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Another Voice: Do we need a new neighborhood on Outer Harbor?

By James Carr

The proposed Queen City Landing on Buffalo’s Outer Harbor has returned in a new form. It would be the first of what many developers hope will be a new community on the waterfront.

They hope that this project and more on adjacent publicly owned land will form the basis for thousands of new homes and commercial structures on what is now largely vacant land. Lost in the present discussion is a clearly articulated demand by Buffalo’s citizenry for the waterfront to be preserved for public use.

Perhaps it is time to ask not what is best for the developer, but what is best for the city. Do we really need more residential or commercial development on the waterfront? Is this a good place for new development, not from the builder’s perspective, but from that of the residents of the city?

Waterfront housing has great appeal but that does not mean that “if you build it, they will come.” The city’s first new waterfront housing development, Waterfront Village, began construction in 1980. Now, nearly 40 years later, the last parcel in Waterfront Village is being built upon. Hardly an indication that the public is clamoring for waterfront homes.

After decades of decline, the city has found new energy. East Side, West Side, north and south, neighborhoods that appeared to be caught in a spiral of decline and abandonment are seeing new construction and attracting new residents. Downtown has found new energy with the redevelopment of the 38-story Seneca One tower. Just a few years ago, many thought that the reuse of this building would cause a cascade of bankruptcies in the downtown rental market.

Some question the strength of this newfound energy. How many new homes can this market support? In a city of limited resources should we concentrate on existing neighborhoods, so long neglected, or should we try to encourage a totally new neighborhood on waterfront land that will require large expenditures for public infrastructure and services? How can the city justify not paving older city streets or replacing leaking water mains because it is supporting new construction on the Outer Harbor?

People who live in Queen City Landing will be totally dependent on their auto for everything. There are no stores, no restaurants, no medical services, not even a gas station. By contrast, those who choose to live downtown or in other existing city neighborhoods will have it all, public transit at their front door, restaurants everywhere, shops, an array of entertainment and above all, neighbors.

Let’s stop trying to build a new neighborhood on the Outer Harbor. Let’s put our energy and public dollars into preserving what we already have.

James Carr is a retired urban planner who lives in downtown Buffalo.

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