2.1 Key Principles

The Comprehensive Plan is driven by a small and simple set of key principles that have helped identify the development priorities of the plan. These include the concept of sustainability, the planning and design ideas incorporated in the smart growth movement, and two other simple rules: fix the basics and build on the assets.  

2.1.1 Sustainability

The concept of sustainability is woven throughout the fabric of the Comprehensive Plan and it should be a fundamental guiding principle, applied systemically, as Buffalo carries the plan forward to implementation. It is in the interests of the city, as well as the entire planet, that Buffalo pursue a strategy of development that satisfies the primary criterion of sustainability: “to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” 

This plan makes no false choices between protecting the environment, growing the economy, and developing the community. All three of these factors must advance together or they cannot advance at all in a sustainable way. 

Both city government and citizens have already embraced the concept of sustainability, but the work has only begun. With this plan, the City of Buffalo continues the work of specifying what sustainability means in practical terms. The City should support efforts by the Buffalo Niagara Sustainability Council to expand public awareness, formulate and apply key principles, and create regional indicators to measure progress toward sustainability. The council’s anticipated “Regional Sustainability Plan” deserves encouragement, too. 

In general, achieving sustainable development will require initiatives to reduce the consumption of energy, land and other non-renewable resources; minimize the waste of materials, water and other limited resources; create livable, healthy and productive environments, and; reduce greenhouse gasses in order to assist in alleviating the impact of global climate change. 

For Buffalo, in particular, achieving sustainability will mean restoring the physical environment of the city, making the transition to a 21st century economy, promoting energy conservation and use of alternative energy sources, reclaiming old industrial lands, improving public transportation, managing land use for a more efficient urban form, strengthening Downtown as the center of the region, developing waterfront resources, preserving housing and strengthening city neighborhoods, improving water quality, reducing air pollution, and much more. 

2.1.2 Smart Growth

Consistent with the idea of sustainability, the planning and urban design principles of smart growth have been fully integrated into the Comprehensive Plan. A movement of planners and designers has created principles of smart growth in recent decades as a means to limit urban sprawl and make better communities. 

Followed carefully, smart growth principles can help conserve land, protect environmental resources, promote more efficient multi-modal transportation, create healthy neighborhoods and Downtowns, conserve energy, foster community involvement, support the creation of affordable housing and more. 

Smart growth principles can be implemented by states, regions, cities or neighborhoods through planning and zoning ordinances, development regulations, public incentives, and regulations like urban growth boundaries. New York State has taken a less aggressive approach to smart growth than other states, but planners and policy makers here are exploring how to improve patterns of urban development. 

Smart growth principles have most often been applied in regions where there is much growth to manage. But Buffalo-Niagara needs smart growth, too, to control sprawl on the suburban periphery, strengthen inner-ring suburbs, and redevelop neighborhoods in the urban core. The Comprehensive Plan calls for the City to adopt ten basic principles of smart growth: 


  1. Mix land uses

  2. Take advantage of compact building Design

  3. Create a range of housing opportunities and choices

  4. Create walkable neighborhoods

  5. Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place

  6. Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas

  7. Strengthen and direct development towards existing communities

  8. Provide a variety of transportation choices

  9. Make development decisions predictable, fair and cost-effective

  10. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions

Buffalo can set the example for the rest of the region by adopting these smart growth principles and by working with policy-makers at the regional and state levels to establish policies and programs that will promote more efficient and attractive patterns of development. 

Application of smart growth principles is indispensable for Buffalo, both in implementing the Comprehensive Plan and preparing for its eventual success. Smart growth principles can help us guide investment decisions and stimulate development and it can help us better cope with new growth when it resumes. 

2.1.3 Fix the Basics, Build on Assets

Finally, the Comprehensive Plan is driven by two simple but interrelated common sense principles. First, the City must concentrate on fixing the basics in provision of municipal services and maintenance of the public environment. Second, the City must always try to build on the assets of the community. Applied as a dual decision rule for policy making and priority setting, the mantra of “fix the basics and build on assets” can help sort out what we must do from all the things we might do.

The first order of business for local government is to meet its primary obligation to provide basic services and maintain the urban environment to reasonable standards and at a reasonable cost. In times of crisis, and through periods of decline, there may be a temptation to reduce services or defer maintenance and reinvestment in public infrastructure and the urban environment. This may seem to make sense in the short term when the necessary resources are not available. But in the long run such practices serve only to exacerbate the dynamics of disinvestment, population migration, shrinking revenues and overall decline. In so far as possible within the current financial situation, the City of Buffalo must rededicate itself to fixing these basics.

Secondly, any strategy for the revitalization of the city must always consider Buffalo’s extraordinary civic assets as the foundation of further action. We must always build on these assets: our Olmsted parks and parkways, our Joseph Ellicott city plan, our great waterfront, prodigious infrastructure, great public institutions of education, health care, art and culture, affordable housing and strong neighborhoods, and most of all the civic capital of active citizens and friendly neighbors.

Each element that the Comprehensive Plan addresses is in some measure one of the “basics” and almost always involves some kind of “asset.” Buffalo’s sewer and water systems, streets and highways, parks and parkways, school system, utilities, housing, bus and rail transit system, its supply of buildings and land, and many other aspects of the city are all part of what makes up the “basics” of quality urban living. At the same time, each is also an asset. What becomes clear is that where the “basics” and “assets” come together, the Comprehensive Plan sets a priority to act.