalo’s new understanding of its worth and its potential. More than anything, the work is valuable simply to make Buffalo a more attractive place for its own residents. In doing so, however, the city will make itself more attractive for visitors and prospective new residents who like the idea of living in a growing, increasingly self-assured city with scenery that only a few cities in the country can boast.
As always, and appropriately, there are questions. Some residents don’t trust the city to keep its word on how the restored park will be used and, in that, the city has been the author of its own troubles. In late June, city workers removed the boulder that blocks motor vehicles at the southern end of the park’s bike path. The change was meant to be temporary, to accommodate the June 27 Ride for Roswell event. But six days later, the boulder was still gone. “That suggests to me that they won’t walk the talk,” said Jack Brodzik, a Lakefront Commons resident whose unit overlooks LaSalle Park. “They were supposed to remove that boulder only for that day, but it’s still not there.”
Nevertheless, the fact is that the city is planning to devote much-needed attention to Buffalo’s best-located park. The project of nearly $1.2 million is being funded with a $980,000 grant from the New York State Department of State and a grant of $200,000 from the Niagara Greenway Commission. It is an important and necessary step.
What needs to occur next is for city leaders and residents to focus on ensuring that the park achieves its potential as one of the city’s most promising green spaces. The city’s initial planning counts as a hopeful beginning toward that goal. The main components of the plan include:
• Repaving and reconstructing the 1.65-mile road around the park.
• Adding almost 150 45-degree angled parking spots on much of that road, with clearly defined bike and driving lanes.
• Widening the bike and pedestrian path at the southeast edge of the park to 12 feet. Also partially straightening that mostly curved path.
• Improving the playground and replacing picnic shelters.
• Planning a new hedgerow to create privacy for homeowners at the northern edge of Lakefront Commons.
There should be room for massaging this plan, but it’s at least a good start on reclaiming a prime piece of waterfront land from decades of disrespect. And it counts as another step in Buffalo’s continuing rediscovery of its own tremendous value.