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Another Voice: Make no small plans for the Outer Harbor

By James E. Carr

A city, or a region, without a plan, has no future. Few persons would begin a journey without some idea of where they wanted to go, yet the Erie canal Harbor Development Corporation seems to be off and running without any idea of where it is going. An entity blessed with millions of dollars of funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority seemingly intends to continue doing what nearly every other recipient of the NYSERDA money does: fritter it away on projects of little consequence while ignoring the original intent of  the $50 million that Rep. Brian Higgins obtained as a result of the relicensing of the Niagara Power Project.

The NYSERDA-Higgins "windfall" was not intended simply to provide local entities a grab-bag of dollars to build soccer fields or theater marquees. It was intended to jump-start a 50-year-old plan promoted by the now-extinct Erie and Niagara County Regional Planning Board and others to reinvent the Niagara Frontier by emphasizing our natural assets, the Niagara River, one of the world's great rivers, and Niagara Falls, one the world's iconic tourist attractions.

ECHDC, famous for its Bass Pro plan, exploding rock walls and mountain bike trails without mountains, now proposes to plan for one part of the Outer Harbor by breaking it into three even smaller parts. They believe that the city's Green Code has now determined the future of these three parcels. The Western New York community should hope that this is not the case.

The present plan detailing the future of these three areas is the result of a deeply flawed process. ECHDC received about $750,000 to plan for a part of the Outer Harbor. Three public meetings were scheduled to obtain public input but the planning process was quietly changed after two meetings when strong public pushback showed the people did not favor housing development goals. ECHDC then chose to work outside the public's view to develop its blueprint, which it presented to the City of Buffalo without any public hearing. The city then adopted the blueprint as a part of the Green Code, also without a public hearing, the only one of the city's districts excluded from public review.

ECHDC needs to look "outside the box" and realize it is part of a larger whole. We need to think about what could be a national or even international gateway recreation area that could make us a world-class attraction. The Outer Harbor should be the southern anchor  of such an entity.

We need to ask: "How can it contribute to the larger whole? How does the Outer Harbor relate to our long-neglected grain mill complex? What about the War of 1812? What about our steel and auto-making past?"

Let's start using the NYSERDA money as it was originally intended, to bring Western New York from its industrial past to a new and challenging 21st century.

As the architect Daniel Burnham said, "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood."

James E. Carr, of Buffalo, is a longtime urban planner and a founding member of the 21st Century Park on the Outer Harbor group.

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