The Riverline project intended to transform the former DL&W rail corridor into a 1.5-mile urban nature trail along the Buffalo River recently received national attention when it became part of the High Line Network.
Now it needs funding attention as this endeavor in environmental equity hits speed bumps created by the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s forcing the Western New York Land Conservancy to scale down the project. That may be unavoidable, given the Covid-caused meltdown of state revenues, but it’s not necessarily permanent. If more funding becomes available, the project scope would return to original intent.
Fifty design firms, including some of the country’s most prestigious, submitted proposals. Winning concepts were announced last year. Funding from the state parks department will help pay for concept and schematic design, which is the next important phase.
But the conservancy has not received significant funding in its effort to raise about half of the $900,000 needed for the project to be as robust as possible. It requested additional funds from a number of different entities but was unsuccessful because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, the conservancy expects a final design to be completed a year from now.
The Riverline initiative last month became one of 15 new members to join the 39-member alliance of organizations transforming underused and abandoned areas into public green spaces. Think: High Line in New York City, Dequindre Cut in Detroit, Rail Park in Philadelphia and the Harbor District Riverwalk in Milwaukee.
Conservancy Executive Director Nancy Smith talked about the benefits of being a High Line Network member and exchange of “ideas, knowledge and inspiration with our peers from across North America.” It is a community where “you don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Smith said.
The admission of the Riverline to the High Line Network aligns with the release of a report outlining strategies ensuring that the nature walk would benefit surrounding neighborhoods. Among those strategies is a yearlong planning effort with the community and nonprofit and agency partners, including the University at Buffalo Regional Institute.
To Smith, economic and social equity counts as a pillar of the High Line Network. The release of the Riverline Equitable Development Framework, a year in the making, sets the stage for transformative progress by bringing together communities that are disparate and long separated.
The Riverline, which would run from Canalside to South Buffalo and surrounding neighborhoods – including the Old First Ward, Perry and the Valley – have all been historically divided. The question is whether the Riverline can bridge that gap, by encouraging people to come together in a new way.
Last year, the conservancy received one-quarter of a million dollars from the Blue Fund, BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York’s health-focused grant program. The grant was used for programming plans with a goal of bringing communities together across those lines.
These connections stretch across the corridor and beyond, not just here but across communities throughout the nation. The Riverline’s inclusion in the High Line Network creates that opportunity. If development of the project needs to be stretched over a longer period because of the coronavirus pandemic, then that’s what will have to happen. But this transformative project needs to proceed.
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