Faux Canals as Destination

16 Mar

In reference to Andrew Kulyk’s Canal Side piece, part of the problem is crowdsourcing every damned development decision that gets done. It’s design by committee. From the Wikipedia entry:

Often, when software is designed by a committee, the original motivation, specifications and technical criteria take a backseat and poor choices may be made merely to appease the egos of several individual committee members. Such products and standards end up doing too many things or having parts that fit together poorly (because the entities who produced those parts were unaware of each other’s requirements for a good fit).

When I participated in the Outer Harbor committee, it consisted of people throwing out ideas and being led by a moderator who tried to corral those ideas, and to explain what was and was not possible. After about five hours’ worth of idea-throwing, one member came armed with a concise and apparently do-able plan – complete with site plans – that could be implemented quickly and facilitate activities on the outer harbor sooner rather than later. We all voted to move forward on that plan. The only major discussion surrounded which entity would ultimately control the facility.

All it takes is one good idea, implemented well. Instead…

And that is the dirty little secret here. The Partnership for the Public Good, the Project for Public Spaces, Citizens Against Casino Gambling in Erie County, Preservation Board, or whatever they are calling themselves this week… no matter, the same vile people who have thrown a monkey wrench into this for years. They want nothing to be built there. The minute the threat of a shovel going into the ground is imminent, these people sue.

I wouldn’t call them vile. I’d call them short-sighted or self-interested. Colin argues that history is important. Well, yes. History is important. But we’re not really having an argument about history, we’ve been having an argument about recreating history versus interpreting history. It’s a matter of degrees. Yet the most vociferous proponents of “re-creating” history ignore much of it. They ignore the seediness of the canal district of yore. They ignore that there was a huge, massive Central Wharf Terminal right smack on the river. They ignore that the canal district of the 1900s was a bustling commercial area, not a place replete with art installations or wind-powered ferris wheels.

And while we have these hugely disingenuous arguments, nothing happens because the appointees who work for ECHDC, which is charged with making these changes, don’t want to piss anyone off. So we have countless hearings and committee meetings and other feel-good get-togethers that enable everyone and his brother to come on down and tell ’em what they oughta do.

Notice I haven’t mentioned the bait shop once. The bait shop isn’t the point.

This stuff isn’t rocket science. As Chris explained in comment to Andrew, the ECHDC’s role going forward should be to implement a design and architectural standard & code for the parcels under its control, it should help facilitate events for the time being, it should pave and zone, it should dig, re-water, and remediate, and finally it should ensure that the city or some managing agent/entity implements a one-stop, easy place for businesses to sell, builders to build, vendors to vend, and events to take place.

The benefits of a master-planned area under the management of one retail-oriented entity makes sense because it can be that one-stop-shop and help market, design, and maintain everything in a handy way. But say “Benderson” and guys with no visible means of support who drive around in convertible school buses get upset.

As with many things, other cities are eons ahead of us when it comes to “building something people like to go to”. The best thing the state can do right now to spur interest in Canal Side would be for it and Erie County to turn the areas under ECHDC and NFTA control into sales-tax-free zones. We could call it Shenzhen-on-the-Lake. The real impediment isn’t Bass Pro types or ECHDC types or suburbanites or anyone else arguing with the earnest anti-Casino/Retail/Development/Benderson/Central Wharf types. What has to happen is for there to be an economic environment and incentive for people to want to get involved in developing a dead waterfront at the foot of a struggling city’s dead Main Street. Either way, downtown development delayed is downtown development denied.

7 Responses to “Faux Canals as Destination”

  1. Jeremy March 16, 2011 at 9:14 am #

    I’ve recently visited all five of the top five most popular tourist attractions in the United States. Anyone with half a brain would be able to guess at least one of them:

    1. Times Square
    2. Las Vegas Strip
    3. National Mall + Memorial Parks in Washington D.C.
    4. Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston
    5. Magic Kingdom, Florida

    Guess what all five of these places have in common? They’re (a) man-made, (b) visually compelling and distinctive, and (c) popular year after year. Note that only two have any trace of “authentic” anything, and that most have absolutely nothing in common with the ground they sit on. If Disney had been obsessed with building an ode to the Florida swamp rather than a destination-quality theme park, the entire state of Florida would have suffered for it. Ditto on Vegas and the desert – it was people who looked past what the place was, and saw what it could be, who turned these places into gold mines. 

  2. Brian March 16, 2011 at 9:15 am #

    I wish we’d just fill the entire canal with cement so our community could focus their time and energy on issues that we all agree upon, such as how we should decrease the cost of government or how to lower the cost of energy for local manufacturers. Instead, we have spent the last ten years arguing about an effing ten acre parcel because it happens to be next to some water. 

  3. lefty March 16, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    The ‘Chris Smith plan’ just makes too much damn sense for Buffalo.  That is the problem.  If things just happened, what would all of the people who form groups do with their time?

    Speaking of building out and growing organically, consider the gaslamp district in San Diego, that I know you have written about in the past Alan.  They have rules as to what the infill buildings look like on the outside but really do not care what goes on the inside.  The reason is that changes and the most important part is having a ‘move in ready’ structure rather than a ‘shovel ready’ plot.

    A great example of this is a borders books store that soon will be closing.  In the heart of the gaslamp and built in 2001, the exterior is 100% brick and was designed to match the other structures that are over 100 years old.  Coincidentally, the ‘gaslamp district’ is similar to canal side as it originally was a red light district for the San Diego port.

    Anyways, that building is not a parking lot. Rumor has it that it will become a night club when all is said and done.  But that does not matter.  It is an opportunity to have a THING where PEOPLE can go to and spend MONEY and TIME.

    The gaslamp is the crown jewel of the San Diego tourism trade IYAM and it became so by being a place where people could go to do stuff.  What that is exactly, is irrelevant.  

  4. John March 16, 2011 at 4:30 pm #

    Well said by everyone.  Did you realize that the people who are complaining(no matter who they are) are just complaining and not giving solutions to their problems.  If we just have a tent there nobody will go to it.  But if we add some places like Dinasaur BBQ, or a waterpark(yes I did go there) and small hotel, along with other attractions than people will actually go and visit.  

    The people have spoken on what they wanted, its time to give it to them.  No offense but the guys who are complaining are only gonna be able to go there for 20 or so years since they are mainly older.  They lack the ability to come up with a unique destination and plus the younger generation will be enjoying it much longer.

    I think we should fire back at the groups.  If they want to stop this from being a world class destination as opposed to mediocre place than they should not be a part of the process.  I say if they put something really dull and make it boring that somebody sue them back.

  5. John March 16, 2011 at 4:33 pm #

    I also say if they are going to be spending money on what is going to happen down there than have a public viewed discussion on a news station where the public gets to watch them debate.  Than we can see what the public thinks about the situation.

  6. ad nauseum March 16, 2011 at 9:40 pm #

    tired of reading the same old crap rehashed endlessly.  

  7. Gabe March 17, 2011 at 2:26 am #

    The economy is in the godamn toilet, none of this boondoggle development is happening any time soon, it’s kind of useless still getting one’s undies in a bunch of this. The outcome will be the same, a big ugly windswept hole in the ground and a bunch of empty cobblestone streets.

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