2.4 Development Priorities and Planning Policies

The Comprehensive Plan identifies seven major development priorities and planning policies necessary to meet the overarching goal of the plan. These are driven by fundamental principles of sustainability, smart growth and the continuing imperative to “fix the basics” and “build on assets.” 

These priorities and polices are to:

  1. Deliver quality public services as the basis of a quality urban environment;

  2. Maintain existing municipal infrastructure as fundamental to economic growth, environmental protection, and community development;

  3. Transform the city’s economy to meet the needs and opportunities of the 21st century and to provide the material basis for the revitalization of the whole city;

  4. Reconstruct the Buffalo Public Schools as a major factor in attracting population back to the city and in supplying the new economy with capable workers;

  5. Rebuild Buffalo’s neighborhoods, rehabilitating housing and building new, and creating quality living environments that will also attract and keep city residents;

  6. Restore the Olmsted park and parkway system, protect the Ellicott street plan, and develop the waterfront as those city elements that give Buffalo its unique shape and character;

  7. Repair the broader fabric of the city consistent with Buffalo’s heritage and with principles of smart growth and sustainability 

City government has a role to play in advancing each one of these priorities, in some cases the leading or primary role, in others a supporting one. Other partners who have a responsibility and a capacity to contribute to implementation of these priorities and policies include County government, the State of New York, the federal government, private companies, not for profit community based organizations, and citizens’ groups.

Each level of government has a specific range of responsibilities in helping to build competitive cities, as suggested by a publication of the Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy of The Brookings Institution. The federal responsibility is to build wealth through management of the economy, income redistribution, support for homeownership and regulatory oversight. State responsibility is to manage metropolitan growth through land use, governance and transportation. The responsibility of counties and municipalities is to know the local context and manage the process of building and maintaining the urban environment. 

Such a division of responsibilities can help define where and how the City should focus its own resources and what kind of assistance it needs from County, State and federal governments to meet the needs of the city. One of the basic arguments underlying this plan is that, even with thoroughgoing reforms, Buffalo will lack the capital resources necessary to turn the city around. That argument is the foundation for Buffalo’s request for a special Buffalo Development Program. A knowledge of our federal system suggests that this request for support is well-precedented. 

In short, the priorities and policies of this plan can only be fully and effectively implemented with the concerted support and coordinated investments of all levels of government and the private sector.

2.4.1 Deliver Quality Public Services

The success of the Comprehensive Plan requires that the City of Buffalo deliver basic public services at a higher standard of quality, more efficiently than now, applying current best management practices and emerging technology, and when necessary, shifting responsibility for specific services to levels of government better equipped to deliver them.

It is one of City government’s most indispensable roles to deliver police and fire protection, emergency services, sanitation, street cleaning, snow plowing, parks and recreational services, and land and building management. All are fundamental to maintaining the kind of urban environment that attracts and keeps residents and employers. Although these are not strictly land use issues they must be addressed as part of the Comprehensive Plan. 

City government should continue to examine current best management practices in service delivery and adopt these when they make sense for Buffalo. The use of one-officer patrol cars is an example of such management innovations that have already been implemented. The consolidation of municipal departments was another. Better management of overtime and monitoring of sick leave are issues that might be addressed in the future. 

The City should also employ new technologies, especially information and telecommunications technology, to improve quality, increase efficiency and reduce the costs of public services provided. The “CitiStat” project is an example of technology application already being implemented. The system allows City departments to collect and map data about current service demands, complaints, and problems so that staff can respond quickly and appropriately. Providing current data and analysis on departmental performance can improve accountability, performance, and cut costs.

The City should consider technology applications like those used in Edmonton, Alberta where geographic information system technology allows staff plowing snow to regulate the amount of salt and sand applied to roads depending on precipitation and air temperature. They spend less on salt and sand and pay less to repair salt-damaged roads. 

Table 11 Phase 1 JSCB & Other Priority Buffalo Public Schools
School # School Name Community
38 Frank Sedita West Side
66 North Park Middle Parkside
80 Highgate Heights North East
302 Emerson Vocational East Side
307 Buffalo Vocational East Delavan
31 Stanton Academy Ellicott
67 Olmstead School South Buffalo
19 Native American West Side
74 Hamlin Park Masten
79 William J. Grabiarz Riverside

There are still other steps that can be taken simply to reduce the costs of providing municipal services. The agreement of City staff to accept a single health care plan, for example, helped reduce health insurance costs for the City while maintaining health coverage for employees and avoiding new layoffs. 

Finally, when better management, technology application, and cost-cutting are not enough, the City must consider allowing other levels of government to provide necessary services. The transfer of parks maintenance functions to Erie County made sense, not only because Buffalo could no longer afford to take care of the parks, but also because Buffalo parks are, in large part, a truly regional resource. 

Of course, the great “Catch-22” is that just when Buffalo most needs these services it is least able to pay for them. Public services delivered at a high standard of quality can give residents confidence in the future of the city, leave a positive impression with visitors, and provide the quality of urban environment that attracts people and capital. Failure to provide such services can lead to a failure of confidence among residents, damage the city’s reputation among visitors, and repel potential new residents and investors. Buffalo needs quality services more than ever and the City must endeavor to provide them against all obstacles. An important step toward that goal would be to create and implement a comprehensive citywide public services plan. 

2.4.2 Maintain Public Infrastructure

Managing, maintaining and reinvesting in Buffalo’s expansive public infrastructure – streets, sewers, water service, public buildings, parks and more – will be central to the success of the Buffalo Comprehensive Plan. The City must implement a program that "right-sizes" this infrastructure, prioritizes needed investments in maintenance and replacement, and seeks additional resources where those needs are beyond the ability of city government to pay. 

Public infrastructure is the backbone of the city. A strong infrastructure is central to achieving all the purposes of city living, supporting a healthy economy, managing the quality of the environment, and making daily life possible for the whole community. The quality of life that makes cities attractive for people and firms is not possible without a strong public infrastructure. As such, capital budget planning for streets, utilities, parks and other needs is rightly a basic element in any comprehensive plan. 

The needs are enormous. First of all, Buffalo’s basic infrastructure is much larger than is required to serve the current population. In addition, decades of deferred maintenance and capital reinvestment have left Buffalo with a huge backlog of urgently needed improvements to be made. Now, with a shrunken capital budget, the City is even less able to catch up with the work that needs to be done. 

The success of the Comprehensive Plan depends on improved public infrastructure, which, in turn depends on negotiation of a special Buffalo Development Program. The City will continue to make all necessary reforms in municipal management, but even when these are achieved, Buffalo will still lack the necessary capital resources to turn the city around. Additional help from Erie County, the State of New York and the federal government is required. This program is detailed in Part Three of the plan. 

Meanwhile, the City must continue ongoing work to better monitor, manage and maintain key elements of the public infrastructure. The City should review its large inventory of publicly-owned buildings to determine which have municipal purposes and which might be disposed of for redevelopment by private entities. This will reduce the overall burden of maintenance and return otherwise obsolete structures to productive use. Likewise, the City should continue work to improve management of vacant land in its portfolio or dispose of it when appropriate. In every case, the City should be cautious about assuming responsibility for any new properties. 

The City should maintain ongoing efforts to improve capital priority setting, budgeting and scheduling, as was specified in the City Charter revisions of 1999. It is crucial that limited capital dollars be invested where they are needed most or will have the greatest positive impact. Thorough and open public review of capital priorities is helping the City to make better choices. Ensuring predictability improves the efficiency of the capital development process, as well. 

Recent improvements in management data are also supporting better capital investment choices. The City has better information than before about the condition of streets, sewer lines, water lines, street trees, public buildings and other infrastructure elements. The City should redouble these efforts. 

The City is not directly responsible for other elements of public infrastructure including bus and rail transit, energy utilities, and telecommunications. The City should, however, work closely with these entities to coordinate improvements in all infrastructure in ways that maximize their development impact and promote efficiency. 

The stark fact remains that the City of Buffalo lacks the capital resources to meet the needs of this plan. The same “Catch-22” that applies to municipal services applies to public infrastructure. Buffalo cannot afford by itself to reinvest in these basic assets because a significant proportion of city residents and employers have left, taking their tax dollars with them. But these residents and employers have departed in large part because the City has been unable to reinvest in the public infrastructure that is fundamental to quality urban living. The special Buffalo Development Program is essential to stop that cycle of decline. 

2.4.3 Transform Buffalo's Economy

Meeting the goal of the Buffalo Comprehensive Plan means providing full support to the reconstruction and broad-based transformation of the economy of city and region to generate the jobs, income and wealth needed to turn Buffalo around. The Comprehensive Plan is not an economic development plan. But as a physical and land use plan it must provide the sites, buildings, infrastructure, and quality of life needed to support the economic transformation Buffalo needs. 

Because the city’s economy is part of the larger regional economy, and because regions are the most significant units in a competitive global economy, the city’s economic development strategy must be consistent with the regional economic development strategy. Likewise, Buffalo must collaborate with both public and private sector partners throughout the region in implementing such a strategy. This is already happening. 

The goal of the strategy is to hasten the ongoing transition of the city and regional economy from one concentrated in manufacturing to a broadly mixed economy that builds on regional strengths and emerging growth sectors. This does not mean abandoning the manufacturing economy. Rather, it means working to preserve manufacturing jobs while investing in other vital economic sectors. Buffalo’s new mixed economy will build on strengths in manufacturing, government, health care, banking and education, and promote expansion in professional services, transportation and warehousing, medical research, information technology, tourism, and retail. 

The strategy includes reorganizing the delivery of conventional economic development services so that potential business investors can deal with one entity to learn about the region, get information about sites and facilities, access available economic development incentives, and get help in navigating among local regulatory and administrative entities. The Comprehensive Plan does not recommend there be a single economic development agency for the entire region, but it does advise that all agencies concentrate on what they do best and be coordinated with all the rest. 

Within the City of Buffalo, the Comprehensive Plan provides clear guidance for the development and use of land for new and expanding industries. Three major investment corridors are identified in the plan’s land use concept (See Page 103-107) and acknowledged in a framework for new zoning. Within these corridors the City and its partners should work to prepare land for development, remediating “brownfields” where necessary, and creating “shovel ready sites.” Investments in transportation infrastructure must be coordinated with the land use concept and ongoing land development work. 

Consistent with the regional economic development strategy and the Comprehensive Plan, all partners must work to build on and strengthen the regional role of the City of Buffalo. It remains the largest municipality with the largest concentration of employment in the region. This includes a pivotal role for Downtown Buffalo, which remains the regional center in government, law, banking, business services, culture, and entertainment and is an emerging center in education, heritage tourism, health care and medical research. 

All of the other priorities and policies identified in this plan contribute materially to execution of the economic development strategy in that they support the quality of life that contemporary analysts insist is central to the success of great cities. Municipal services and public infrastructure provide the basics of daily life. Good schools and strong neighborhoods are critical to attracting the workers who will make new ventures go. The parks, streets, waterfront and overall fabric of the city are, likewise, crucial to maintaining the quality of life that can attract people and jobs. 

Finally, the City and its partners must work to preserve, develop and market Buffalo’s great assets of culture, architecture, history, and nature as an important element in the economic development strategy of the region. Attractions like the Erie Canal Harbor, the Theater District, Underground Railroad sites, and the recently restored Darwin D. Martin complex, by Frank Lloyd Wright, can plan a central role in the increase of the visitor related economy of city and region.

2.4.4 The City and Regional Vision

Regional leaders have enunciated a clear and compelling vision for the economic future of Buffalo-Niagara. Buffalo’s own vision runs in parallel and the city and region together are well-positioned to speak with one voice on economic development, pursue a technically sound strategy, and work together to achieve it. 

The vision, as specified in the work of the Erie Niagara Regional Partnership (December 2002), sees an emerging regional economy that has a strong base in established and emerging sectors and attracts leading edge industries with high-paying jobs. There is a strong labor market with a good mix of skills supported by education and training tailored to the needs of emerging industries. Economic development programs are coordinated on a regional basis, backed by strong land use and transportation planning and served by a successful regional public transit network. 

The region has healthy, sustainable core cities, strong suburbs, and rural areas, all with financially stable local governments. Agriculture is revitalized as an economic sector and agricultural land is preserved and used for those purposes. The region’s natural environment is increasingly healthy as a result of continuing efforts to reduce pollution and waste and clean up damaged land and water. 

Among all the other growing sectors of the economy, the region is also growing as a prime tourism destination that leverages the region’s waterfront, cultural, historic, architectural, and recreational assets. Waterfronts, especially, are accessible and green space is adequate and well-integrated into the urban fabric. The region has a positive image reflected through the media and a regional mindset that recognizes our assets and attractions and sees a positive future. 

2.4.5 Buffalo's Regional Role

Buffalo remains the functional center of the Buffalo-Niagara region and any strategy to promote the economic revitalization of the city must take into consideration that regional role. Likewise, any strategy to foster development throughout the region must also recognize Buffalo’s central role. The strength of one depends directly on the strength of the other. 

The city is the center of the Buffalo-Niagara region for law and administration, banking and business, media and creative services, health care and medical research, culture and heritage, sports and entertainment, restaurants and retailing. It is the region’s transportation hub and center of international trade. Other parts of the region may have two or three of these functions, but none brings it all together like the city does, especially Downtown. 

Buffalo’s regional role is also bi-national. In the multi-nucleated megalopolis known as the “Golden Horseshoe,” Buffalo is the largest node on the U.S. side. It is the second largest port of entry on the U.S.-Canadian border, after Detroit, in terms of the volume and value of goods transported. 

Development projects in Buffalo often have a regional as well as a local impact. The Erie Canal Harbor project, Buffalo-Niagara Medical Campus, a new U.S. Courthouse, Intermodal Transportation Center, Peace Bridge expansion, and the Intermodal Freight Transfer Exchange will each produce benefits that extend far beyond the city line. Each will also reinforce Buffalo’s central role in the region. 

The City should work with its regional partners to strengthen this role. Doing so promises benefits to both the city and the region. Promoting Buffalo’s multiple functions requires cultivating many different relationships around the region, in Southern Ontario and Western New York, and beyond. This means making Buffalo’s functions accessible to the region in physical terms, through improvements in transit, parking, and way-finding. It also means Buffalo’s leaders must participate fully in the affairs of the region and its institutions of governance.

2.4.6 A Modern Mixed Economy

Work to support the transformation of Buffalo’s economy from one dependent on manufacturing to one broadly based in a range of established and emerging sectors must continue. The loss of manufacturing jobs has continued for several decades now, but the growth of employment in new sectors has been slower than necessary to replace the factory jobs lost. Public policy, including this plan, must accommodate the needs of emerging industries at the same time it supports the retention of jobs in manufacturing. The result can be a local and regional economy that is more stable, prosperous and resilient than the current one. 

Buffalo’s emerging modern mixed economy will include jobs retained in manufacturing, public administration, education, health care, and social assistance, as well as jobs in growing sectors such as medical research and bioinformatics, tourism, transportation and logistics, information technology, and other knowledge-based industries. Continued growth in finance, insurance and real estate, retail and restaurants, and professional services will accompany the broader growth of the economy. 

Manufacturing will continue to be a vital part of the region’s economy. Although its share of total jobs will not be as great as before, it will continue to generate wealth because manufacturing is a “driver” sector, creating products for export beyond the region. Although Buffalo lost more than 6,000 manufacturing jobs in the 1990s it remains the city’s second largest employment category with 13 percent of the total. Manufacturing may continue to recede but it will continue to be a significant share of employment and income. 

Meanwhile, employment in health care and social assistance grew during the 1990s; education and retail trade declined slightly but retained their share of total employment; and professional and related services held steady in total jobs, increasing slightly as a percentage of all employment. Other sectors, including medical research, information technology, transportation and trade, and visitor-related industries can be expected to grow in relative importance. 

A variety of incentive programs are available from the different levels of government to assist existing and new business. These include financial assistance, loans, bonding, tax incentives and exemptions, job and skills training, and expert advice and assistance. These are necessary but not sufficient means to hasten the transition to the new economy. Targeted investments in specific industries – such as the State’s support for bio-informatics or creation of primary tourism destinations like the Erie Canal Harbor – will be required to bring a modern mixed economy into being.

2.4.7 Land for the New Economy

It is beyond the means and outside the appropriate role of the City of Buffalo to make those strategic investments in new economy industrial sectors. Those tasks will fall to County, State and federal governments. It is, however, an appropriate role for local government to plan and manage the redevelopment of land and infrastructure to accommodate the new economy as it emerges.

The Land Use Concept of the Buffalo Comprehensive Plan, described in Section 2.5, identifies three Strategic Investment Corridors (See Figure 58 and 59) where most new economic activity will be directed through zoning, land reclamation, and infrastructure investment. These three corridors already contain a significant proportion of the city’s economic enterprises. Industrial uses are long-established there by zoning and practice. They are well-connected to transportation in all modes. A large proportion of Buffalo’s disused industrial land – “brownfields” – is also located in these three corridors.

The Strategic Investment Corridors are:

  • The Waterfront/ Tonawanda Corridor;

  • The Main Street/ Downtown Corridor; and,

  • The South Park/ East Side Rail Corridor. 

These corridors must be re-engineered to provide “shovel ready” industrial and commercial sites as well as space in move-in condition at competitive prices for businesses ready to invest now. In Buffalo, which was fully developed more than half a century ago, this necessarily excludes “greenfield” sites and requires redevelopment of land and buildings. This may involve remediation of environmental hazards, reconstruction of roads and utilities, renovation of old buildings or construction of new ones, and other improvements.

The Tonawanda Corridor, for example, is already identified in the region’s 2030 Long Range Plan for coordinated investments in transportation and economic development. This project should serve as a model for how the City of Buffalo, Erie County Industrial Development Agency, the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council, and others can coordinate planning and investment in these corridors to obtain maximum leverage on their dollars. 

Not all of these sites will be redeveloped for new industrial uses. Some will find better use for warehousing, logistics and transportation, or commercial, mixed-use or residential use and green space. The future composition of the emerging economy cannot be foreseen with exact precision today, but it is possible in these three corridors to provide land and facilities in a variety of configurations to meet a wide range of needs.

Figure 42 Renewal Communities and Empire Zones

Figure 42 Renewal Communities and Empire Zones (Popup full image) 

The incentives provided by the New York State Empire Zone and Federal Renewal Communities designations enhance the climate for reinvestment. The apparent fragmentation of Empire Zones becomes a strength when seen related to school and neighborhood reinvestment areas, landmark sites, and renewal community boundaries, and strategic investment areas.

Large scale manufacturing plants require large lots for single story buildings with low density employment. These can be located in South Buffalo as the former Republic Steel site is cleaned up. At a projected density of 15 employees per acre, Buffalo Lakeside Commerce Park is also a model for this type of development. 

Other firms that require less land but more intensive use of it can locate elsewhere depending on their needs. In the East Side Corridor, for example, sites of five to ten acres may be assembled from small brownfields and adjacent vacant or underused parcels. The City and ECIDA should begin work to identify and assemble such sites now. An inventory of vacant and reusable industrial and commercial buildings is also needed. There are already plenty of success stories in rehabilitation and adaptive re-use, including the Root Building, Tri-Main Center, and the LCo warehouse-to-office conversion. 

Service industries employing staff in denser concentrations are more likely to take advantage of commercial or special purpose buildings and locate in the core or closer to it. The employment density of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus for example, on the north eastern edge of the downtown, is 80 employees per acre, a much more intensive use of land than projected for the Union Ship Canal. 

Strategic Investment Corridors will also be targets for the restoration, protection, and enhancement of natural and built heritage. For example, the full restoration of the Buffalo River, which meanders through South Buffalo on its way to Lake Erie, is vital to the future of the city. New and existing enterprises should respect and benefit from the green setting that a restored river and buffer zone will provide. Similarly, the Concrete Central Peninsula, with its monumental grain elevators, should be designated and preserved as a wild nature area. 

Major public incentive programs are already focused largely on the Strategic Investment Corridors (See Figure 49). The federal government’s Renewal Communities, the State of New York’s Empire Zones, and the City of Buffalo Live Zones are well-positioned to contribute to the redevelopment of these corridors. 

Finally, these Strategic Investment Corridors and their associated transportation connections can only reach their greatest economic potential if the City of Buffalo works closely and cooperatively with its neighboring municipalities, including Tonawanda, Lackawanna, Cheektowaga, Amherst, West Seneca, Kenmore, and Fort Erie, Ontario across the Niagara River. 

2.4.8 Clean Up Brownfields

The redevelopment of old industrial lands is, of course, central to the investment corridor strategy. Here, the task is daunting but the opportunity enormous. Forty-nine of Buffalo’s 56 brownfields of five acres or more are located in the three Strategic Investment Corridors (See Figure 50). They range in size from just over five acres to nearly 160 and comprise a total of almost 1,500 acres. The city’s goal is to bring 50 acres of cleaned-up brownfield land onto the market each year – a thirty year pace. Enabling the delivery of this goal will be a key challenge for OSP, ECIDA and Buffalo Niagara Enterprise.

A detailed survey and analysis of brownfield potential, with specific recommendations for short, medium and long-term reinvestment locations should be undertaken. This examination should identify not only sites with potential for industrial enterprise but also those that might serve recreational, commercial, or heritage uses, such as lands in the Outer Harbor area. In order to ensure creation of “critical mass,” priority should be given to development sites where public or private investment is already taking place.

Additional investment will be required as specified in the special Buffalo Development Program. Beyond that, the New York State Brownfield Cleanup Program introduced in April 2004 will provide a powerful new tool to facilitate brownfield clean up. The program will allow localities to apply to be designate as Brownfield Opportunity Areas to be eligible for State grants and tax incentives to support clean-up and redevelopment. The Strategic Investment Corridors, along with Comprehensive Code Enforcement Areas would be logical candidates for designation. The City should move quickly to take full advantage of this new opportunity. 

2.4.9 Implement Key Transportation Projects

Achieving the economic goals of the Comprehensive Plan – indeed, all of its goals – will require the implementation of key transportation projects in accordance with the 2030 Long Range Plan of the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council (GBNRTC), the region’s designated Metropolitan Planning Organization. In effect, the Council’s plan is Buffalo’s plan.

The vision of the 2030 plan is to promote transportation policies and projects that will help create an economically and environmentally healthy region, reverse current negative economic, land use, social and demographic trends, foster growth in areas with existing infrastructure, and promote equitable services for all residents.

The goals of the plan are to: 

  • Improve regional mobility and accessibility;

  • Support existing and future economic development activities;

  • Improve transportation and land use coordination;

  • Preserve existing infrastructure; and,

  • Improve quality of life for all residents. 

The plan, based on substantial public input and comment, projects investments of $4.7 billion through 2030, of which $3.1 billion – about 70 percent – are targeted to rebuild and maintain existing infrastructure. The capital costs will be shared between the federal, State and local governments. In Buffalo, this applies to the 210 miles of streets in the federal aid highway system.

The first phase of the plan is being implemented through the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), a five-year plan that schedules federal funds for highway, transit, and other transportation projects in Erie and Niagara Counties. In the period 2002 to 2006, there are forty projects scheduled for the City of Buffalo. They include actions for congestion relief and mobility improvements, transit improvements, access improvements to support economic development, signalization upgrades, and measures to improve the quality of life through beautification and landscaping, and safety improvements (See Figure 47).

The goals of the 2030 Long Range Plan provide a clear framework for Comprehensive Plan objectives. The City of Buffalo will work to:

Improve regional mobility and accessibility through development of the Buffalo Intermodal Transportation Center. Long-term priorities include implementing quality transit extensions, bicycle and pedestrian amenities, “reverse commute” programs, alternative mode programs, and programs to increase demand for public transportation.

Figure 43 Gateways to the City of Buffalo should announce arrival at key traffic routes.

Figure 43 Gateways to the City of Buffalo should announce arrival at key traffic routes. (Popup full image) 

Figure 44 Main Street Corridor

Figure 44 Main Street Corridor (Popup full image) 

Main Street has enjoyed significant reinvestment at both its north end at the UB Entrance to the City and in the Downtown. Increased investment east and west across the corridor will be critical to stitching the City back together again along what has been a "Main Street Divide."

Support economic development activities including the Buffalo Inner Harbor redevelopment, Southtowns Connector Access Redevelopment, William Gaiter Parkway access roads from Route 33, Tonawanda Street Corridor enhancements, and Peace Bridge and International Gateway development. Long-term priorities include I-190 boulevard realignment, the Outer Harbor Bridge, Skyway Bridge removal, removal of the Breckenridge and Ogden Street Toll barriers, and access improvements for brownfield sites and assembled land. 

Improve transportation/land use coordination through mixed-use corridor development; regional “Smart Growth” policies; CBD land use policies that complement public transit infrastructure and reduce dependency on parking; less reliance on new CBD surface parking lots; consolidation of surface lots to assemble development sites or structured parking; and provision of additional parking for neighborhood commercial areas. 

Preserve existing transportation infrastructure by prioritizing maintenance and reuse of existing water, rail and road infrastructure, and by providing adequate pavement and bridge maintenance. 

Improve the quality of life for residents through priority projects such as the Scajaquada Expressway enhancements and signalization upgrades. Long term priorities include quality public transportation, Skyway Bridge removal, removal of the Breckenridge and Ogden Street toll barriers, Kensington Expressway enhancements, neighborhood traffic calming measures, pedestrian and bicycle amenities, and streetscape improvements. 


2.4.10 Public Transit

Public transit is a key issue for the Comprehensive Plan. High quality public transit service is a critical element in Buffalo’s economic development work and in the implementation of the principles of sustainability and smart growth. Successful cities and regions have good transit. The public demand for significant improvement is acknowledged in the 2030 Long Range Plan.

The bus and rail transit system operated by NFTA Metro provides satisfactory service to the city. In terms of comfort, convenience, frequency, regularity, dependability, adaptability and affordability, public transit service in Buffalo can be rated as “good.” Virtually all neighborhoods in the city are within easy reach of bus stops, and the transfer system allows people to move around the city, connecting homes, schools, work places, and other destinations.

Figure 45 Proposed extensions of the metropolitan transit system include a corridor connecting the Buffalo – Niagara Airport to Downtown and a second Tonawanda – Niagara Falls corridor. Both are part of the GBNRTC 2030 plan.

Figure 45 Proposed extensions of the metropolitan transit system include a corridor connecting the Buffalo – Niagara Airport to Downtown and a second Tonawanda – Niagara Falls corridor. Both are part of the GBNRTC 2030 plan. (Popup full image) 

Figure 46 Metro Rail in the Theater District.

Figure 46 Metro Rail in the Theater District. (Popup full image) 

Metro’s Buffalo route structure, with its Metro rail and 17 primary, 15 supporting, and 17 express bus routes already fits well with the proposed investment corridors defined in the Comprehensive Plan. But it will be important to continue to improve and extend the system throughout the planning period. 

The 2030 Long Range Plan includes a series of significant improvements in transit, although not all are funded in the plan. The GBNRTC proposes high quality transit improvements in two transportation corridors, the Airport Corridor and the Tonawanda- Niagara Falls Corridor. These proposals are based on assessments of their importance for increasing ridership, supporting economic development, and the degree of public support for each. 

NFTA defines the Airport Corridor as a high priority. It would connect the Inter-modal Transportation Center in downtown Buffalo with the Greater Buffalo International Airport, thereby improving regional intermodal connectivity and providing relief for congestion on the Kensington Expressway. 

The Tonawanda-Niagara Falls Corridor (Phase I) is also included in the long-range plan. The NFTA owns a right-of-way in this corridor that could be used either for a busway or for light rail. This project would be the first stage in implementing a high quality public transit connection between Buffalo and Niagara Falls and their associated tourism opportunities.

Selection of the preferred transit option(s) is dependent on further studies by the NFTA, as well as on decisions about local funding of transit operating costs. The capital costs – $250 million for the Airport Corridor and $70 million for the first phase of the Tonawanda- Niagara Falls Corridor – have been included in the "constrained" portion of the GBNRTC plan but not in the TIP. That is, they are not expected to be funded within the next five years. 

Figure 47 City of Buffalo sponsored federal transportation aid projects through 2006. (Map: GBNRTC)

Figure 47 City of Buffalo sponsored federal transportation aid projects through 2006. (Map: GBNRTC) (Popup full image) 

Other transit improvements have been placed on the "illustrative" list. These are projects that have merit but cannot be implemented with current levels of funding in the plan. These include the second phase of the Tonawanda-Niagara Falls Corridor and the Southtowns Corridor. Although these are very long term items, it is important for the City to protect these corridors in the Comprehensive Plan and associated plans, for the day when the desired transit connections are approved for funding. 

Reducing dependency on parking in general and on surface parking in particular are longterm propositions. The provision of well located, priced, designed, managed, and coordinated parking is critical to Buffalo's regional role and economic prospects. In recent years, several parking studies have documented the action needed, including the construction of two new parking ramps in the Downtown, and increased coordination with public transit.

It is important for the various public agencies involved in parking to continue their coordination efforts. At the same time, it is important for those responsible for parking to understand, respect and respond to the city's urban design needs, particularly for Downtown, existing and emerging (cultural) tourism areas, and historic preservation areas. 

The bicycle is another mode of transportation that is gaining in popularity, is environmentally friendly and deserves support. The city has a modest but growing network of bike paths (See Figure 81). Bike paths should be taken into account in the plans of City Public Works, GBNRTC, and the Good Neighbors Planning Alliance in all neighborhoods. 

2.4.11 Implement the Downtown Plan

Implementing The Queen City Hub: A Regional Action Plan for Downtown Buffalo is the single most important initiative that can be taken, not only to achieve the goals of the Comprehensive Plan, but to achieve the region’s economic development goals, as well. It is, by reference, an integral part of the Comprehensive Plan. 

Based on the Strategic Plan for Downtown Buffalo (1999), The award winning Queen City Hub Plan is an ambitious plan, and much more than an economic initiative. It fully integrates social, environmental and economic considerations in a plan to revitalize Downtown as the functional center of the region. Moreover, The Queen City Hub is central to facilitating the emergence of Buffalo’s modern mixed economy. 

Figure 48 The New Downtown

Figure 48 The New Downtown (Popup full image) 

The Queen City Hub calls for strategic investment in the core area of the downtown that
currently generates approximately 40% of the economic activity in the City (Source: The Queen City Hub: A Regional Action Plan for Downtown Buffalo).

The plan envisions a Downtown with a vitality that epitomizes Buffalo’s quality of life 24 hours a day, seven days a week and twelve months a year. It will be a place where people come to live, work and play, a Downtown that is easily accessible to the whole region and to visitors from far and wide. It will be a Downtown reconnected to the waterfront with a physical and cultural heritage that has been fully preserved, restored and reused. 

The plan recognizes that the Downtown is bigger than the Central Business District and includes adjoining neighborhoods. Prospect Avenue and North Street loosely define its boundaries on the north, Jefferson Avenue on the east, and the lake and rivers on the south and west. This area houses a resident population of 18,000 and 60,000 workers. Their spending will grow as the plan is implemented and their numbers and incomes increase. 

The plan defines five major investment areas (see Figure 48) to support new and existing economic functions downtown including government, finance, banking, legal services, insurance, business services, real estate, commerce, retail, entertainment, sports and culture, medical services, research and education. Interspersed with new housing, retail and entertainment, these investment areas represent real centers of employment and business development opportunities.

The five are: 

The Erie Canal Harbor and waterfront district, near the foot of Main Street and the historic center of economic activity in Buffalo. The cornerstone for development is the Erie Canal Harbor project. Cultural facilities including the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Museum and Servicemen’s Park, maritime, sports and entertainment venues, new development, including an inter-modal transportation center will fill the area encompassing the Cobblestone District and lower Main Street. 

Financial District and Government Center in the center of Downtown. Public and private sector actors are reinvesting in key projects to reinforce the area. These include the restoration of the Old County Hall by Erie County as part of an $85 million construction and renovation program for its downtown offices; restoration of Louis Sullivan’s landmark Guaranty Building by the law firm of Hodgson Russ; and completion of the South Tower of the Key Center, occupied by Delaware North Companies in 2000.

The Theater District, already substantially transformed into a lively entertainment district, with the restoration and later expansion of Shea’s Performing Arts Center, redevelopment of the Market Arcade, a new police station, and other investments, including restaurants, cafes and bars, residential, office and institutional uses. The Downtown Education Campus, the most recently emerging area, is near Erie Community College on South Division Street. County Executive Joel A. Giambra has proposed consolidating three Erie Community College campuses into a single complex, bringing 8,000 students downtown. The concept could include a “public safety campus,” incorporating facilities for police training; fire, police and emergency services communications; information services; and a new forensics laboratory. 

The Downtown Education Campus, the most recently emerging area, is near Erie Community College on South Division Street. County Executive Joel A. Giambra has proposed consolidating three Erie Community College campuses into a single complex, bringing 8,000 students downtown. The concept could include a “public safety campus,” incorporating facilities for police training; fire, police and emergency services communications; information services; and a new forensics laboratory  

The BuffaloNiagara Medical Campus (BNMC), comprising nearly one hundred acres just a few blocks north of the Theater District. Five medical institutions – Buffalo Medical Group, Hauptmann-Woodward Medical Research Institute, Kaleida Health, Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the University at Buffalo – have joined forces to create a world-class urban medical center. A master plan for the campus, by Chan Krieger of Cambridge, MA, is aimed at integrating the campus with surrounding neighborhoods, the Fruit Belt, Allentown and the Home Ownership Zone, and strengthening each, in turn. The plan aims to improve street environments, connecting member institutions with a system of public spaces and with adjacent neighborhoods. 

Other important attributes of the Downtown Strategic Plan include attention to the restoration of Ellicott’s radial street plan, a mixed-use core district, residential development, public squares, and more. Downtown Neighborhood Development, a new not for profit organization, has been established to help spur downtown residential development. Overall, the pace of development is picking up, with some 20 projects underway, and 19 agencies actively collaborating to bring the plan to fruition through carefully calibrated public and private capital investments. 

The Downtown Strategic Plan builds on and adds to the city’s strengths. It respects the traditional historic fabric and scale of the area. It provides a clear sense of direction for redevelopment, and provides a sound framework for investment. It is robust, yet flexible enough to accommodate additional complementary development ideas. As is stated in the document Downtown Buffalo 2002! News, Vol. 3 Number 1, “There are many ways to achieve the vision.” 

Other proposals are on the table, including those to cut and cover I-190, remove the Skyway, build a casino, and to redevelop the Outer Harbor. Such ideas are not alternatives to The Queen City Hub. Rather they should be judged on their merits and assessed for the degree to which they would add to the plan. This should also take into account whether they would divert resources away from other elements of the plan judged by the community to be of higher need, value or priority.  

2.4.12 Develop Heritage and Culture

Developing Buffalo’s great heritage and cultural assets must be part of the broader economic development strategy and program for the city and region. There is a growing recognition among economic development experts that historic architecture and landscapes, institutions of the visual and performing arts, the sites and stories of who we are as a community and as a nation and how we came to be, and other aspects of our heritage and culture can be a crucial part of strategies for economic growth in the 21st century.

First of all, heritage and culture is already part of Buffalo’s real economy. Those engaged in generating, protecting, restoring, celebrating and promoting any aspect of the city’s heritage and culture are creating value, economic and otherwise. 

Second, heritage and culture are local assets in the increasingly national and global competition for people and capital. The creative workers who play a leading role in the economy – designers, entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, financiers, researchers and others – are attracted to the quality of life and character of place that heritage and culture can reinforce. Investors, likewise, are attracted to the same kind of places because they can attract that kind of labor. Both have lots of choices about where to locate or invest. 

Third, city and regional leaders recognize that Buffalo’s heritage and culture provide the foundation for tourism development here. Cultural tourism is the most rapidly growing segment of one of the world’s biggest industries. It is a truism among tourism experts that what cultural tourists want most is an authentic experience. Buffalo’s heritage and culture can provide just that. 

The Buffalo Niagara Cultural Tourism Initiative has created a strategy for the development of heritage and cultural tourism throughout the region, including Buffalo. It proposes coordinated programming to be created around “centerpiece” attractions likely to draw national and international attention, connected to venues in related “experience clusters,” and promoted through coordinated campaigns to carefully targeted markets. “Centerpieces” include Frank Lloyd Wright and related architecture, the Erie Canal, the Albright Knox Art Gallery, the history of the Underground Railroad and others.

The strategy also proposes that each program cycle help build the cultural tourism system, improving venues, organizations, and infrastructure in a phased and focused development of the Buffalo Niagara brand of experiences. This will require filling serious gaps in current work: coordinated programming and promotion, marketing, research, long range planning, impact assessment, infrastructure improvements, education and training, technology application, and provision of shared administrative and technical services.

The City of Buffalo should support the implementation of this plan to the greatest extent possible and pursue other initiatives to help leverage the community’s heritage and cultural resources for economic development. Other elements of the Comprehensive Plan, including the Preservation Plan, the Olmsted Parks Restoration and Management Plan, and The Queen City Hub, are all consistent with this goal. 

2.4.13 Restructure Economic Development Agencies

Achieving the goals of the Buffalo Comprehensive Plan will require a coherent and coordinated regional approach to the delivery of economic development services including regional marketing, business recruitment, real estate services, financial and tax incentives, workforce development, regulatory guidance, and technical assistance. This plan, therefore, endorses ongoing work to establish a “one stop shop” approach to economic development.

Buffalo’s economic development goals must always be pursued within the context of a broader regional strategy. The fate of the city depends on the success of the region and vice versa. That means the City must take a leadership role in strategy development. City economic development efforts must always be coordinated with regional initiatives, too. City programs must also be part of a seamless regional economic development delivery system with the potential to expand to all eight counties in Western New York and extend coordinating links to Southern Ontario.

The City of Buffalo has already merged some of its economic development functions with Erie County under the umbrella of the ECIDA. Some staff members of the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corporation have been incorporated into the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Planning where they will focus on business retention and small business development at the neighborhood scale. Others have been reassigned to the ECIDA to concentrate on brownfields redevelopment, business attraction, and other larger scale efforts.

The result will be a stronger and more sharply focused economic development program that takes into account Buffalo’s importance as the region’s primary city. The reorganization will enable the city and region to achieve the transition from a manufacturing to a mixed economy more quickly than without it. 

2.4.14 Reconstruct the Public Schools

It is crucial to the success of the Buffalo Comprehensive Plan, as well as for the success of public education in Buffalo, that the schools reconstruction program of the Joint Schools Construction Board be effectively implemented, on its own terms and in close coordination with other elements of this plan. Although the schools plan was created and will be implemented under independent auspices, it must be understood as an integral part of the Comprehensive Plan and carried out in that manner.

Improving public education is central to achieving the Comprehensive Plan goal of reversing the economic and population decline of the city. Restoring confidence in Buffalo’s public schools is essential to stemming the migration of families with children to suburban school districts. The quality of public education in Buffalo is also important for achieving the plan’s economic development goals. A well-educated workforce is crucial to economic growth.

The reconstruction of public schools throughout the city can also play an important role in reinforcing other efforts called for in this plan to preserve housing, revitalize neighborhoods, improve the public environment and enhance the overall quality of life in Buffalo. We should not miss the opportunity to coordinate these investments for maximum impact and leverage of private investments.

The schools reconstruction plan is an outgrowth of the Board of Education’s “Choice Committee” that devised a blueprint for school system reform intended to ensure high academic achievement for all children and to allow parents greater choice over school placement while still reflecting district diversity objectives.

A reorganized school system will retain some citywide magnet schools but also create a new set of standard school types to be replicated in each of three newly-drawn geographic zones across the district. These arrangements will facilitate choice, permit school populations to match the ethnic diversity of the different neighborhoods, and reduce the extent of bussing across the city. New efforts to improve staff recruitment and retention and to measure school performance are being made to support the overall goal. Workforce diversity and development initiatives will also enhance economic opportunities for Women and Minority- Owned Business Enterprises.

Extensive improvements in the physical plant of schools are required to fully implement the plan. The Joint Schools Construction Board has developed a $950 million district-wide program under which, over the next ten years, a number of obsolete schools will be closed, several new schools will be built, and the remainder reconstructed, upgraded and re-equipped to provide a 21st century quality education.

The first phase of the program, scheduled to begin in 2004 and extend through 2006, will involve the reconstruction of nine schools at an estimated capital cost of $155 million dollars. Reconstruction of a tenth school was recently completed. The remainder of nearly $800 million will be reinvested in schools over the remaining life of the program.

The great opportunity is to coordinate schools reconstruction with neighborhood revitalization, including housing rehabilitation and new construction, maintenance of appropriate residential densities, good neighborhood design, promotion of public transit, and other smart growth principles. Such coordination of investments is all that much easier because the planned first phase of the schools reconstruction program has one school in each of the City’s Planning Communities slated for improvements.

The alignment of these investments, however, won’t happen by itself. It is important that the Joint Schools Construction Board, which combines membership from both the School Board staff and City Hall staff, remain in position. The schools reconstruction program and City neighborhood revitalization efforts must be planned and implemented together. The City of Buffalo is committed to working in close cooperation with the Buffalo Board of Education to make sure this happens. 

2.4.15 Rebuild Neighborhoods

Achieving the overall goal of the Comprehensive Plan requires a new strategy for rebuilding Buffalo’s neighborhoods and managing its housing stock. This strategy includes mobilizing the resources of residents through neighborhood planning, investing scarce public dollars in more concentrated and better coordinated ways, working to link housing programs with economic development initiatives, and managing the size and quality of the housing stock in relation to housing targets and population projections.

Conditions in Buffalo neighborhoods vary widely. Some are in good shape, attractive as living environments, and competitive as housing markets. Some are in desperate condition, with many dilapidated structures, high vacancy rates, low home-ownership rates, and a proliferation of vacant lots. The rest are somewhere in between, with residents struggling to maintain aging structures against decades-long trends of population decline, disinvestment and deterioration. The worst of these conditions map closely with patterns of poverty, unemployment, low levels of educational attainment, single parent households and other indicators of social and economic distress.

Along with the other challenges identified in this plan, Buffalo must address the needs of its neighborhoods if the city is to survive, let alone meet the goal of the Comprehensive Plan. The physical, social and economic fabric of these neighborhoods must be repaired to a standard of quality that Americans expect of their residential environments. Yet the scale of this challenge is clearly beyond the financial, managerial and human resources of the City without additional assistance from higher levels of government, active involvement by private sector investments, and a real mobilization of neighborhood residents themselves.

The Comprehensive Plan specifies a four-part strategy for rebuilding Buffalo’s neighborhoods. It begins with the active participation of neighborhood residents through the Good Neighbors Planning Alliance to plan and implement change where they live. It continues with coordination of economic development initiatives that have the potential to attract new residents with housing programs that can offer those people an attractive place to live in the city. It requires that scarce housing subsidies and other neighborhood investments be better focused to produce more tangible results. Finally, it involves a combination of housing demolition, rehabilitation and new construction to manage the size and quality of Buffalo’s housing stock in anticipation of continued population decline followed by an eventual resurgence. 

2.4.16 Plan with Neighborhoods

The Comprehensive Plan provides a broad framework for neighborhood redevelopment across the city, but depends on neighborhood residents themselves to create and help implement more detailed local plans. In this way, residents can work with City staff to tailor overall policies to local needs, values and visions. Participatory neighborhood planning can also take advantage of local knowledge in applying city-wide policies and help mobilize local resources for implementation.

The City has created the Good Neighbors Planning Alliance (GNPA) to support this process of neighborhood planning. Residents have been invited to participate in planning for eleven Planning Communities or districts around the city. Staff from the Office of Strategic Planning (OSP) provides guidance and technical assistance to create usable plans consistent with city-wide policies. All neighborhood plans produced through the GNPA will be submitted to the Planning Board for review and then forwarded to Common Council for adoption.

Figure 49 Prospect 200 Compare

Figure 49 Prospect 200 Compare (Popup full image) 

Figure 49. Much of the renewal of the city will come in reclaiming streets like this one. The bottom shows a portion of the 200 block of Prospect Avenue in 1996. The top shows the same street in 2001 after the entire block of homes was replaced or renovated. The demonstration project that developed the block involved voluntary compliance with urban design guidelines and had mixed results, although the improvements to the neighborhood are dramatic (Source: The Lower West Side Neighborhood Stabilization Demonstration Project: Housing Design Review Guidelines, 2nd Ed., 2002).

Although housing is the core of any neighborhood, these plans must take into consideration all other land uses. Residents are encouraged to plan for a broad range of functions and amenities, including community services, neighborhood shopping, schools, churches, parking, street-lighting, sidewalks, trees, parks, gardens and more.

In general, every plan developed through the GNPA is obliged to address the four guiding principles of the Comprehensive Plan. Plans should provide for sustainable development to achieve the interdependent goals of economic growth, environmental regeneration, and greater social equity. They should also incorporate principles of smart growth to repair or reinforce Buffalo’s typically compact and efficient urban environments. In addition, they should follow the basic principles of “fix the basics” and “build on assets” in all their proposals.

More specifically, GNPA neighborhood plans should:

  • Build on the assets of the Ellicott plan, Olmsted park system, and Buffalo’s waterfront; 

  • Concentrate resources and integrate neighborhood and housing development with school reconstruction, economic development initiatives, preservation projects and transit corridors;

  • Restore and maintain public infrastructure such as buildings, streets, sidewalks, water and sewer, trees, parks and greenways;

  • Incorporate the remediation and reuse of brownfields to meet neighborhood and citywide goals;

  • Shed the excessive number of city-owned vacant properties. Consider appropriate reuse or disposition of City-owned land and public buildings, make homesteading a priority using a quicker, easier process;

  • Redevelop vacant land and property with infill housing or other appropriate uses;

  • Apply urban design, planning and environmental management guidelines, and the principles of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design;

  • Promote energy conservation and use of alternative sources of energy;

  • Dramatically improve the welcoming of immigrants to Buffalo, and in the process breathe new life into our city. Collaborate with local resettlement agencies that bring diverse newcomers to the Buffalo area to provide immigrants with housing, education, social, and employment services. We need to strategically improve how these people are served and expand this inflow, as other cities like Utica, Minneapolis, and Cleveland have done.

In addition, all neighborhood plans should identify the opportunities for private sector involvement and investment; work to increase social integration through participation, planning and implementation; and consider local proposals in light of regional and city wide needs to promote job creation, social equity, and environmental quality. 

This “checklist” is not a straightjacket for neighborhoods and Planning Communities. Each will have considerable flexibility in defining how neighborhood plans apply citywide policies. Each neighborhood will be able to express its own distinctive identity, needs, resources and aspirations through the plan. But each plan should be specific about what is proposed, how it will be accomplished, and how it advances progress to the citywide goal. 

2.4.17 Focus Investments for Maximum Impact

The neighborhood redevelopment strategy also requires that investments be focused and concentrated to achieve maximum impact. Investments in housing and neighborhood related infrastructure have typically been made in a scattered and uncoordinated manner. From 1998 through 2003 the City invested an average of $32.8 million a year – mostly from the federal government – in housing and neighborhoods. Indeed, going back to the beginning of the federal Community Development Block Grant program in the mid-1970s, Buffalo has received the better part of a billion dollars in housing subsidies. Although improvements have been made, a proportionate impact is difficult to discern. 

A variety of decision/rules have applied to the allocation of housing and neighborhood subsidies. In some cases, emergency situations or concerted demands by citizens have shaped investment decisions. More generally, an imperative to provide a share to every part of the city regardless of need has contributed to the scattering of these funds. Inefficiencies in the delivery system for housing programs have also diminished the impact of these investments. 

The Comprehensive Plan strategy for housing and neighborhoods is based on an explicit assumption that scarce subsidy dollars can have a greater impact if they are invested in strategic concentrations, consistent with citywide policies and neighborhood plans, coordinated with other investments, and aimed to leverage private participation. With the annual federal subsidy projected for the period 2003-2008 at only $28 million, the need to focus investments is even greater. 

More specifically, the strategy calls for housing and neighborhood redevelopment investments to be focused on and coordinated with school reconstruction sites, economic development projects, historic preservation initiatives, transit corridors, and investments in the restoration of elements of the Olmsted Parks and Parkway system and other municipal parks. When these investments come together in a way that is strategic, coordinated and predictable private interests, large and small, will have confidence to invest in these neighborhoods, too. Such a “critical mass” of investments will have the ability to transform these environments. 

An example of how multiple investments can come together to change the city is visible along Main Street. For generations, Main Street has been the great divide between the West Side and the East Side. In recent years, however, a series of public and private investments have begun to bridge this gap, with developments spanning this corridor, integrating the land uses and neighborhoods on either side (See Figure 59). 

Although the role of Main Street as an economic and transportation corridor is unique in Buffalo, this approach to redevelopment can serve as a model for other areas. Main Street is on its way to becoming a place where different parts of the city are connected, not divided. The continuing coordination and concentration of investments is providing tangible physical testimony of the possibility of greater social equity and integration. 

2.4.18 Link Housing and Economic Development

This strategy also requires that investments in housing and neighborhoods be linked to key economic development initiatives. This is related to the approach of concentrating and coordinating resources for maximum impact. But it is a distinct element in the strategy. When the economic development initiatives specified in this plan begin to bear fruit in the form of new jobs it is crucial that new employees be able to find housing in the city. If they cannot, Buffalo will lose a major part of the benefit of its own efforts to grow the economy.

Housing for new employees must be readily available in a range of types, prices and unit configurations and in a variety of neighborhoods, all with a high quality physical environment and urban amenities. If this kind of choice is not provided, even those who would prefer to live in an urban setting will look elsewhere, and the executives, managers and staff of new and expanding enterprises will locate their homes in the suburbs. 

The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC) Master Plan provides a good example of how neighborhood redevelopment and economic development initiatives can be closely linked. The master plan specifies how the expansion of a world-class health care and medical research district can be integrated with revitalization of its adjacent neighborhoods. It recommends new infill housing, transit-oriented mixed-use development, streetscape, lighting and landscape improvements, pedestrianization and “place making” as a way of connecting the Medical Campus with stronger Allentown and Fruit Belt neighborhoods. New housing should be created, in the neighborhood as well as citywide, to fit the needs, means and lifestyles of those who work on the campus.

2.4.19 Manage the Housing Stock

Finally, the strategy for housing and neighborhood redevelopment requires that the City manage Buffalo’s housing stock in difficult and even contradictory circumstances. The City must work to eliminate or rehabilitate vacant and unmarketable units during the projected period of continued population decline, but at the same time, lay the groundwork for an expanded and improved citywide housing stock when population growth resumes, as projected, after 2016. Throughout the period, the City must also work with its partners to maintain and improve the physical environment and quality of life in neighborhoods across the city. The ultimate goal is strong neighborhoods that are also strong housing markets supported by consumer demand and private investment. 

In the meantime, the City is required to continue the provision of public housing, including emergency housing, for those in need. It has a responsibility to protect and assure maintenance of rental housing and promote renovation and rehabilitation for rental and owner-occupied homes where it is cost effective to do so. It must also provide incentives for increasing home ownership. Finally, it must demolish and redevelop vacant and abandoned properties that cannot be renovated or reconfigured.

Table 12 City of Buffalo Housing Performance Targets
Category 1990 2000 2010 2020 2030
Housing units 151,971 145,574 126,720 135,802 142,471
Occupied units 136,436 122,720 118,210 129,335 135,687
Persons per Household 2.33 2.29 2.25 2.25 2.25
Vacant 15,535 22,854 8,510 6,647 6,784
% vacant 10.20% 15.70% 7.20% 5.00% 5.00%
Own/occupied 58,858 53,323 53,195 62,081 67,844
BMHA   7,000 6,000 5,000 5,000
Rental 77,578 62,397 59,015 62,252 62,844
% Owned 43.10% 43.50% 45.00% 48% 50%
% Rental 56.90% 56.50% 55.00% 52% 50%

Housing Targets: 2010 to 2030: OSP Community Planning

It is crucial to find the right balance. If there are too many housing units, or the wrong kind of units, the market will weaken. If there are too few or the wrong type of housing units, the city will lose further population to the suburbs. There are reasons be optimistic. In recent years, residential real estate prices have risen in two neighborhoods by as much as ten percent. Unfortunately, there is also anecdotal evidence of demand for city housing that cannot be met with the current supply.

Achieving the right balance between housing and households, and preparing for the projected population increase from 2016 through 2030 will require using all the tools at hand for the City. To manage the housing stock to meet quantifiable targets (See Table 12) will require demolition, rehabilitation assistance, homeownership incentives, new construction, code enforcement, planning, zoning, and infrastructure investment. Projections for some of the baseline parameters include: 

  • Total housing units, continuing to decline through 2010 and then increasing through 2030 back to roughly the same level as in 2000; 

  • Percentage of vacant units, to be reduced from 15.7 percent to 7.2 percent by 2016 and further reduced in subsequent years to an even healthier rate of five percent;

  • Average household size, continuing to decline from 2.29 persons per household but leveling off at about 2.25 persons per household;

  • Proportion of home owners, gradually increasing as the economy improves from 43.5 percent to about 50 percent; 

Responding to these trends so that the housing stock temporarily contracts with the population, then grows again as population grows, will mean meeting a series of annual and ten year targets, starting in 2004 and going forward. These include: 

  • One thousand units of new, converted, or rehabilitated housing completed each year for ten years or a total of 10,000 units. Of these, 500 a year, or 5,000 total, would be rehabilitated units. The other half would be new or converted units; 

  • One thousand units vacant, dilapidated or unrepairable housing to be demolished each year until households and housing units come back into balance at a vacancy rate of five percent;

  • Half of new, converted and rehabilitated housing units to be targeted to Downtown and its immediate first ring of neighborhoods with 300 units new or converted and 200 units rehabilitated each year;

  • The remainder of new, converted and rehabilitated housing targeted to areas of concentrated neighborhood investment (in schools, jobs, parks and waterfront) with 200 units new or converted and 300 units rehabilitated each year;

  • A gradual reduction in units owned and managed by the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority from 7,000 to 5,000 units, as tenants find work and move into privately owned housing; 

These targets will vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. The ratio of rehabilitation to new construction, for example, will depend on specific local circumstances. The logical sequence of work when the public sector leads redevelopment will be to rehab as many units as possible, demolish dilapidated non-historic structures, then provide for new builds.

The ultimate goal of the ten-year housing program is to create a healthy private residential real estate market. It is intended that private investment will drive housing development in Buffalo beyond the ten-year program through 2030. This will require, however, that the public sector increase its investment and delivery of housing in the first ten years (2004-2013). As with other elements of the Comprehensive Plan, the City of Buffalo lacks the necessary resources to implement all of its provisions.

Table 13 Table 13 | Major Ellicott Radial Plan Streets
Niagara Elmwood
Delaware Genesee
Broadway Clinton
Main (Rt. 5)  

At the current level of capital investment (now reduced to $28 million per year through 2008) the delivery of new housing will be too slow to help the city’s recovery in a timely way. The special Buffalo Development Program would be required to provide approximately $7.5 million more per year to accomplish these goals. 

2.4.20 Restore Ellicott, Olmstead and Waterfront

Buffalo’s Ellicott radial and grid street plan, its Frederick Law Olmsted-designed system of parks and parkways, and its breathtaking waterfront along Lake Erie, the Buffalo and Niagara Rivers, Cazenovia and Scajaquada Creeks, constitute the great physical structure of the city and together define its unique character and sense of place. The Comprehensive Plan calls for the elements of this urban structure to be preserved, restored, expanded and reconnected as a central task in the revitalization of Buffalo.

The waterfront was the birthplace of Buffalo and central to its existence through subsequent periods of economic and social change, including today. The street plan Joseph Ellicott laid out in 1804 framed the structure of the human-made city that was to come and continues today to define the city, its traffic flows, and its connections to that waterfront. Olmsted’s parks and parkways, created across the second half of the 19th century, completed the structure, connecting the city to green spaces that could – and still do – “refresh and delight the eye, and through the eye, the mind and the spirit.”

Preserving and strengthening what is most characteristic of a unique city means protecting, restoring and expanding the urban structure that is Buffalo’s past, present and future. In the absence of this Comprehensive Plan, that might happen anyway, but only slowly and in piecemeal fashion. But achieving the overall goal of the plan requires a more concerted and aggressive approach. Repairs and improvements to these structures can help leverage other investments important to reversing Buffalo’s decline.

Figure 50 The Olmsted Park and Park Way System together with the Ellicott Radial Plan connect the city to its destination parks, to downtown, and to the waters of the Buffalo River, Lake Erie, the Niagara River, and Sacjaquada Creek.

Figure 50 The Olmsted Park and Park Way System together with the Ellicott Radial Plan connect the city to its destination parks, to downtown, and to the waters of the Buffalo River, Lake Erie, the Niagara River, and Sacjaquada Creek. (Popup full image) 

The Olmsted Park and Park Way System together with the Ellicott Radial Plan connect the city to its destination parks, to downtown, and to the waters of the Buffalo River, Lake Erie, the Niagara River, and Sacjaquada Creek.

2.4.21 Restore Ellicott Radials and Grid

Each of the radial streets that emanates from Ellicott’s original radial and grid plan should be redeveloped from end to end, from the center of the city to the waterfront or city line. This includes Niagara, Delaware, Main, Genesee, Broadway, William and Seneca. Appropriate treatments would include new pavements, where needed, landscaping, new trees, and traffic calming. Where necessary, plans for the redevelopment of property along these radial boulevards should be detailed.

As the plan for restoration of radial streets is further developed, opportunities to enhance or expand the network should be embraced. South Park Avenue, for example, was not originally a part of Ellicott's scheme. But making it a part of the contemporary system would reinforce the City's proposed strategy for the South Park/ East Side Rail Investment Corridor.

Given some relief from the barrier that is the Niagara Thruway, restoration of the Ellicott plan in the longer term may also include projects to reconnect Downtown streets to the waterfront. These might include Genesee Street, Court Street, Georgia Street and others. Erie Street is already the focus of a project to strengthen Ellicott street connections from Downtown to the waterfront.

Beyond the lifespan of this plan, care should be taken to recognize opportunities to restore elements of the Downtown street plan that have been severed over the years. These include Genesee between Main and Franklin; Genesee near South Elmwood; and Eagle Street between Main and Pearl.

The proposed special Buffalo Development Program (See Part Three) includes funding for rebuilding the Ellicott radials. At an estimated unit cost of $4.5 million per mile there is sufficient funding in the program budget to ensure that restoration of the radials reflects both their heritage and 21st century arterial function.

Figure 51 The Hiker’s Monument in Roosevelt Plaza, a place where the Radial and grid street join in downtown.

Figure 51 The Hiker’s Monument in Roosevelt Plaza, a place where the Radial and grid street join in downtown. (Popup full image) 

2.4.22 Restore Olmstead Parks and Parkways

The same approach is needed for the restoration of the nine parks, seven parkways and seven circles of the Olmsted Parks and Parkways system. When Olmsted connected Buffalo’s parks, using more than seven miles of tree-lined parkways and turfed walkways, he also connected to Ellicott’s radial streets and extended them. In the 21st century Ellicott’s and Olmsted’s radials, parks and parkways should be treated as a single system.

Figure 52 A historic image of Olmsted’s Delaware Park in the late 1800s.

Figure 52 A historic image of Olmsted’s Delaware Park in the late 1800s. (Popup full image) 

Discussions among the City, Erie County, and the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy on how to restore the complete Olmsted Park system, and how to fund that work, need to be brought to a successful conclusion. The Conservancy is developing a full restoration and management plan, expected to be complete in 2004. The plan will include a fundraising program to assist with the cost of restoration. Implementation of the Olmsted Parks and Parkways Restoration and Management Plan is expected to take up to 20 years.

Figure 53 Botanical Gardens in Olmsted’s South Park. (Photo: Western New York Regional Information Network)

Figure 53 Botanical Gardens in Olmsted’s South Park. (Photo: Western New York Regional Information Network) (Popup full image) 

A comparable plan is needed for the restoration and extension of the Ellicott radial and grid system. This will require a combination of road engineering, urban design and landscaping skills. The City’s Office of Strategic Planning and Department of Public Works should develop the plan, with the participation of the County and the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council.

Figure 54 Riverside Park overlooking the Niagara River. (Photo: Mark Mistretta, Wendel Duchscherer Architects and Engineers)

Figure 54 Riverside Park overlooking the Niagara River. (Photo: Mark Mistretta, Wendel Duchscherer Architects and Engineers) (Popup full image) 

What Buffalo needs is “Ellicott and Olmsted for the 21st Century.” While we conserve our heritage we should take opportunities to expand the radial, park, and parkway system, consistent with 19th century traditions and appropriate for 21st century uses. For example, there is a need for a new park on the East Side. One possible location for such a park is the triangular 150-acre brownfield parcel north of William Street, west of Bailey Avenue and bounded by the railroad at its northern tip.

Table 14 Olmsted Parks & Parkways
Parks Parkways Circles
Riverside Lincoln Soldiers
Delaware Bidwell Gates
Parkside Chapin Colonial
Martin Luther King Jr. Richmond Ferry
Front Porter Symphony
Columbus Red Jacket McClellan
South McKinley McKinley
Heacock    
Cazenovia    

An “Olmsted Park” at this location would serve East Side neighborhoods and help to complete the ring of Olmsted parks around the city. It would also help attract visitors and new investment to this part of Buffalo. New parkways would link it to its northern and southern neighbors, just as the two southern parks, South Park and Cazenovia, are connected by McKinley and Red Jacket Parkways. 

2.4.23 Reconnect to the Waterfront

Two interlocking waterfront planning efforts are already under way, developing in parallel with the Comprehensive Plan. Together they specify how Buffalo can reconnect to its waterfront, improve public access to the lake, rivers and creeks, link neighborhoods to the water’s edge, leverage waterfront assets for appropriate economic development, and improve water quality, waterfront lands and habitats in the process. 

Figure 55 The Buffalo River and view to the historic Concrete Central grain elevator (Photo from the Friends of the Buffalo and Niagara Rivers-Lynda Schneekloth).

Figure 55 The Buffalo River and view to the historic Concrete Central grain elevator (Photo from the Friends of the Buffalo and Niagara Rivers-Lynda Schneekloth). (Popup full image) 

Local Waterfront Revitalization Program 

The Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP) provides for the local application of federal Coastal Zone Management policies under State supervision. Thirteen broad policies stipulate local action to protect environmental, historic, and visual characteristics of local waterfronts, promote their appropriate economic uses, and expand public waterfront access (See inset). The planning process involves analysis of local conditions and community participation to tailor the policies to local needs. 

Once approved by the Planning Board, the Buffalo Common Council, New York’s Secretary of State and the federal Office of Coastal Resources Management, the LWRP will serve as a waterfront strategy to help coordinate state and federal actions needed to achieve Buffalo’s goals for its waterfront. The LWRP is not a new layer of regulation on the waterfront; rather it tailors existing state regulations to Buffalo’s needs; but it also gives these policies the force of law. It will help make New York State’s Consistency Reviews more responsive to local projects. 

Coastal Management Policies

  1. Foster a pattern of development in the coastal area that enhances community character, preserves open space, makes efficient use of infrastructure, makes beneficial use of coastal location, and minimizes adverse effects of development.

  2. Protect water- and border-dependent uses, promote siting of new water dependent uses in suitable locations, and support efficient harbor operation.

  3. Protect existing agricultural lands in the coastal area.

  4. Protect and restore ecological resources, including significant fish and wildlife habitats, wetlands, woodlands and rare ecological communities.

  5. Protect and improve water resources.

  6. Minimize loss of life, structure and natural resources from flooding and erosion.

  7. Protect and improve air quality.

  8. Protect appropriate use and development of energy and mineral resources.

  9. Minimize environmental degradation from solid waste and hazardous substances and wastes.

  10. Provide for public access to, and recreational use of coastal waters, public lands, and public resources of the coastal area.

  11. Enhance visual quality and protect outstanding scenic resources.Preserve historic resources of the coastal areas.

Source: City of Buffalo Local Waterfront Revitalization Program

Waterfront Corridor Initiative 

The Buffalo Corridor Management Project, also known as the Waterfront Corridor Initiative, is being developed to serve as implementation management plan for the policies and projects identified in the LWRP. The Waterfront Corridor Initiative (WCI) will work to coordinate achievement of Buffalo’s overarching waterfront goals (access, environmental quality, economic development, neighborhood connection) with the need to provide efficient transportation through the waterfront corridor. As such, the WCI is funded by a grant under the federal TEA-21 program. 

Work on the WCI has included extensive public consultations on waterfront priorities, an inventory of a quarter century of planning work for Buffalo’s waterfront, timely analysis of Peace Bridge gateway plaza alternatives, development of pre-design proposals for Porter Avenue and Erie Street waterfront gateways, and preparation of a strategic plan for transportation improvements to serve as a guide for ongoing project implementation. 

Analysis of alternatives for the U.S. Peace Bridge plaza shows, not only that a shared border management would be most beneficial to Buffalo neighborhoods, but also that border management practices in general are moving quickly toward greater collaboration and technology application in pursuit of greater efficiency and security (See Figure 56 ). 

Figure 56 Artist's rendering of Peace Bridge plaza under shared border management concept. EBR Professional Rendering.

Figure 56 Artist's rendering of Peace Bridge plaza under shared border management concept. EBR Professional Rendering. (Popup full image) 

The strategic plan accepts ongoing projects as established community priorities. These include the Erie Canal Harbor, Times Beach Nature Preserve, Outer Harbor Greenway, and reuse of the Auditorium for a destination retail attraction. Beyond these current projects, the plan attempts to set general principles for project prioritization as well as to establish new project priorities in specific. 

Capital funding to support implementation of these initiatives is provided in the Capital Improvements Program of the Comprehensive Plan. The special Buffalo Development Program proposed in Part Three would provide additional funding to trigger these initiatives and move them forward to full implementation. 

2.4.24 Protect and Restore the Urban Fabric

Buffalo must protect and restore the physical fabric of the city as an essential step in achieving the overall goal of the Comprehensive Plan. If the Ellicott plan, Olmsted parks, and the waterfront are the character-defining structure of the city, its historic architecture and landscapes, and the overall natural environment are the fabric of the city. This policy, of course, overlaps with policies on housing and neighborhoods, economic development, infrastructure and services. But our built and natural heritage deserve specific attention.

Work on both of these issues is fundamental to the overall strategy of the comprehensive plan. Progress in these areas will advance the sustainability of development in Buffalo. Preservation of the built environment will be wholly consistent with smart growth principles. Both take seriously the call to “fix the basics” and “build on assets.” Together, attention to historic architecture and the natural environment will improve the quality of life in Buffalo and help attract both people and capital to the city.

This policy involves three major action items.

  1. Establishment of clear regional and urban design guides for the continuing development of the city.

  2. Creation and implementation of a Community Preservation Plan, for which the first major phase of work is complete.

  3. Development an Environmental Management System, building on the work of the Environmental Management Council, and sharpening the ability of the City to implement policies for the protection and repair of our environment. 

2.4.25 Regional and Urban Design Guides

Because even cities in decline are also growing and changing, protecting and restoring the urban fabric requires controlling the quality and character of new development. Toward this end, the Comprehensive Plan includes a set of broad regional and urban design guides. These are taken from the work of the Congress of New Urbanism (CNU), an international organization of urban designers, architects, landscape architects, planners and developers that has codified principles for the design of regions, cities and neighborhoods.

In many ways, these principles are already woven throughout the Comprehensive Plan. They are visible in the principles of sustainability and smart growth, approaches to environmental regeneration, and philosophies of neighborhood revitalization. However, they deserve emphasis on their own as a comprehensive set of design principles adapted for use in Buffalo and its region.

Principles for the region - metropolis, city and town: 

  1. Metropolitan regions are finite places with geographic boundaries derived from topography, water-sheds, coastlines, farmlands, regional parks, and river basins. The metropolis is made of multiple centers that are cities, towns, and villages, each with its own identifiable center and edges. Buffalo will become a vital urban center in the region if it invests in the core elements of this plan, also consistent with the creation of vital urban centers as a part of the Erie Niagara Planning Framework developed jointly by Erie and Niagara Counties. 

  2. The metropolitan region is a fundamental economic unit of the contemporary world. Governmental cooperation, public policy, physical planning, and economic strategies must reflect this new reality. Buffalo is committed to work with Erie County and Niagara County and the Municipality of Niagara in the planning and economic development of the bi-national Niagara Region. 

  3. The metropolis has a necessary and fragile relationship to its agrarian hinterland and natural landscapes. The relationship is environmental, economic, and cultural. Farmland and nature are as important to the metropolis as the garden is to the house. Buffalo will help relieve the pressure for growth in agricultural and rural areas when it reinvests in itself as a vital urban center and implements the ten principles of smart growth. 

  4. Development patterns should not blur or eradicate the edges of the metropolis. Infill development within existing urban areas conserves environmental resources, economic investment, and social fabric, while reclaiming marginal and abandoned areas. Metropolitan regions should develop strategies to encourage such infill development over peripheral expansion. Buffalo will define its edges through clear and well interpreted gateways and a denser development pattern than its suburban neighbors established through zoning. 

  5. Where appropriate, new development contiguous to urban boundaries should be organized as neighborhoods and districts, and be integrated with the existing urban pattern. Noncontiguous development should be organized as towns and villages with their own urban edges, and planned for a jobs/housing balance, not as bedroom suburbs. Buffalo supports the work of the Erie Niagara Framework for Regional Growth and the GBNRTC to promote compact and contiguous suburban development. 

  6. The development and redevelopment of towns and cities should respect historical patterns, precedents, and boundaries. Buffalo is committed to expanding regional and inter-municipal cooperation on issues of policy, planning and service delivery, while it respects the prerogatives of other municipalities in the tradition of home rule. 

  7. Cities and towns should bring into proximity a broad spectrum of public and private uses to support a regional economy that benefits people of all incomes. Affordable housing should be distributed throughout the region to match job opportunities and to avoid concentrations of poverty. Buffalo helps establish the conditions of social equity throughout the region by assuring the best quality of life possible for its citizens, developing a range of dense, diverse and mixed income communities within its boundaries, and establishing ways for the region to contribute to regional services provided by the City such as on the waterfront, in the park system, and in regional cultural attractions. 

  8. The physical organization of the region should be supported by a framework of transportation alternatives. Transit, pedestrian, and bicycle systems should maximize access and mobility throughout the region while reducing dependence upon the automobile. Through support of the 2030 Long Range Plan of GBNRTC, and through its own policies and programs, Buffalo supports the continuing development of public transit and expanded bicycle facilities on the waterfront, through the Olmsted parks and elsewhere. 

  9. Revenues and resources can be shared more cooperatively among the municipalities and centers within regions to avoid destructive competition for tax base and to promote rational coordination of transportation, recreation, public services, housing, and community institutions. Buffalo will continue to cooperate with a coordinated Erie County Industrial Development Agency in promoting the region, work with neighboring municipalities in a mutual gains approach to economic development, support regional transportation planning, and search for increased efficiencies in public services, housing and community institutions. |

Principles for the city: neighborhood, district and corridor: 

  1. The neighborhood, the district, and the corridor are the essential elements of development and redevelopment in the metropolis. They form identifiable areas that encourage citizens to take responsibility for their maintenance and evolution. Buffalo works through its Good Neighbors Planning Alliance, organized in ten communities and many more neighborhoods, and through the Comprehensive Plan to reinforce the historically well-defined elements of the city. 

  2. Neighborhoods should be compact, pedestrian-friendly, and mixed-use. Districts generally emphasize a special single use, and should follow the principles of neighborhood design when possible. Corridors are regional connectors of neighborhoods and districts; they range from boulevards and rail lines to rivers and parkways. Buffalo supports the revitalization of neighborhood commercial areas such as Hertel Avenue or Elmwood Avenue, maintenance of special purpose districts like the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus or East Side rail facilities, and primacy of major corridors such as Main Street, the waterfront, the Olmsted parkway system, and many others. 

  3. Many activities of daily living should occur within walking distance, allowing independence to those who do not drive especially the elderly and the young. Interconnected networks of streets should be designed to encourage walking, reduce the number and length of automobile trips, and conserve energy. Buffalo works to maintain walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods like Elmwood, Allentown, Grant-Ferry, Seneca Street and Hertel Avenue and to support residential and commercial growth in neighborhoods like Jefferson Avenue, lower Niagara Street, and Fillmore Avenue to make them more walkable. 

  4. Within neighborhoods, a broad range of housing types and price levels can bring people of diverse ages, races, and incomes into daily interaction, strengthening the personal and civic bonds essential to an authentic community. The Queen City Hub calls for just such neighborhoods surrounding the downtown. The same sort of diversity is built into the guidelines for the HUD-funded Home Zone in the near east side and HOPE VI in the lower west side. 

  5. Transit corridors, when properly planned and coordinated, can help organize metropolitan structure and revitalize urban centers. In contrast, highway corridors should not displace investment from existing centers. Buffalo’s Comprehensive Plan supports continued mixed-use development along Main Street, which is a designated corridor for both transit and strategic investment, as well as future development of Airport, Tonawanda and University transit corridors to give greater coherence to the metropolitan structure. 

  6. Appropriate building densities and land uses should be within walking distance of transit stops, permitting public transit to become a viable alternative to the automobile. The Comprehensive Plan calls for a renewed emphasis on the development of the Main Street transit corridor and enforcement of its overlay district, along with coordination of recent and new investments along the length of the rail line. 

  7. Concentrations of civic, institutional, and commercial activity should be embedded in neighborhoods and districts, not isolated in remote, single-use complexes. Schools should be sized and located to enable children to walk or bicycle to them. The Comprehensive Plan policy to coordinate investments in housing and neighborhoods, parks and public infrastructure with reinvestment in public schools goes a long way to meeting this principle. So does support for neighborhood commercial districts. 

  8. The economic health and harmonious evolution of neighborhoods, districts, and corridors can be improved through graphic urban design codes that serve as predictable guides for change. The Lower West Side Neighborhood Stabilization Demonstration Project Housing Design Review Guidelines are an illustration of the type of context sensitive design guides proposed to be developed for each neighborhood in the city through the Office of Strategic Planning and the Good Neighbors Planning Alliance. 

  9. A range of parks, from tot-lots and village greens to ball fields and community gardens, should be distributed within neighborhoods. Conservation areas and open lands should be used to define and connect different neighborhoods and districts. Buffalo is blessed with an extraordinary system of Olmsted parks and parkways but, even so, has less park land per capita than other cities with its population and size. Additions to park infrastructure should address the principle above with specific attention paid to areas of the city that are underserved or not connected to the Olmsted system. 

Principles for the neighborhood, the street, the building: 

The remaining nine principles are specific to the design of good neighborhoods and will be part of future zoning revisions, site plan review, and neighborhood design guides for all of Buffalo’s neighborhoods.

  1. A primary task of all urban architecture and landscape design is the physical definition of streets and public spaces as places of shared use. 

  2. Individual architectural projects should be seamlessly linked to their surroundings. This issue transcends style.

  3. The revitalization of urban places depends on safety and security. The design of streets and buildings should reinforce safe environments, but not at the expense of accessibility and openness.

  4. In the contemporary metropolis, development must adequately accommodate automobiles. It should do so in ways that respect the pedestrian and the form of public space.

  5. Streets and squares should be safe, comfortable, and interesting to the pedestrian. Properly configured, they encourage walking and enable neighbors to know each other and protect their communities.

  6. Architecture and landscape design should grow from local climate, topography, history, and building practice.

  7. Civic buildings and public gathering places require important sites to reinforce community identity and the culture of democracy. They deserve distinctive form, because their role is different from that of other buildings and places that constitute the fabric of the city.

  8. All buildings should provide their inhabitants with a clear sense of location, weather and time. Natural methods of heating and cooling can be more resource-efficient than mechanical systems.

  9. Preservation and renewal of historic buildings, districts, and landscapes affirm the continuity and evolution of urban society

2.4.26 Community Preservation Plan

The Comprehensive Plan needs to incorporate a Community Preservation Plan to identify and protect historic urban resources in Buffalo and to educate public officials and citizens about the value of our built heritage and what is needed to protect it. A first-phase Preservation Plan Program Report suggests a four-part strategy for achieving these goals, including: 

  • Continuous emphasis on the inventory of historic resources required by local, State and federal law; 

  • A multi-part effort designed to protect those resources; 

  • Education of a broad range of audiences that influence our ability to inventory and protect historic resources; and,

  • Creation of the administrative, financial and technical capacity to do the first three tasks well. 

Preservation of the city’s historic resources is important for at least four reasons. Preserving and restoring historic structures, districts and landscapes helps sustain what we might call the “web of urbanism,” the physical environment that supports daily life in the city. Recognizing and interpreting these resources and the stories that go with them gives us an understanding of who we are as a community and gives meaning to life in Buffalo. Preservation also supports the community’s economic development goals, attracting tourists and contributing to the quality of life that draws people and capital. At a finer grain, investments in historic properties add value to neighborhoods and encourage further investment.

Work to date on a Community Preservation Plan has been led by a broad-based stakeholder group involving leaders of key preservation organizations, foundation executives, public officials and others. The effort has also involved intensive research on national precedents and local resources by a consultant team; an educational exchange with city and preservation leaders from Pittsburgh; and work on a land and building management program by the Office of Strategic Planning.

The Preservation Plan Program Report recommends a hybrid approach to preservation planning and implementation. Other cities typically follow one of three models: preservation plans that stand alone and have strong impact on public education about preservation; preservation plans that are elements of more authoritative comprehensive plans and have the force of local policy; and preservation plans that emerge incrementally through the development of historic district designations. The report suggests that an approach synthesizing all three models is possible for Buffalo. 

Similarly, the report recommends a plan strongly rooted in public policy and public agencies but also involving responsible action by a large constituency of private and not for profit interests, including the local foundation community and leadership from the historic preservation community. The report also calls for creation of a Preservation Leadership Council made up of the presidents of preservation organizations who will facilitate the private sector component of the Preservation Plan.

Table 15 Table 15 | Historic Preservation Districts
Name Designation & Time Period Planning Community
Allentown Local, State & National: 1814 - 1935 Elmwood
Cobblestone Local Central
Delaware Local, State & National: 1859 – 1920 Elmwood
Erie Canal Local, State: 7/1/77 Multiple
Hamlin Park Local Masten
Joseph Ellicott Local, State: 1833 – 1940 Central
Linwood Local, State: 1850 - 1940 Elmwood
Michigan Street Urban Renewal Ellicott
Olmsted Parks Local, State & National: 1858 - 1903 Multiple
Parkside East Local, State & National: 1876 - 1936 North Buffalo
Parkside West Local, State & National: 1876 – 1936 North Buffalo
Theater Local, State: 1880 – 1940 Central
West Village Local, State & National: 1854 - 1914 Central

The elements of the preservation strategy include:

  1. A complete inventory of Landmarks, Districts, residential and other properties, streets, pedestrian ways and other urban and landscape features to be incorporated into the plan through the land and building management program of OSP. The inventory should catalog the heritage designation of each individual property and district, the measure of protection afforded to it, and its ownership, use, age and physical condition. 
    It should also consider for designation properties based on their association with the life of a significant member of the community; their role in an important historic event; the significance of the building type, architectural style, period, builder or architect; or its significance in the context of surrounding urban fabric. New districts should be considered if they contain a group of buildings that are significant due to workmanship, age, beauty or uniqueness; the area has historical significance related to an important person, event or community activity; or the area offers a definite sense of place and time through common elements, focal buildings or landscape features.

  2. An approach to protection of historic resources that emphasizes maintaining the “web of urbanism” through a moratorium on demolitions other than those necessary for the preservation of public health; pedestrian-oriented approaches to redevelopment; a moratorium on the creation of surface parking lots; unifying landscapes and streetscapes; providing guidelines for new development in historic districts; and, “buttoning up” or “mothballing” important buildings until their restoration can be accomplished. The protection strategy also calls for a focus of resources on historic districts in Allentown, the West Village, and Hamlin Park because of their proximity to concentrations of other investments in the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, Downtown, and the Canisius College area, respectively.

  3. A program of education that addresses the wide variety of constituencies that are needed to support the identification, designation, preservation, interpretation, marketing and promotion of Buffalo’s historic resources. This work should include revision and republication of Protecting Buffalo’s Best…Operations and Procedures of the Buffalo Preservation Board (1990), a comprehensive guide to the substantive, legal, regulatory and procedural work of preservation in Buffalo. Other educational programs should be developed for the benefit of front-line tourism industry workers who are the first line of contact for heritage and culture visitors; staff of courts and public agencies who deal with preservation matters; and tours, conferences, workshops and publications for the general public, including school-age children.

  4. Improving the capacity of preservation agencies and organizations to provide financial and administrative support and technical assistance to implement the inventory, protection and education elements of the strategy. The ultimate aim is for the community to develop a self-sustaining preservation organization that educates, advocates, acquires sites and properties, and sells developed sites for preservation investments.

A key element of this capacity will be to create a strategic resource fund gathering resources from government, foundations, and financial institutions. Such a fund will give the preservation community the ability to stabilize historic structures that are not ready for commercial or public investment as well as to carry out the work of inventory, designation, and education.

To make the greatest impact, preservation work must be coordinated with initiatives aimed at improving housing and neighborhoods, restoring Olmsted parks and Ellicott radials, reconstructing schools, creating new jobs, and rebuilding infrastructure. Given the volume and broad distribution of Buffalo’s 74 landmarks and ten Historic Districts, the potential for combining preservation initiatives with other investment programs touches nearly half the city (See Figure 28). 

Figure 57 Historic Landmarks and Districts

Figure 57 Historic Landmarks and Districts (Popup full image) 


2.4.27 Environment Management

Implementation of Comprehensive Plan policies regarding a range of environmental issues, as well as a concern for the protection and repair of the broad fabric of the city, requires creation of an Environmental Management System (EMS) to manage a process of comprehensive environmental quality review (as per the State’s Environmental Quality Review Act) with attention focused on operational efficiencies, physical development activities, and the quality of community life.

An Environmental Management System that would facilitate target setting and performance evaluation and provides a stronger basis for assessing sustainability is clearly needed as a foundation for a full-fledged Environmental Plan, and should be developed as a part of the City’s and the region’s planning processes. This may take several years of effort. The Environmental Management System would include a comprehensive database, and a set of indicators that would allow the City and citizens to understand environmental conditions so that they can plan for restoration and enhancement of Buffalo’s ecosystem within the Great Lakes and global context. 

In the meantime, and in keeping with this proposal, the intent of the Comprehensive Plan is to integrate full consideration of environmental implications into every project covered by the plan. Each City project and each project requiring City approval would be assessed by the Office for the Environment, and modified if necessary to take into account environmental requirements and perspectives. 

This recommendation emerged from the Environmental Management Commission that was mandated through the City Charter, established by Mayor Masiello in 1995, and endorsed by the Common Council. The EMC was created in recognition of the fact that resolving the community's environmental problems would be a substantial, multi-year challenge.

The Commission, supported by the Office of the Environment, developed and proposed a Buffalo Environmental Policy aimed at achieving “a safer, more attractive, more productive, more suitable environment for Buffalo.” This policy defined three critical issues: the care and protection of the city's urban natural resources, recognition of linkages between environment and human health, and respect for environmental justice. Resolution of these latter two issues requires remediation of general concerns relating to land, water, and air quality and specific contaminants such as asbestos, lead, radon, pesticides, and other hazardous substances in active use or in waste products.

Also in 2001, the Commission submitted a report to the Common Council listing a wide variety of recent and current specific actions of the City and its agencies contributing to environmental improvements. At about the same time, the Buffalo Niagara Sustainability Council developed an environmental vision to establish the City of Buffalo as a sustainable community. The group defined sustainability as putting equal emphasis on environmental quality, economic health, and social equity.

Meanwhile, Friends of the Buffalo Niagara Rivers, researched and mapped Buffalo’s “green infrastructure.” The resulting inventory documented open spaces in four categories: significant ecological areas, environmental problem areas, recreational opportunities, and areas of distinctive character. The inventory provides a valuable planning and monitoring resource for the city's physical planning and development and should be adopted accordingly.

This initiative was based on the work of the national Green Infrastructure Working Group, formed in 1999 and composed of local, state, and national government agencies and nongovernment agencies. The Working Group defines “green infrastructure” as a community’s natural life support system. It is a strategically planned and managed network of wilderness, parks, greenways, conservation easements, and working lands with conservation value that supports native species, maintains natural ecological processes, sustains air and water resources, and contributes to health and quality of life.

Through these and other efforts, a long and challenging agenda of possible municipal environmental initiatives has been put forward that includes regulation, operations, and capital works. The proposed Environmental Management System could go a long way toward implementing such an ambitious agenda.