2.2 Development Scenarios

In addition to research on precedents, conditions and trends, as well as broad-based public consultations, this plan was based on a thoughtful comparison of alternative development scenarios. This analysis was intended to estimate and compare the results likely to be achieved through effective implementation of several alternative approaches to the redevelopment of Buffalo.

Four general scenarios were compared: 

  • A: “Trend” – assuming that the City and region would continue with planning, capital investment and development policies and programs similar to those that have been pursued in recent years.

  • B: “Urban Revitalization” – assuming that planning and redevelopment efforts would be focused on the revitalization of Buffalo’s neighborhoods, house by house and block by block.

  • C: “Corridor/ Activity Center” – assuming redevelopment efforts would be directed toward key economic generators such as major transportation corridors and the Downtown.

  • D: “Integrated Regional Center” – assuming the City will pursue both repair of the urban fabric and redevelopment of key economic generators in an integrated strategy. 

The alternative scenario analysis was based on one simple idea – that it is possible to change the direction of the city by changing the direction of Buffalo’s planning, capital investment and development priorities, policies and programs. That means choosing the right scenario and strategy can make the difference between meeting the goal of this plan and failing to do so. 

Figure 41 Integration

Figure 41 Integration (Popup full image) 

2.2.1 Alternative A: Trend

This scenario estimates what might happen if Buffalo continues with current policies of deferred maintenance and capital investment in the "basics" of the city, without reform of basic service provision and economic development programs, without stronger planning and coordination internal to City government, and in the absence of closer coordination of reinvestment policies with other governments within the region. Environmental review of pending investment decisions would continue to be cut short, sacrificing long term sustainability for short term economic returns. Implementation of smart growth principles would be spotty, at best. And the current level of effort in both maintenance and development programs would continue based on current streams of revenue. 

Under this scenario, in 2030 it is likely that Buffalo would still be losing population to surrounding suburbs and beyond and that economic growth would continue to lag behind other parts of the nation and even other regions in upstate New York. There would be too few new jobs created to retain Buffalo’s young people. City government would still be under severe financial pressure – perhaps still under the supervision of the control board – and taxes would still be high relative to other areas. Private sector investment would be inhibited and public investments would be made in a vain attempt to catch up with a decades-long backlog of basic infrastructure projects. The quality of the urban environment would continue to decline. 

Given such circumstances, it seems reasonable to project a continuation of recent trends in population and employment for the City, the County and the MSA. Two more decades of gradual population loss would bring Buffalo’s population to less than 240,000 – an annual loss of more than 2,000 residents. Meanwhile, Erie County and the larger Buffalo-Niagara MSA might be expected to have recouped much of the losses suffered by the City since 2000. However, they could not be expected to show a return to more healthy rates of growth because of the spillover effects of urban decline. 

2.2.2 Alternative B: Urban Revitalization

This scenario estimates what might be the impact if the City were to place its strongest priority on preserving and rehabilitating housing stock, reinvesting in the overall physical fabric of the city, and attempting to revitalize most – if not all – of Buffalo’s neighborhoods. Such a strategy would respond to persistent demands to meet local needs and to provide assistance to those who have the least capacity to address these issues on their own. City government has direct control and responsibility for issues of housing and neighborhood development. The City would focus efforts of reform on those elements of the municipal administration that deal with these matters. However, the strategy would leave to other levels of government or the private sector the work of economic development. 

Under this scenario, it is likely that Buffalo in 2030 would see many of its neighborhoods rejuvenated with an increase in housing occupancy and a modest upturn in population. In the absence of leadership and investment by City government, however, it is not clear who will have undertaken critical large-scale economic investment initiatives or environmental regeneration projects or whether they will have been done at all. Moreover, neighborhood revitalization efforts would likely have been limited by the lack of jobs the larger scale economic development initiatives would have generated. With a focus on needs at the local and neighborhood scale, it is also likely that the City will have neglected those relationships with others in the region that are necessary for it to advance. Smart growth and sustainable development strategies will have been undertaken at the neighborhood level but not broadly enough to make a major difference. 

Under these circumstances, it is likely that Buffalo would be able to stop the long-term decline in population. But City residents would continue to go to work in suburban locations in increasing numbers and Buffalo’s regional functions would continue to erode to the periphery. Population loss in the city might be reversed by about 2020 and would increase modestly in the years following to reach a level of 250,000 to 260,000 by 2030. 

2.2.3 Alternative C: Corridor/ Activity Center

This scenario estimates what might be the impact if redevelopment efforts in Buffalo were to focus on the economic “big picture” and emphasize planning and investment in large-scale projects intended to generate new jobs in large numbers. Such projects would focus on improving transportation and utility corridors, promoting investment and job growth in Downtown, and making large investments in economic sectors understood to have strategic importance for regional growth. These initiatives would be accompanied by efforts to establish stronger relationships with public and private sector partners at the regional scale and beyond and to establish new arrangements for planning, development, and cooperation throughout the MSA. 

Under this scenario, it is likely that job growth at the regional level will recover strongly, but the benefits for current residents of the city are less easy to predict. Certainly, significant municipal capital resources – as well as time and attention – that might have been directed to the redevelopment of Buffalo neighborhoods would be diverted elsewhere. The Downtown will likely have grown, but some of the city’s most distressed neighborhoods would have declined even further and, perhaps, ceased to exist. There is some danger that remnants of existing neighborhoods would face new land use conflicts with expanding industries, raising issues of environmental justice. Smart growth principles might be implemented Downtown or more broadly in the region, but in neighborhoods without new investment, such principles would be largely irrelevant. 

Under these circumstances, it is possible that the long-term decline in city population would be reversed sooner than in the “Trend” or “Urban Revitalization” scenarios. But it is also possible that population increases attributable to new job growth would occur in suburban areas where residential environments and housing choices would be broader and more attractive. In the best case, the city population may rebound to 275,000 or 280,000 people by 2030. 

2.2.4 Alternative D: Integrated Regional Center

This scenario estimates the impact of a strategy that integrates elements of the “Urban Revitalization” strategy and the “Corridor/ Activity Center” strategy within a balanced program of investments in economic development and repair of the urban fabric. It would include efforts to improve housing and reinvest in neighborhood infrastructure, and revitalize the larger infrastructure of city life, including parks, schools, utilities and transportation. But it would also make critical investments in major economic development initiatives – to reclaim brownfields for redevelopment, invest in strategic growth industries such as health care and tourism, support Downtown redevelopment, and more. 

This strategy would take to heart the concept of sustainability, making sure to integrate economic, environmental and social considerations in planning and development decisions. It would implement smart growth principles at the local as well as regional scale. Reform of municipal functions, such as planning and housing development, would go forward at the same time the City builds new relationships with regional partners for coordinated growth. Such a strategy would align the Buffalo Comprehensive Plan with other regional initiatives such as the Erie Niagara Framework for Regional Growth, the Regional Economic Development Strategy, Buffalo Niagara Cultural Tourism Initiative and others. It would include establishment of an environmental management system and facilitate thorough execution of State SEQRA requirements. 

Such a strategy is capable of fully achieving the goal of the Comprehensive Plan. If the strategy is effectively implemented the decline in city population can be expected to be reversed at the end of ten years and begin to grow again through 2030. At this rate it will have reached a level of 295,000 to 305,000 by the end of the planning period. However, such a strategy requires greater resources than are available to the City now. Even if City government does everything within its power to control costs, improve efficiency, and leverage its resources, the plan cannot be implemented without additional resources. Success will require agreement among City, County, State and federal governments for a special Buffalo Development Program to deliver an additional $35 million in capital investments annually for a ten year period. The program is described in detail on pages 109 to 111. 

The “Integrated Regional Center” strategy under scenario D is the only one of the four examined that can fully achieve the goal of the plan, and then only with additional capital assistance as stipulated. It is the preferred scenario and the one on which the Comprehensive Plan is based.

2.2.5 Methodological Assumptions

The population and employment projections for Alternative D were based on a series of key assumptions. Fulfillment of the projections require that local, State and federal governments continue cooperative efforts to promote the transition to a new economy for Buffalo and maintain support for existing industry; that economic development agencies are reorganized consistent with the report entitled One Stop Shopping; that the City of Buffalo implements the priority policies specified in this plan; and that the private sector responds to public policy and participates in the rebuilding of Buffalo as described here. These projections also assume that the overall U.S. economy and the economy of New York State will continue to recover and achieve long-term growth again. 

Most of all, this projection is based on the assumption that investments called for in this plan will improve the economic competitiveness of Buffalo-based firms, enhance the quality of the urban environment, and strengthen local neighborhoods, thus promoting private sector investment and, hence, both job growth and population increase within the city. Even so, the decline in population will likely continue until about 2010. Once planned investments are put in place and begin to have an impact, slow growth in employment and population will begin gathering momentum as the Comprehensive Plan is further implemented. Population growth is projected to run at about 0.5 percent per year from 2010 to 2015 and about one percent from 2015 to 2030 (See Table 9). Total employment is projected to have recovered to a level of 120,000 to 125,000 (See Table 10). 

Table 9 Buffalo-Niagara MSA Population Projections
Area 1990 2000 2010 2020 2030
City of Buffalo          
Scenario A 328,123 292,648 263,384 237,046 235,861
Scenario B     263,384 237,046 248,896
Scenario C     263,384 283,138 297,295
Scenario D     270,700 291,003 305,553
Buffalo and Erie County *          
Buffalo 328,123 292,648 270,700 291,003 305,553
Other EC 640,409 657,617 675,373 691,608 701,291
Total EC 968,532 950,265 946,073 982,611 1,006,844
Buffalo and Erie County **          
Buffalo 328,123 292,648 270,700 291,003 305,553
Other EC 640,409 657,617 690,498 742,285 779,399
Total EC 968,532 950,265 961,198 1,033,288 1,070,402
Buffalo and MSA *          
Buffalo 328,123 292,648 270,700 291,003 305,553
Other MSA 861,165 877,463 894,135 961,195 1,009,255
Total MSA 1,189,288 1,170,111 1,164,835 1,252,198 1,314,808

Notes for City of Buffalo population projections

Scenario A: Current population trend projected to 2030 at -10% per decade.

Scenario B: Current population trend reverses in 2020, and begins to increase by 5% in period 2020 to 2030

Scenario C: Current population trend reverses in 2010, increases by 7.5% from 2010 to 2020, then by 5% to 2030

Scenario D: Population declines by 7.5% from 2000 to 2010, then increases by 7.5% from 2010 to 2020, and by 5% to 2030

*City of Buffalo population projected as per Scenario D

Notes for Buffalo-Niagara MSA population projections

Remainder of area projected at present rate of increase; Erie County (other than Buffalo) at 2.7% per decade; MSA (other than Buffalo) at 1.9%, to 2030

**City of Buffalo population projected as per Scenario D

Remainder of Erie County and MSA (other than Buffalo) projected to increase by 5% from 2000 to 2010; 7.5 % from 2010 to 2020; and 5% from 2020 to 2030.

Table 10 City of Buffalo Employment Projections
Scenario 1990 2000 2010 2020 2030
  131,001 114,062 103,711 101,191 99,931
      103,711 101,191 106,143
      103,711 111,489 117,063
      109,652 114,586 123,315
  57.90% 58.40% 59.00% 59.50% 60.00%

Notes for employment projections.

Employment projections: OSP Community Planning