Walkable Communities: Everywhere But Here

28 May

This story in the Buffalo News is frustrating as all hell. My own town of Clarence has two quaint little shopping districts – the Four Corners and the Hollow – and then there’s Transit Road. Two of three of those are walkable. Guess which.

I honestly cannot fathom why anyone in suburban Buffalo would be opposed to the idea of a walkable neighborhood. Would it kill people to be able to walk down to a corner store or florist or dry cleaner or coffee shop? I’m lucky. I can do that. There are loads of people who can’t, and I’m shocked that a lot of them don’t want to.

Walkable neighborhoods don’t just give you exercise and gas savings. Walkability helps build community. You see your neighbors. You walk by their homes. You become a regular at a local business. Buffalo’s suburbs need more – not less – walkability and mixed-use neighborhoods. But the suburbs aren’t the only victims. Any shops at Waterfront Village?

The Town Centre development that Benderson wants to build in Amherst is a start. It will feature retail, hotel, residential, and commercial in the complex. In Lewiston, there’s the Village at Oxbow – the first new walkable community being planned and built in WNY. I guess, as per the News article, it behooves those of us who support these sustainable, walkable communities to show up at town board meetings and speak in support of them.

How much Buffalo area progress has been stanched by an exceedingly vocal and obnoxious minority>

31 Responses to “Walkable Communities: Everywhere But Here”

  1. Mike In WNY May 28, 2008 at 11:13 pm #

    There was a lengthy article on the front page of the Amherst Bee today opposing the Town Centre project. It was based on the conclusions of Larry Hunter. I would like to see the project completed, as well as the Super WalMart at Sheridan and North Bailey.

  2. Denizen May 29, 2008 at 12:05 am #

    IIRC, Cyburbia Dan had a spot-on analysis on why suburban Buffalonians are so averse to alternative forms of development. A lot of it has to do with insular, provincial attitudes and general ignorance, along with standard issue NIMBYISM. I think his stated reasons went something like this:

    * Loud cries of local NIMBYs because of the much smaller lot sizes associated with NU. In the eyes of many, small lot sizes = cheaper houses which = people of lesser incomes living too close for comfort
    * Conservative local developers and builders leery of straying from a “tried and true” formula of single family houses on large lots in a cul-de-sac filled subdivision. (Notice how you don’t see Pulte or other nationals in the Buffalo market; just Ryan, which has local roots.)
    * Conservative lenders/bankers. See the above.
    * Land ownership/platting pattern: there are few large parcels available for a good-sized NU development, and it’s very difficult to acquire and agglomerate smaller parcels.

    As stated above, successful NU developments require very large chunks of land which tend to be hard to get in Buffalo’s suburbs. Even if those large parcels were available for development, it would require + regional population growth to make these units sell fast enough so the whole shebang can get built-out. We’re not talking a single subdivison here…think something the size of an entire city neighborhood. This is what would be needed to make any sort of walkable Main St. retail district possible in one of these developments.

    With that said, the residents quotes in the B-News article are fully of nothing but contemptible asshattery. Hats off to the small handful of developers trying to pull off smart growth/NU type projects. Too bad they have to face a few ignorant local armed with proverbial pitchforks.

  3. Eisenbart May 29, 2008 at 3:55 am #

    You “Meh”d Portlands transportation infrastructure? How could you!!!!!!

  4. Ben McD May 29, 2008 at 5:44 am #

    Part of the problem with developing neighborhoods are the ones that already exist. In order to create these walkable neighborhoods in the inner ring suburbs where there isn’t a lot of open land, you have to take land from land owners who may not want to give it up. Eminent domain comes into play and that is always a sketchy issue, even in the light of Kelo V. New London.

  5. Josh May 29, 2008 at 7:58 am #

    The comment thread for that article reads like Buffalo Rising on bad day meets an Amherst town hall meeting. As Denizen mentioned, asshattery abounds.

  6. Chaz May 29, 2008 at 8:42 am #

    People who think this is going to become a walkable destination for suburbanites need to rethink their stance. There is a lot of parking that is coming with this. This is a faux village concept which will have little impact on walkability. The obsessive need we have here in WNY for buying into these national trends is ridiculous. It is like people like Pundit think by having a Maggie Moos equates legitimizes our existance.

    What is going to happen in 10 years when the next trend comes for retail? Benderson will do what it always does by having a lot of vacant storefronts.

  7. Buffalopundit May 29, 2008 at 9:05 am #

    @Chaz – Currently, SOP in WNY is to build a massive strip mall – one that involves buildings surrounding parking. Inevitably, when one wants to get from Wal*Mart to BJ’s, one will get in the car and drive the 1/4 mile down the parking lot because walking isn’t really that exciting or useful.

    If the design is reversed, so that a walkable faux Main street has the parking away from the pedestrians, you encourage walkability in those suburban plazas such as Town Centre.

    It’s funny you rag on WNY for “buying into” national trends, because we haven’t yet. We still are in a 1950s shopping center mentality while the rest of the country has begun leaving that behind. And I’ve never heard of Maggie Moos, so I don’t understand the condescending reference.

    What is going to happen in 10 years when the next trend comes for retail? Nothing. Buffalo will continue to be 20 years behind, as it is with just about every innovative idea.

  8. KevinP May 29, 2008 at 9:07 am #

    I found this cool place called “the city” that’s pretty walkable.

  9. Chaz May 29, 2008 at 9:21 am #

    @buffalopundit

    Your arguements are weak at best.

    Is Buffalo really 20 years behind? Behind what? Behind because you say it is?

    Most suburbs around the nation closely resemble Crapherst and Clarencesspool.

    It is suburbanites like you who are killing this region. I bet you live in a walkable neighborhood and community. Right?

  10. KevinP May 29, 2008 at 9:23 am #

    Oh, and there’s another called “Kenmore”. And don’t forget Williamsville.

    Most of the first ring suburbs have walkable areas to which you can move, you just have to make it a priority to find them.

  11. Merr May 29, 2008 at 9:30 am #

    I would have to agree with Chaz, the WNY suburbs are no different that most other suburbs around the country. I’m sure there are some that are walkable, but I’m betting that’s the exception, not the rule.

    It seems to me, if you want walkable neighborhoods move into the city. If you don’t mind being spread out, etc. live in the suburbs. I’m not sure it makes sense to try to make the ‘burbs into the city.

  12. Buffalopundit May 29, 2008 at 9:30 am #

    @Chaz – next time, try reading the post before typing out cretinous things.

  13. Buffalopundit May 29, 2008 at 9:35 am #

    @KevinP & @Merr:

    Yes, one could move into the City or to Williamsville or to Kenmore. Or one could also choose to try and get new developments and existing developments in the suburbs to be more walkable than they already are (or aren’t).

    When one chooses where to live, one performs a balancing act, no? You balance convenience versus schools; new build versus old housing stock, etc. I see nothing inherently wrong, counterproductive, or silly about wanting sidewalks or land use reform.

  14. KevinP May 29, 2008 at 10:21 am #

    Pundit, I agree that getting existing developments to be more walkable is a laudable goal.

    But the whole “new development” thing is getting old for me. Next up to be drained of population are the first-ring suburbs like Tonawanda, Kenmore, Cheektowaga and the like as people move further and further out.

    I know, their choice, free markets, etc., etc. But at what cost?

  15. Buffalopundit May 29, 2008 at 10:35 am #

    The first challenge would seem to be to get people to agree that this is a laudable goal. Then, apply it to existing developments as well as requiring it for future ones.

  16. Russell May 29, 2008 at 10:41 am #

    Yep, everyone plays the balancing act. Then someone comes up with a plan to add the things you feel you gave up in that tradeoff. The only problem is some people were willing to give those things up and didn’t feel like it was a tradeoff. That’s what they like about their community. The solution to that is to attack them as backwards, slack-jawed yokels who are behind the times and don’t know a good thing when it comes along. Everyone has to share your view on all things, or they’re just clueless or racist or behind the times.

    I now live in the city because I like the houses there, the convenience and I found a great community. That’s good for me and fine if it’s not good for you. If someone who has lived in a certain community for 30 years in Amherst and doesn’t want it to change because it is just the way the want it, what’s so wrong with that?

  17. indabuff May 29, 2008 at 11:48 am #

    I am with Kevin P…when is enough enough with this ever outward push of a dwindling population base and development…

    I read yesterday that Martin Short (Kevin Gaughan) was back in the news talking consolidation…our multiple levels and repetition of government services are definitely issues…but where we fail even more so in regional thinking is the manner in which we allow growth in an area that is not growing…developers like Benderson are sucking the region dry…

    These “lifestyle centers” are glorified plazas and not some quaint little business strip or district in a village…wow…parking is out back and you have to walk outside to go business to business…

  18. indabuff May 29, 2008 at 11:53 am #

    Oh…I think walkable communities are a laudable goal…

  19. Buffalopundit May 29, 2008 at 11:59 am #

    @indabuff – Then you’re contradicting yourself. Yes, a lifestyle center is a glorified plaza, but so what? You said it yourself – the point is that you walk from business to business.

    If it’s just another plaza, then they should build it, right? I mean, there’s a big different to expressing your disinterest in the idea versus deliberately opposing it.

  20. Mike In WNY May 29, 2008 at 12:00 pm #

    Then, apply it to existing developments as well as requiring it for future ones.

    People have an inherent right to choose the type of area to live and what to do with their own property. Just as developers who own land should have a right to spend their money the way they see fit. Requiring certain types of development (it does happen now)goes too far.

    Portland was mentioned in this thread. The city bowed to the Gods of NU and drove many people out of the city because they couldn’t afford to live there anymore. Also, sprawl was increased as people sought out areas even further from the city to escape the onerous building restrictions and regulations. Portlandization
    is a term coined to describe the negative effects of NU in Portland.

    So bad are the effects of the smart-growth plan adopted by Portland, that in policy circles the term “Portlandization” has been coined as a shorthand reference for a set of policies that lead to increased housing costs, artificially inflated property values, lower rates of home ownership, and policy-induced sprawl beyond the reach of urban land use-regulations.

  21. indabuff May 29, 2008 at 12:38 pm #

    @BuffaloPundit

    You got me there Alan…

    – – –

    But…I do think the crazed development of new land in region that continues to shrink is not very forward thinking…I do wonder what the cost is…

  22. Chris Smith May 29, 2008 at 12:43 pm #

    I think ClarencePundit should hop in his suburban death machine and move to Portland. What has he ever done for the community besides sit around and bitch?

    /beating some moron to the punch

  23. sbrof May 29, 2008 at 1:03 pm #

    Only poor people walk and most people in Clarence and Amherst don’t want to be associated with such pedestrian activities.

  24. reflip May 29, 2008 at 1:17 pm #

    I’ve been to Easton Town Center. Taken as a whole, the place is “mixed use.” But really it is just a cluster of 3 things: an outdoor mall/large retail area complete with its own “walkable” streets; an office park; an “urban style” rowhouse development. There is a 6 lane highway that divides the retail sector from the housing sector.

    All of this is built on a greenfield off the interstate highway in the middle of what appears to be nowhere.

    It requires less land than traditional sprawl. But it also requires a car to go there. And I would venture a guess that some of the people who live in the housing development still drive to the other side of the highway to get to the shopping area.

    I would not hold this place up as an example of “what we should be doing.” It is sprawl light, if you will, and it constitutes the same mindset as traditional sprawl. That is, find cheap, available exurban land and build cheap buildings there to maximize profits. Insert large chain stores whenever possible.

    New Urbanism is more about creating residential neighborhoods where people can walk to school, the park, the grocery store, a general commercial strip and their place of business. The mindset is different.

    I would just like to point out that walking in and of itself is not the ultimate goal here (vis-a-vis sustainability, gas prices, oil consumption, etc.). I mean, the Galleria Mall is certainly “walkable.” I walk from store to store all the time. But I have to drive to get there. That is the fundamental issue that New Urbanism tries to address. Lack of walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods. I don’t think New Urbanists would be thrilled by the idea of putting an apartment complex next to the mall and calling it “walkable urbanism.”

  25. Russell May 29, 2008 at 1:51 pm #

    Not only have I been to Easton Town Center, but I worked there and worked for two of the corporations headquartered in those grounds. One other point that reflip did not mention that is important to keep in mind is that this was not put up in a residential area. It was already a commercial area with strips malls and large stores all around it. And the few sets of rowhouses in that area were not exactly anything that would qualify the area as residential. Yes, it was a convenient and fun place to go, but it was not exactly the next best thing in development. It was really just built as a means for Mr. Wexner to show off his stores close to their main offices.

  26. dave in Rocha May 29, 2008 at 3:49 pm #

    “I found this cool place called “the city” that’s pretty walkable.”

    I couldn’t agree more.

  27. Denizen May 30, 2008 at 1:16 am #

    I bet Mike in WNY has never actually visited Portland, OR.

  28. Dan May 30, 2008 at 9:18 am #

    Denzien: thanks for the quote!

    Here’s what I posted a while back to a NU mailing list. Andres Duany, of all people, write back to say he agreed.

    [begin]

    I’m working on an article describing why NU is nonexistent in Buffalo, and rare in the Great Lakes region: “No NUs in Buffalo: Why The Rust Belt Rejects New Urbanism”. A summary of the major reasons I think NU is not part of the planning and development picture in the region:

    * Negative associations with urban-like built environments are still stuck in the heads of much of an insular and aging population, thanks to lots of cultural baggage left over from years of decline, flight, and racial tensions.

    * Very low land values offer no incentive for compact development. Developers can build $200K houses on 1/2 acre lots and still make a tidy profit.

    * Outdated zoning codes often have no PUD requirements, or mandate very low maximum densities in PUDs and even multi-family districts. We’re talking about codes that still mention telegraph offices and haberdasheries.

    * Conservative local developers and builders are leery of straying from a “tried and true” formula of single family houses on large lots in a cul-de-sac filled subdivision. There’s nothing on the ground in the area, so they’re leery of being the guinea pig for NU.

    * Conservative lenders/bankers. See the above.

    * Land ownership/platting pattern: there are few large parcels available for a good-sized NU development, and it’s very difficult to acquire and agglomerate smaller parcels.

    * Possible cries of NIMBY because of the much smaller lot sizes associated with NU are likely. The small lot suburban development (5,000-6,000’^2 lots) that is the norm in California, Colorado and the Sunbelt is rare or nonexistent in post-1960 Rust Belt suburbia; those in the Rust Belt aren’t accustomed to the sight of higher density suburbs. In the eyes of many, small lot sizes = cheaper houses and more intensive traffic.

    * In New York state, there is the possibility of opposition from local governments if developed as single-family condominiums, due to lower property tax rates.

    * There is widespread belief that cities should copy the built environment of its suburbs. The roots of this may be a spurious relationship logical fallacy. “Amherst is growing. Amherst is dominated by low-density residential development. Therefore, Amherst is growing because it is dominated by low-density residential development on winding drives and cul-de-sacs. For Buffalo to grow, it needs to be more like Amherst, and have plenty of low-density residential development in loop-and-lollypop subdivisions too.”

    * Desperate local officials have low expectations and a fear of scaring developers away from their communities by asking for more than the bare minimum. “Any development is better than no development.”

    * Perceptions of design limitations; not just the usual concerns about emergency vehicles but also about snow storage.

  29. Dan May 30, 2008 at 9:25 am #

    I should mention that in another article, I mentioned that Buffalo’s developers and builders are mostly locals, with very limited capital. They just can’t pull off the large NU projects that the national developers — with no presence in Buffalo — can do.

    Oddly, Buffalo has PLENTY of examples of what was considered cutting-edge residential planning at the time the projects were conceived and built: Audubon New Town (early 1970s), Ransom Oaks (early 1970s), Willowridge (1960s), and Green Acres (1950s; Buffalo’s Levittown).

  30. reflip June 9, 2008 at 11:40 am #

    Pictures of Kentlands:

    http://www.beyonddc.com/features/kentlands.html

    This is New Urbanism. It was designed by DPZ, “the” NU architectural firm. Benderson Development does not equal DPZ. Also, if you wanted to caption any of these photos, my suggestion would be: NOT COMING TO WNY.

    This whole “lifestyle center” concept in retail reminds me of the episode of The Simpson’s where Lisa creates a new doll – one that presents an empowering image of women – to compete with Malibu Stacy, only to be outdone when the makers of the Malibu Stacy doll create a version of their doll that features a new hat.

    New Urbanism = Lisa’s doll. Lifestyle center = Malibu Stacy’s new hat.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. eriepressible™ » I’ve Said It Before And I’ll Say It Again - May 29, 2008

    […] I have several links in my sidebar leading to information on the subject. And, yesterday, Buffalo Pundit blogged about it. What, you might ask, am I prattling on about? Walkability, that’s […]

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