Placemaking: Canal Side Buffalo

30 Mar

Fred Kent of the PPS

On March 29, 2011, Fred Kent of the Partnership for Public Spaces donned LL Bean gear and presented to the assembled crowd of about 400 people the proposals developed by three distinct citizens’ committees set up by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation.  The PowerPoint itself is shown immediately below, and I took several photographs which are featured below, culminating in a view one gets at 6:30 pm while exiting the HSBC Arena.  If you’ve been following Andrew Kulyk’s posts comparing Canal Side with other arenas throughout the country, you’ll find that quite infuriating.

I’m not 100% sold on “lighter, quicker, cheaper”. It all sounds like a lot of hocus-pocus, none of it ever having been subjected to any objective studies, and it’s astonishing that the development of four or five city blocks (not including the Outer Harbor or Buffalo River areas) can cause such consternation and controversy. I get the sense from some of this that we’re throwing stuff at the wall to see if it will stick on the one hand, and selling our waterfront short on the other.  I like some of the ideas (marketplace, bistro, toilets) but detest others (“flexible lawn?” “multi-use square?” “central square?”). Frankly, open space and green space doesn’t seem like much of a draw or improvement to me.

Kent talked about “triangulation” (“Triangulation is the process by which some external stimulus provides a linkage between people and prompts strangers to talk to other strangers as if they knew each other”) and the “power of ten“; ten destinations with ten places with ten things to do will naturally bring people. That sounds great, but he admitted in the next breath that that theory has never been tested. So, WTF? How much is this guy getting paid for this?  And what’s such a great draw about a lawn under the Skyway? Are two lawns better?

Four takeaways for me:

1. Kent said, “people attract people, cars attract cars”.  That got a predictable round of applause from the assembled car-haters. Problem is, cars bring people. That’s just a fact.

2. That area has been open space for decades. I don’t believe that simply making the open space under the Skyway prettier is the highest and best use for that property.

3. The Mayor of the City of Buffalo was nowhere to be seen. There were almost 500 people in downtown Buffalo to talk about developing the waterfront, and Mayor Brown was a no-show. In mentioning this to someone, we remarked that we didn’t expect him to come.  That’s somewhat sad. Brown didn’t need to give a speech or grandstand or insert himself into the process.  But it would have been nice if he had been present for the event and to chat with attendees, to have shown an interest.

4. This process is almost a decade old, and even with the advent of ECHDC, the three waterfront districts still haven’t figured out who owns what, who controls what parcels, and what parcels need serious environmental remediation. Tick tock, folks.

There were some good ideas, and the PPS presentation didn’t quite make clear that the committees were charged with coming up with ideas that can be implemented very quickly – by this summer or next. These don’t appear to be permanent plans for redevelopment of Canal Side, an effort that continues until the canals – faux thought they may be – are re-watered, the Donovan Building is brought down, and the entire district is shovel-ready to be made awesome.




About 3/4 of the crowd


Fred Kent addresses the crowd


Flexible Lawn: Inner Harbor


Multi-Use Market: Inner Harbor




Inner Harbor - click to enlarge


Do Not Demolish! Click to enlarge


Grain elevators: click to enlarge


WHERE IS IT?! Click to enlarge


Woof? Click to enlarge


Just relocate them! All done problems! Click to enlarge.


Passive-aggressive notes dot com: click to enlarge


Shut down the Skyway: click to enlarge


Don't forget!: click to enlarge


Green dot: Click to enlarge


As it stands now. Click to enlarge.


As it stands now. Click to enlarge.

30 Responses to “Placemaking: Canal Side Buffalo”

  1. Brian Castner March 30, 2011 at 7:21 am #

    Are two lawns better? No, clearly 10 lawns are better – weren’t you listening?

  2. Marc Odien March 30, 2011 at 8:49 am #

    6 months later, Mr. Kent gave the same bullshit presentation he gave at city honors? What Mr. Kent never talks about in that presentation are the large buildings, shops, housing and restaurants surrounding all those aimlessly walking and sitting people in 90% of his pictures… Park benches and open spaces around those buildings should be secondary… Just because Alan or Brian is walking around canalside looking for a place to sit doesn’t mean Im going to hike downtown to do the same thing.  
    So fucking dumb….

    • Alan Bedenko March 30, 2011 at 8:58 am #

      It’s not dumb, its Sofa King dumb!

  3. Jaquandor March 30, 2011 at 9:15 am #

    I’ve given up and no longer care. I’m content to live my life in my pleasant suburb and venture into downtown when I want to see a show or go to Taste of Buffalo or drop by the Central Library. There’s never going to be a decent waterfront. I’ve accepted it and will now move on. (But I do kind of like the “shut down the Skyway on the 4th of July” notion. That sounds kind of fun.)

  4. Mark March 30, 2011 at 10:33 am #

    I think that if you want WNY to be less messed up then you need Buffalo to be less messed up. It is still the largest city/town in WNY and will be for some time even if it continues to lose population. Even if Amherst ends up with a higher population, the Arena, the art museum, Shea’s, etc. will still be in Buffalo.

    I think something good will be built, but I don’t know when or what it will be. Maybe that is dumb, but I don’t think I gain anything by giving up hope. I really like the coverage of this issue on WNYMedia. I feel like it is about the only place to get any information about it at all. At the same time, I find that constant attacks on preservationists and kayakers and historical purists very unpleasant. The idea that the original canal should be used isn’t idiotic, it’s just impractical. The idea that there should be locally owned businesses and historical flavor isn’t completely insane. I’d rather the area had no national chains whatsoever, but that isn’t going to happen, and I would be perfectly happy with a fair balance between local/historical and national/flashy.

    What I am sure of is that it’s a bad idea to move forward to build something, anything, there just because we need to build something there. That would guarantee that we end up with something ugly and awful and generic. I don’t have any solutions, but there is a process, such as it is, and all the competing groups have to work together to get through the process. I hope that happens someday.

  5. Mike In WNY March 30, 2011 at 11:18 am #

    Clusterfuck, FUBAR and myriad other descriptive terms come to mind.

  6. Ward March 30, 2011 at 11:50 am #

    Dead urban areas are not revitalized by theorists from citizens’ groups, or by commissions, or by PowerPoint presentations, or by people writing ideas on post-it notes.

    Dead urban areas are revitalized when evil profit-minded capitalists actually decide that there is money to be made there, which depends on coming up with ideas that actually make people want to drive down there or live there.

    Closing the Skyway on July 4, and laying lawns to “triangulate” doesn’t do it. This stuff is intellectual masturbation.

  7. JohnnyWalker March 30, 2011 at 11:50 am #

    The concept is an absolute disgrace.

  8. Christopher Smith March 30, 2011 at 11:53 am #

    Awww, look at all the concerned old white people. We’re getting the temporary waterfront of their dreams!

    The same places were case studies in the ECHDC slides from last year.

    Mr. Kent’s version of those case studies just proposes tents, umbrellas, chairs, observation decks (I guess the one we have isn’t good enough) and rolling food instead of buildings. The centralized planning from PPS is CLEARLY way better than the centralized planning of the ECHDC.   The return on our $200,000 for Mr. Kent’s services is incredible.

    I’m looking forward to having a hot dog and checking out the Bio-Intensive Farm/Liberty Pole on the Flexible Lawn.

    Once again:  Cobble the streets, lay the utilities, plant some grass, zone it and sell the parcels. Close down ECHDC and tell Fred Kent to go home and get his shinebox…which should be filled with enough money to buy a parcel for his liberty pole.

  9. peteherr March 30, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

    There are several troubling issues for me with the “Land of 10,000 Benches”.

    First, all of those lawns and dog parks and Agro Gardens and squares don’t generate any revenue, but they do geverate lots of expenses in the form of maintenance/upkeep. Now, I’m a Democrat so I am not oft encumbered by the nacent costs of things. But, truth be told, the city has some financial woes and adding to the jobs required of them and the cost of daily operations, doesn’t make much sense in a time when belt tightening seems to be the theme of the day.

    Secondly, I agree with Alan that it is disturbing that the Mayor has been visibly absent from the process.

    Thirdly, I’m not a “park and ride” guy. If there is no place to park my car, I’m not coming down. I hope something happens soon. I like Chris Smith’s idea best. Put in the roads and canals and then sell the lots. Include some “squares” or open space in the mix. Put in zoning/building codes that require new builds to be historically designed. Make the buildings nearest the water be smaller and then allow them to get bigger the farther away from the water that they go.

    MOST OF ALL, relook at the dumb ass laws that don’t allow bicycle ice cream carts to do business. And then watch how fast it will be developed.

  10. Fat Tony March 30, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    While I admit that I haven’t followed this nearly as close as most of you, there’s one thing I never understand. What, in all of this circle jerk, is going to make buckle the kids in the SUV, travel downtown, open up my wallet and drop a hundred bucks or more? I just don’t see it. Visitors will choose Niagara Falls 100 percent of the time over Buffalo’s waterfront if they want to gaze for 15 minutes before heading off somewhere else to dine and play. So, there’s nothing for suburban families, nothing for visitors…..I get it, we’re going to spend all this dough so the ever shrinking city population can have more park space that they can’t afford to maintain. Makes sense.

  11. jimd March 30, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    What I’ve never understood is what do you do the other 8 months of the year? Grass, benches, all that crap does no good with a foot of snow on it. Here’s my idea. What do we get a shitload of from september to may each and every year? College students. More to the point, Asian, Middle Eastern and Indian college students. I’m pretty sure of this since I’ve worked in student housing for the past 20 years. Sooo, figure what would attract these people and build that. A mini Chinatown? A mini Epcot? I don’t know it just seems like a resource often overlooked.

  12. Mark March 30, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    Um, this is a joke…right?

  13. John March 30, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

    No it is not entirely a joke.  We have 100,000 college students at the local colleges in the area.  Most of which, on top of adults from 25-45 who go to Allentown, Elmwood, Chippewa, and other places AFTER the normal 9-5 crowd.  We are the ones that populate downtown and night.  If we can grab a drink and something to eat next to the hockey arena and have someplace to go after, we will use the money to do it.

  14. Andrew Kulyk March 30, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

    @Mark. When I saw the graphic of page 1 of that powerpoint presentation on this article, that is exactly what I thought. That this was one of Alan’s funny retorts to the night that was.  Then as I read on , I sadly realized that this proposal is serious, and sadly came to recognize what a cruel cruel joke is being perpetrated on the people of Buffalo and WNY, who deserve so much more.

  15. Brian Castner March 30, 2011 at 4:33 pm #

    Sometimes, the only way to get the complainers to shut up is to give them what they want, as it is only upon receipt of their bag of poo that they realize how much of a joke it was in the first place.

  16. pirate's code March 30, 2011 at 6:24 pm #

    I seem to have misplaced my urban waterfront development lingo decoder ring so, at risk of once again being seen as completely out of touch…just w-t-f is a flexible lawn?

    I try to take this stuff seriously, and I realize that the powerpoint might be easier to digest if I’d heard whatever spoken words went with it. But this just strikes me as so much gibberish. When they start with their power of 10 and the first “activity” listed is an “iconic clock,” well, sorry, you lost me.

  17. hank March 30, 2011 at 9:18 pm #

    Thanks Alan for all this info, and how it was presented. After careful study–looks like this is the latest installment of what has to be the 50th “waterfront study” in the last 55 years. The city/county/state has probably spent enough on studies that if you added all the fees paid out, you could probably write a 1,000.00 check to every man, woman and child living in the city limits of Buffalo. Y’all just got taken to the cleaners again. Totally freakin’ bizzare. And deeply troubling.

  18. probuff March 30, 2011 at 10:03 pm #

    Wait… star gazing events, a firefly festival, boat ballet, kayak water polo, amenities for adjacent skateboarders, a FAUX pirate theme playground, a snowman fashion show???

    Telman, Goldman, please, just GET OUT OF TOWN. These jokers have fully ruined any chance we had of doing something worthwhile.

  19. John March 30, 2011 at 10:51 pm #

    While Tielman and Goldman leave can they take all their friends with them so we can start over and make things right.

    By the way did anyone ever think of suing the Project for Public Spaces so that the taxpayers can get their money back for something a high schooler could have put together.

  20. Pauldub March 30, 2011 at 11:11 pm #

    He’s the same guy who brought the monorail to Springfield. Does he actually get paid to spout this drivel? Like Chris said. Utilities, streets, sell the parcels. Raw, unbridled capitalism is the only way to kickstart this thing.

  21. Pauldub March 30, 2011 at 11:15 pm #

    He does, however, have a certain sense of fashion not unlike some WNYM personalities…..

  22. jhorn March 30, 2011 at 11:33 pm #

    probuff- what is the “something worthwhile” that tielman, goldman et al. have deprived us of?

  23. Pauldub March 30, 2011 at 11:46 pm #

    @jhorn – progress?

  24. jhorn March 31, 2011 at 1:58 am #

    pd- and progress would be….?

  25. Chris O March 31, 2011 at 11:59 am #

    Where to begin. I’ll go big and then work my way back down to sanity. If they put nothing but a bunch of lawns in there I might go Homer Simpson and apply some “vitamin G” to the lawns. My God what an emabarassment this plan is. How bout the guy who says they should relocated architecturally significant, at-risk buildings to the waterfront? Seriously? Because that is a VERY cost effective way to put old crumbling buildings in a central location, just brilliant. Honestly, this tears my stomach out everytime I read these ridiculous backasswards plans. Who in the hell is going to bring thier ten friends (or whatever BS theory he spewed) to sit on a lawn. I can do that at home. What I can’t do is sit on a patio and look at the water while I enjoy an adult beverage or maybe Dinosaur BBQ. After reading this I have the sudden need to go break something, it is probably a good thing I couldn’t make it down on Tuesday.

  26. Chris O March 31, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    @jhorn the absolutle, complete 100%, antithesis of what has been going on with Canalside and the development of the waterfront. I believe that is the progress everyone is mentioning.

  27. Hapklein April 1, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    Hah! not to worry once they get the cars back on Main Street then re-open Hengerers and Am&A’s they can have the traffic converge at the foot of Main, sell hot dogs, listen to the hum of traffic on the Skyway and watch the sunset.
    We have a future thee. It is just lurking n the details. 
    Do a bunch of stuff and it will work out. Look at the success of the Scjacuada Expressway and be humbled in your cynicism. 


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