Buffalo in 2030: A Vision

In 2030 Buffalo will be the Queen City of the Great Lakes once more, growing again, renewed, and rebuilt from its foundations, a model of smart growth and sustainability. 

A citizen speaking at a public hearing on the Buffalo Comprehensive Plan eloquently expressed what Buffalonians want for the future of their city when he said: “We want Buffalo the way it is, only better.” 

A century and a half ago, Buffalo became known as “the Queen City of the Great Lakes,” recognized by the nation for its spirit of entrepreneurship, economic vitality, its great public institutions and a rich civic culture. Its citizens were rightly proud.

The description “Queen City” was coined by Millard Fillmore in his 1847 address to the commencement ceremony of the Faculty of Medicine, the first department of the newly established University of Buffalo, of which Fillmore was chancellor. Buffalo had already built its economy on the basis of the “crowded wharves, glutted warehouses” and teeming tenements surrounding the Erie Canal terminus and harbor. Then, with the foundation of the University, Fillmore foresaw a new era for Buffalo, bringing benefits to the city, the surrounding countryside, and adjacent states. 

Joseph Ellicott had laid out his celebrated radial street plan 43 years before Fillmore imagined Buffalo as the Queen City, but creating a city that lived up to the image did not happen overnight. It was 21 years later, in  1868, when William Dorsheimer took Frederick Law Olmsted driving on a Sunday afternoon and showed him the gently rolling farmland overlooking the city that Olmsted chose as the site for Delaware Park.

It took decades to shape and implement the plans, the architecture, the parks, parkways, enterprises and institutions that came to symbolize Buffalo. Piece by piece, layer by layer, the urban fabric was enriched, as Upjohn, Sullivan, Burnham, Richardson, Wright, Saarinen, Rudolph, Pei, Yamasaki and many others made their contributions. 

For the balance of the 19th century, and well into the 20th century, the brand name Queen City of the Lakes suited Buffalonians' image of their city and themselves. They rejoiced in the beauty and advantages of their location beside Lake Erie, the Buffalo and Niagara Rivers. They savored the success of their burgeoning manufacturing and trade, their connections to and influence on the region and the wider world beyond the Great Lakes. They celebrated their churches, parks, and neighborhoods, and the sophistication of their arts, learning and architecture. They took justifiable pride in their city, exemplified by the city’s bravura in staging the Pan American Exhibition in 1901.

Figure 1 Buffalo’s waterfront and its relationship to the Olmsted Park and Parkway System as well as Joseph Ellicott’s 1804 radial street plan form the physical foundation for the Queen City of the 21st century.

Figure 1 Buffalo’s waterfront and its relationship to the Olmsted Park and Parkway System as well as Joseph Ellicott’s 1804 radial street plan form the physical foundation for the Queen City of the 21st century. (Popup full image) 

During the 20th century, Buffalo’s fortunes fluctuated, influenced by changing international and national economic conditions, downward in the Depression, upward during the Second World War. In the last three decades of the century, the city endured a generation of hardship, loss and change. In 2004, however, there is new hope that Buffalo will emerge from this difficult period. The city’s challenges will not end overnight, but the community’s will to succeed is strong. 

A new community vision is emerging as Buffalo enters the 21st century. It is a vision that connects the affection of the citizenry for the heritage of the physical city as passed down from preceding generations with an aspiration to meet the economic, environmental and social challenges of the coming years. The vision is rooted in the determination of the people to recapture, restore and enhance the quality of their natural and built environments and their quality of life as they rebuild their economy. It is a vision of a prosperous green city with its own distinctive identity, re-branded as the Queen City of the Great Lakes.

In this future, Buffalo will be respected for its regional leadership; diverse, modern economy and transportation infrastructure; educated and skilled work force, fully employed; inclusive community life and harmonious social relations; comfortable and safe neighborhoods; and a unique natural, cultural, and built heritage that has been lovingly preserved, restored and enhanced. As Queen City of the Great Lakes, Buffalo will have also earned recognition for its leadership in ensuring the clean-up and restoration of the Great Lakes ecosystem and protecting the integrity and wise use of this immense water resource.

In working toward this new vision, Buffalo has many assets on which to build: the character, strength, knowledge and creativity of its people; great institutions of education, medicine and science; a rich cultural life; a great legacy in the physical city of streets, parks, buildings and homes; the city’s position on the Great Lakes and its fresh water resources; its location in the bi-national Golden Horseshoe; its border with Canada and its relation to the rest of the world. All of these things will give Buffalo the economic leverage that the crowded wharves and glutted warehouses of its harbor and the Erie Canal provided in the 19th century.

Many urban planners say that the foundation of success for cities in the world of today and tomorrow is “beauty, brains, and culture.” Buffalo has all of these. The challenge is to organize, manage and develop them to achieve the restoration and development of the city fabric for the benefit of all residents of the city and the surrounding region. The Buffalo Comprehensive Plan is the City's response to that challenge.

The result will be a city that still looks much like it looks today – only greener and fresher, fuller and more vibrant. Much of its urban fabric and many of its buildings will have been refurbished, but with many new and different uses. Nevertheless, there will still be room and opportunity for the Ellicotts, Olmsteds, Sullivans and Wrights of the 21st century to make their contributions to Buffalo’s tradition of excellence.

This vision for Buffalo translates into a single goal, which is no less than to transform Buffalo as the urban center of the Buffalo Niagara region through application of smart growth principles, targeted investments, and managed physical change to restore the economic well being, environmental health and sustainability of the city and promote an increase in its population.

Most plans have multiple goals. But given what Buffalonians want as a community, this goal is the only one that could be set. Just as important, this single, clear goal can provide the framework for organizing and coordinating many other important planning initiatives now ongoing in the region. It is a goal to which all other plans can be related and linked. Finally, this is an achievable goal against which we can definitively measure our progress.

It is an ambitious vision, but one that is backed by the commitment, creativity and hard work of the citizens of Buffalo. It is presented at a time when the prospects for Buffalo seem bleak. But a clear long-term vision and plan is part of what will lead us out of our current crisis. It may take 20 years or more to achieve the vision. But we must act now - aggressively, deliberately and strategically - if the vision is to be realized at all. The Buffalo Comprehensive Plan will provide the strategic guidance needed to achieve that vision.