What Old White People Like: Waterfront Edition

24 Nov

I’ve learned a lot during the last two weeks of attending/viewing the series of open houses hosted by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) at which they are soliciting public input on the Canal Side Modified General Project Plan (MGPP).

Most importantly, I’ve learned a lot about what old white people want to see on the waterfront.  Of course, there is a difference between “places” and “things”, but that nuance seems to escape them. We’ve already written a couple hundred thousand words discussing Bass Pro, Canal Side and our analysis of the project, but I’ll write a few more.  I’ll also encourage you to attend the final session tomorrow at the ECHDC offices between 10AM-Noon.

Here’s a summary of what I’ve learned from the various public speakers at this event:

Roughly 75% of the speakers have informed the ECHDC that the Hamburg Drain needs to be moved.  What’s the Hamburg Drain you ask? It’s the fourth largest and third most active Combined Sewer Overflow in the Buffalo Sewer Authority. It’s kind of a big deal in the sewage community.    Click here to read why its important, seriously.  As part of the environmental review process, the ECHDC did an analysis of the drain and its impact on the project, you can and should read it here.  It also sits directly under the Aud Block and its location prohibits the types of structures or canals that can be placed on the site.

The presence of the drain prohibits the digging of navigable canals thus necessitating the dreaded “faux” canal, for instance.  The Hamburg Drain was modified at great expense several years ago to make room for the Commercial Slip on the Inner Harbor.  Estimates to remove it or completely redirect it range anywhere from $75-100MM.  Of course, the sum total of available monies for the Canal Side project are somewhere around $100-140MM.  None of the people, when questioned by ECHDC officials have any concept as to what is involved with removal, the scope of the project nor the cost.  They just want it removed.   So, there’s that.

Each speaker is demanding “dialogue”.  Going back through available press releases, we were notified and then notified our readers of 26 public meetings of the ECHDC since 2007.   That does not include the mandated environmental review meetings which were well-attended, we even streamed those meetings online.  There are very simple ways to contact the ECHDC on their website and their doors are always open.  The ECHDC has initiated several community committees that have been working with them on the historic narrative, museums, public art, recreation, public market, boating, and other issues.  Involvement and dialogue have been everywhere for three years.  That didn’t stop one speaker yesterday from saying “I wasn’t even aware any of this was happening until Mark Goldman told me about it.”  Of course, she wants a pause until she can get caught up on what’s happening.  Also, she hasn’t read all the information yet, she just knows it’s not authentic.

Let’s make a short list of the things people have told us they would like to see implemented at the Inner Harbor and/or their opinions about what is planned.  Note my purposeful overuse of the word “need”, I heard it during each speaker’s comments.  Also, none of this is exaggerated or made up.  These are all things people asked for or said.

  • We need to move the Hamburg drain so we can have navigable canals connected to the lake and the river
  • We need an Ellis Island like historical museum replete with a huge statue of John Wilkinson, a museum which lists all of the people who ever traveled on the Erie Canal on a “Wall of Fame”.
  • Tucker Curtin of Dug’s Dive wants us to slow this 50 year process the fuck down and “jam it in reverse”.  Of course, in the interim, he’d be glad to open a series of food stands at which he can sell moderately priced delicacies to the people coming to look at the hole in the ground.
  • We need restrooms with showers so boaters can get clean.
  • We need to look to Dunkirk’s waterfront for inspiration on how things should look
  • We need an underground parking garage, no we don’t, yes we do, people can walk, no they won’t, they can take the train, build a new train, maybe an outdoor airport-style people mover, connect the train to UB/Hamburg/Tonawanda.  It’s all real easy!  Why is ECHDC making it so tough?
  • We need to make authentic fake history, not fake fake history.  We need authentic low slung docks with handicap accessibility for kayakers who struggle with stairs.  Yes, really.  We also need special parking for kayakers.
  • It would be cool if we had radio controlled boats on the authentic canal, not fake canals because that would be tacky.
  • We need to have authentic boats, not toy boats or paddle boats.  Radio controlled boat guy visibly annoyed.
  • We should dig up a schooner off the coast of Dunkirk (80% of the ship has been consumed by the elements) and put it in a huge tank of water on the aud block.  Which, of course, necessitates the need to move the Hamburg drain as the imagined tank of water containing 20% of a schooner would presumably be too heavy.
  • One speaker has independently been trying to “lure” LL Bean here for a decade.  Can ECHDC finish what he started?
  • We need wading pools, spray fountains, the schooner, oh and it would be great if we had ice rinks and that solar powered carousel thing and “food sources”.
  • We need whimsical and serendipitous situations inspired by nature.  We don’t need buildings, we need trees, green roofs, community gardens, and we can reduce the need for the hamburg drain by using vegetative swails.
  • Kayak lady wants authenticity while asking for kayak accommodations.  Early 19th century recreational kayakers agree.
  • Bike museum from Orchard Park was mentioned ten times on Tuesday, seven times on Monday, five times last week.  Bike museum guy is looking to sell it to ECHDC or someone else, it’s his retirement fund.
  • All streets must be authentically cobbled, preferably with era-sensitive stones.  Authenticity is a must and the Hamburg drain needs to be moved, and I quote, “I have no idea what’s involved in that, but it needs to go, ASAP”
  • We need this to look like San Antonio.  In fact, I once read about a guy from Hawaii who does really nice murals.  I don’t know his name or who he is, but ECHDC should definitely call him.
  • A guy from Buffalo who says, “The Authority lacks expertise, the whole thing looks fake,  It needs more authenticity, what’s being put in brand new here looks worse than brand new stuff being put in in other places.”  His qualifications?  He was wearing a blue shirt.
  • It would be great if we could put in a houseboat community or shantytown that exaggerates the scale of the grain silos.  In fact, we can use the grain silos as ice climbing structures.
  • We should connect the light rail with UB
  • We need a museum that features other museums and tells people how to get to the bigger museum
  • We need to move the Central Library or Convention Center to this neighborhood.  But, those buildings should be authentic.
  • Connect the light rail with the central terminal and hire blues performers and historical interpreters to walk the streets of Canal Side year round.

None of these things are necessarily dumb or bad ideas.  They are all valid things that people would like to see built with their tax dollars.  The problem is that if their idea is not built, they’ll have a sad.  Some might even decide to sue or work actively against the implementation of a different idea.  It’s what often happens with crowdsourced solutions.  They can’t ALL be used and many people who spoke have not read the actual MGPP to know what’s actually happening at Canal Side.  Also, who has the time to properly vet each and every one of these ideas?  Who decides what gets considered and what doesn’t?  Do we not like those deciders or do we need different deciders?  It’s all quite bizarre.

Anyone here familiar with the term bikeshedding? It is a geeky term used to describe lengthy technical disputes over minor, marginal issues while more serious issues are being overlooked. The implied image is of people arguing over what color to paint the bicycle shed while the house is not finished. This process DEFINES bikeshedding. This series of blue sky brainstorming sessions with a crowd is happening when we should be working seriously with professionals appointed by our elected leaders to create the infrastructure to support a new neighborhood.

At this point, the ECHDC staff and board are meeting regularly with Mark and Tony Goldman and other members of the Canal Side Community Alliance to discuss the “things” their community of people wants to see built. The problem is, we haven’t yet created a “place”.

Cobble It
Electrify It
Zone It
Incentivize It

Once we’ve done that, we can start worrying about the things we want to see there, because people with money, resources and a business model will be able to build there.

11 Responses to “What Old White People Like: Waterfront Edition”

  1. AL November 24, 2010 at 8:34 am #

    What old white people don’t like – floaters in the faux canals. Yea old white people!

  2. BobbyCat November 24, 2010 at 9:31 am #

    A few random thoughts.

    * Yes, democracy is messy. All these different ideas and such.

    * I didn’t know that the Hamburg Drain was recently relocated at great expense to make room for the commericial slip. In retrospect, I wonder if that work was premature. Now its in the way, you say?

    * What Al said about “floaters in the canals”.

    * What’s all this snark about “old white people”? Is the converse somehow better – young black people ?

    * Today’s “hip” gets very old, very soon. Tomorrow nobody will know what “bikeshedding”, “crowdsourcing” or “fail” means. I’ll stick with the old, simple words.
    They’re easy to understand and they last longer.

    * The reason the Goldman approach attracted public interest is because he used the media (mainly TV) to full effect. Sometimes you have to hold a gun to their heads to get TV cameras to show up but Goldman did what all Erie County Harbor people failed to do with all their meetings, legal notices and public outreach: He got the public to pay some attention to the Harbor. He sparked their interest with IDEAS that people can understand. I didn’t see anyone from the ECHDC on TV urging people to bring their ideas to their meetings. No, they keep a low profile. We could use more cheerleaders. Esmonde can’t do it alone. And frankly Scarlett, most Buffalonians never heard of WNYMedia. We all like to believe that we stand at the center of the universe but (SOB) it ain’t so.

    * Take some time off. Relax. Carve the bird.

    • Christopher Smith November 24, 2010 at 2:32 pm #

      * Yes, democracy is messy. All these different ideas and such.

      – Democracy is not what’s happening. It is a small group of people who have issued a list of demands. They are not interested in dialogue.

      * I didn’t know that the Hamburg Drain was recently relocated at great expense to make room for the commericial slip. In retrospect, I wonder if that work was premature. Now its in the way, you say?

      – The work was not premature, it was agreed as part of the 2004 master plan to limit the scope to that area to maintain feasible costs. The parking garage planned for that spot now was also in the 2004 plan. Now, people want to change the original plan and the Canal Side MGPP because they don’t like it.

      * What’s all this snark about “old white people”? Is the converse somehow better – young black people ?

      – It’s not snark, it’s who is there. The average age at all of these meetings is at least 50, probably older. They deign to represent “the” community, writ large. They actually represent their community, which is old white people. Which is why it’s germane to the discussion.

      * Today’s “hip” gets very old, very soon. Tomorrow nobody will know what “bikeshedding”, “crowdsourcing” or “fail” means. I’ll stick with the old, simple words. They’re easy to understand and they last longer.

      – You’ve chosen several words that are part of the common parlance and have been for years. You can stick with old terms while reading Doug Turner columns or you can read relevant information using language that people use.

      * The reason the Goldman approach attracted public interest is because he used the media (mainly TV) to full effect. Sometimes you have to hold a gun to their heads to get TV cameras to show up but Goldman did what all Erie County Harbor people failed to do with all their meetings, legal notices and public outreach: He got the public to pay some attention to the Harbor. He sparked their interest with IDEAS that people can understand. I didn’t see anyone from the ECHDC on TV urging people to bring their ideas to their meetings.

      – The ECHDC was on TV, quite frequently. What Goldman was able to do was attract people with puppet shows and soundscapes and a promise that he can deliver a Billion dollar plan on a 150MM budget that features everyone’s pet projects and -isms. The ECHDC has proposed a democratic and adult process in which ideas are solicited, vetted, debated, funded and implemented. I guess I prefer that kind of messy democracy than pointless bikeshedding for the benefit of self aggrandization.

      And frankly Scarlett, most Buffalonians never heard of WNYMedia. We all like to believe that we stand at the center of the universe but (SOB) it ain’t so.

      – The only one in this debate claiming to stand anywhere near the center of the universe is Goldman, with his claims that he represents “the” community. Were you invited to his luncheon? Were you personally made aware of and invited to his scoping sessions and tours? Were you personally invited to join him in his planning sessions? No. He invited a subset of the community who reflect his values and ideals to recommend their own version of top-down waterfront planning. At least Jordan Levy was appointed by a politician I can vote on and hold accountable for that choice. Also, we are very effective at reaching the audience we seek to reach.

  3. pirate's code November 24, 2010 at 3:14 pm #

    As one who qualifies under both categories — over 50 and white — I have to ask…what happens when only old white people show up at meetings and express opinions?  Automatic acceptance because they cast the only votes in this supposed democratic process?  Or automatic rejection because no opinions from people who aren’t over 50 and/or white were heard?

    It’s a conundrum faced by any organization charged with seeking public input.  When is enough enough?  As some comedian once said, it’s like the dilemma faced by the guy who invented cottage cheese.  How did he know he was done?

    By the way, Chris, I suppose I should resent being thrown in the “old” column because I’m over 50.  I don’t, but I keep thinking I should.  After all, my parents have opinions on waterfront development, and their both over 90.

  4. pirate's code November 24, 2010 at 3:15 pm #

    they’re both.  Yikes.

  5. Jon Splett November 24, 2010 at 3:15 pm #

    @BobbyCat- Based on how frequently you bitch about the type of language used on WNYMedia, I’m going to go ahead and assume you might fall in the old white people demographic….

  6. Brian Castner November 24, 2010 at 3:47 pm #

    @ pirate’s code – You said: “It’s a conundrum faced by any organization charged with seeking public input. When is enough enough?” We have clearly passed the “enough” test. As Chris points out, there have been meetings galore for years. But as far as seeking a diversity of opinion, this is something I would criticize the ECHDC for. If you schedule a boadr meeting in the middle of the day downtown, the only people that will attend are old white people. Which is why groups truly seeking community input go to the community, instead of waiting for the community to come to them on their terms. There should have been 5 meetings total – one downtown, one at the North Buffalo Y, one at True Bethel Baptist Church, one at a Latino community center on the West Side, and one at Cazanovia Park. As it is, they have asked far too much already, which is how we end up with the ridiculous request for a “Pause.”

  7. BobbyCat November 24, 2010 at 6:13 pm #

    I hope I won’t ruin your holiday, but it is with great sadness that I inform you that in the eyes of most folks partying on Chippewa tonight, if you are 35 and white, you qualify as “old white people”.

    Castner makes a valid point. Only people of a certain type attend meeting in the daytime. I very seldom, if ever, see younger people at ANY kind of meeting about anything, anywhere. Most don’t give a shit about planning.

    It’s not the number of meetings that you have that counts. It’s how you reach out to the community. I don’t know Mr. Goldman, but whatever he did, however he did it, he generated interest in the project that the ECHDC failed to do.

    It’s sad to admit that any committee has devoted all this time and interest in a project but failed to ignite a larger spark of interest in the community. Whatever they did on TV – and I don’t remember seeing them, wasn’t enough or wasn’t sexy enough. Didn’t resonate.

    @Spett. Writing clearly using simple English is fundamental at any age. I learned to identify foggy writing when I was 16. Most of us learned from William Strunk & E.B.White’s “Elements of Style”.

    I keep coming back to the fact that most people on the ECHDC don’t seem to have any relevant qualifications. That matters. But then, most “blue ribbon” panels don’t either. And it shows.

  8. Brian November 25, 2010 at 1:33 pm #

    I despise capitalism generally,but wouldn’t putting the waterfront up for sale bring innovative thinkers to various lots to do things they think might work out?

  9. pirate's code November 26, 2010 at 12:35 pm #

    @bobbycat — If your Chippewa crowd/age reference was directed at me…no, it didn’t ruin my holiday. Frankly, I don’t give a bit of thought as to what the bar crowd thinks about most anything but, having been part of the bar crowd at one point in my life three decades ago, I understand it. They’ll grow out of it, just as most of us do. You know, the old “the older I get the smarter my parents seem” idea.

    As for Goldman somehow generating greater interest than ECHDC…really? It seems the interest he generated is largely among friends and followers of Mark Goldman — some smart and well-meaning people, I suppose, but hardly a cross section of the Buffalo and Western New York demographic.

    Taking a “pause” every time economic circumstances change will assure only that nothing ever gets done at CanalSide. Get the site ready for development…as Chris and others have opined…cobble, put it necessary utilities, make sure reasonable and clear zoning is in place, then see what incentives might be necessary to move parcels along.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. World Spinner - November 24, 2010

    What Old White People Like: Waterfront Edition « WNYMedia.net…

    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……

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