Tag Archives: Crowdsourcing

Canalside & a Sense of Tacky Place

10 Jan

Both Chris and I have written extensively over the past several years about what’s going on at the Inner Harbor. (Unfortunately, links will have to wait).

In late 2010, the planning for Canalside was co-opted by a crowdsourcing process that provided all of the ills of central planning with none of the decision-making efficiency. After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a facile “placemaking” exercise by uncredentialed huckster Fred Kent of the Partnership for Public Spaces, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation retained consultants to help flesh out the historical/cultural aspects of the Canalside project.

While the district had historically been a wetter, be-bricked version of Mos Eisley, the “history” that will be reproduced at Canalside was always going to be sanitized through contemporary biases.  While Chris and I advocated for the notion of giving people things to do and see, we were vilified for our suburban-colored glasses and our cultural, architectural, and artistic ignorance.

We merely traded a political planning elite for a cultural planning elite.

And the cultural elite’s Cultural Masterplan is out & embedded below.

Initially, Canalside will feature a Children’s Museum, which will fill a gaping hole in our city – one that Explore & More temporarily filled by bringing certain exhibits to a tent at Canalside during the temperate months. It was like the #Occupy version of a children’s museum. But another feature is something Mark Goldman personally lobbied for incessantly – a “solar powered carousel”, and an interpretive “how Buffalo fed America” look back at the times before the St. Lawrence Seaway and interstate network.

When it comes to the historical significance of the canal terminus, there’s a fine line between education and nostalgia porn.

Longer term, the plan is in deep Niagara Falls fail territory with a “4D theater production” depicting a balloon ride, which will “immerse visitors in a ‘you are there’ journey, with 4D effects such as falling snow, wind gusts, rumbling seats, scents, surround sound…”  The cost of re-making the “MOM” ride at Massachusetts’ Jordan’s Furniture and the 4D rides in the Falls will be $25 million, plus operating costs of about $1.3 – 1.7 million per year.

$25 million to take something that was supposed to be “authentic” and give one a “sense of place” and turn it into sideshow tack and a snack shack. This entire placemaking exercise has been an absolute crock of crowdsourcing nonsense that has let dozens of unelected people with tiny constituencies promote their personal biases and prejudices in the name of the entire community.

They sold us on “authentic”, and “lighter, quicker, cheaper”. We’re getting fake, phony tack. Where’s the sense of place?

Does this follow the 2004 Master Plan?

Authenticity?

Sense of Place if Buffalo is Jurassic Park

 

CanalSide Cultural Masterplan Final Report

A presentation to accompany the report is here:

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On a side note, renderings of a summertime and wintertime Aud block at Canalside look quite inviting. Let’s stick to this:

Artist Rendering of Aud Block in Summer with Public Canals

Artist Rendering of Aud Block in Winter with Public Canals


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con·grat·u·bate (kənˈgraCHəˌbāt), Verb

13 Jul

A polite golf clap is in order for Donn Esmonde, who here touts the heavy lift that Mark Goldman unilaterally assumed for himself late last year in promoting a snake-oil salesman’s unscientific, unproven “lighter, faster, cheaper” model of “economic development”. His Wednesday column about Canal Side is something I’m calling “congratubation”, or self-congratulation. Let’s read Donn and Mark pat themselves firmly on their own backs.

Of course, it’s working. It worked everywhere else. There’s no secret recipe or special formula. We have sun, sky and—most importantly— water. Just add a snack shack, put out some brightly colored Adirondack chairs, set up a kids’ space, mix in activities. All of a sudden, we have a down-town waterfront that people want to go to.

Yes, of course! It’s so simple, really. The highest and best use for that property is to cobble the streets, throw in some flexible lawns, erect a shack (and invite a bunch of politicos to cut its ribbon), and all done! And think of all the activities and sand-play that’ll take place down there in, say, February! It’ll be a veritable mad house when the winds whip in off the frozen lake and the lunchtime crowd eats its shack lunch al fresco whilst developing a nasty case of frostbite.

Erie County Snack Shack
picture shack pictures

And consider all the other great and not-so-great waterfronts throughout America.

Even Yonkers has us beat.

Just like a lot of people thought we would, once we got past our magic-bullet fixation. There’s no need to overthink it. To oversubsidize it. To overbuild it.

“It’s ironic,” said Mark Goldman, the activist/entrepreneur whose brainstorm last year changed the waterfront course. “The major economic-development success story in our community this year involves $3,000 worth of Adirondack chairs.”

Apart from being a one-shot boon to Adirondack chair suppliers, manufacturers, and wholesalers, what economic benefit, exactly, is derived? Adirondack chairs are wonderful, don’t get me wrong. They let people who forgot their own chairs to use a publicly supplied chair, sit back, and watch something happen. Or relax. Or hang out. It’s all very nice, but there is no economic activity whatsoever being generated from “sitting back”. Who’s getting paid? Who’s selling something? Who’s buying something? Who’s employed? What economic transactions are taking place thanks to people loitering relaxedly in an Adirondack chair?

UPDATE: Here’s an interview we did with the ECHDC’s President, Tom Dee, on the day the snack shack opened:

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Monday afternoon, more than 100 people walked or lounged at Erie Canal Harbor. A warm breeze ruffled a line of colored banners. Boats glided by on the Buffalo River. Folks lined up for sandwiches and ice cream at Clinton’s Dish—named for the governor who, at this site in 1825, opened the canal that transformed America. (Maybe someday we’ll get a sign that commemorates the fact.)

Oh, my heavens! Over 100 people?! How will we control these throngs if they persist?

And on Clinton Dish’s opening day, I too lined up for lunch. For 20 minutes. By the time they got around to scooping out Perry’s for a whopping gaggle of 6 (SIX!1!) kids, my lunch hour was already all but over. I had time to leave with a bag of barbecue chips and a Diet Coke. But it was an authentic and real bag of chips and bottle of Coke. It was unsullied by subsidized big-box chips or car-oriented Cokes. These were hand-delivered, artisanally manufactured chips and Coke that keep Buffalo unique and real, not fake like Cleveland or Boston.

Am I laying it on too thickly?  Well, I’m sick of being pissed.

It has been nearly a year since Bass Pro, after years of arrested development, mercifully cut bait. It has been eight months since the landmark gathering at City Honors School, when Fred Kent of the Project for Public Spaces outlined a “lighter, quicker, cheaper” philosophy of waterfront development. The event, organized by Goldman, underlined what progressives had pleaded for years: Get over the heavy-subsidy, magic-bullet, lots-of-parking fixation. Instead, create a place where people want to go, and let human nature—and market forces— take over. Step-by-smaller-step.

Call this the Summer of Sensibility. The snack stand and mini-“beach” and Adirondack chairs and kids’ space and random activities—from yoga to Zumba classes—were spawned in focus groups and in public forums. The Erie Canal Harbor board, bereft of a plan after Bass Pro’s bailout, followed the people’s lead. Citizens committees—one includes Goldman, preservationist Tim Tielman and Buffalo Rising’s Newell Nussbaumer —guided the board’s hand. Finally, we’re getting the waterfront we deserve.

That’s funny. In my opinion, Fred Kent and the PPS are guilty of defrauding the taxpayers of New York State, and our public benefit corporation, the ECHDC of thousands of dollars. They accomplished absolutely nothing that couldn’t have been accomplished for a few hundred dollars. I can do a Google image search for “waterfront fun”, too. I can cobble together an unwieldly Powerpoint presentation, too. I can make stuff up out of thin air like, “the Power of 10”, too. I can run a meeting where people put sticky notes on blow-up renderings, too. And I would have done it for a fraction of what PPS did. What a great scam.

The last time Esmonde praised Kent’s scam, I wrote this:

That’s why Donn Esmonde giddily wrote this column a few days earlier, during one of the PPS’ “let’s talk benches” mixers.

BTW, here’s Kent’s Google Image Search, if you missed it the first time. You paid for it.

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“You can build a store anywhere,” Skulski noted. “Why would you want to stick it by the water, and take up this space? It goes against the whole point of a waterfront.”

Esmonde is being disingenuous here. No one has been talking about building a store of any kind on the grassy portion of the Central Wharf for about four years. (Click here for a post I wrote last year, which links to just about everything I’ve ever written about Bass Pro, ever.) Bass Pro was most recently supposed to go on the Aud block, which as of this writing remains a giant pile of gravel and a puddle.

Amen. Granted, nobody is yet printing money at Erie Canal Harbor. But, at little cost and with a lot of imagination, we’re creating a downtown waterfront where people want to be. Where people go, commerce will follow.

Really? How? To whom do I apply to open a business? A storefront? To park a cart of some kind? Whom do I contact for a permit? Whom must I bribe in order to grease the skids? What are the specific requirements for creating any economic activity at Canal Side? Where can I find the real estate or leasing listings for properties at Canal Side? How is commerce supposed to follow where there’s no plan in place for commerce to take place? Well, I’m sure Donn knows. But Goddamnit, NO CHAINS!

“This is creating demand,” Goldman said, “instead of using massive subsidies to create supply, and hoping that the demand follows.

What difference does it make? If an Adirondack chair and a snack shack is such a massive draw, as Esmonde and Goldman congratubate themselves about, (during about 4 months of a 12 month year), wouldn’t a Bass Pro (or other retailer – say, LL Bean) draw in even MORE people? What about a cafe? A bar? A development where businesses could execute leases and sell things, or bring people to offices, or build apartments?

“It is not just people having picnics, it is good economic-development strategy,” Goldman added. “You start small, and it snowballs. By next summer, you’ll see private businesses lining up to come down—instead of asking for big, fat subsidies.”

Lighter, quicker, cheaper. Already, it’s working

Notice the palpable absence of any discussion from either Goldman or Esmonde about what happens when the snow starts flying. Which here could be any time between October and April.

Buffalo, you’ve been punk’d.

The Regular Buffalo Person’s Manifesto

5 Aug

Mark Goldman is a Buffalo icon. He is a doer – a guy who has accomplished literal miracles, notably sparking the turnaround of what is now known as the “Chip Strip”. This sets him apart from the usual suspects who are professional obstructionists, but little else.

Goldman was one of the plaintiffs in the recent, moot lawsuit that sought to block state funds from being used to support the Bass Pro Canal Side project in any way. Some politicians blamed the death of the Bass Pro deal on a “few obstructionists”, and Goldman took to the Buffalo News to proudly claim the mantle, and publish an accompanying “Obstructionist’s Manifesto”.

So, to rebut Goldman’s “obstructionist manifesto” point by point, we present to you the Regular Buffalo Person’s Manifesto, a joint statement prepared by Alan Bedenko, Brian Castner and Christopher Smith. We’re regular people in the Buffalo area who live, work, send kids to school, and pay taxes here and we feel that our voice is often drowned out by a small yet litigious and vocal minority.

Forward this to your representatives and voice your support…or if you’re old school; print it, sign it and send it to your local representatives and tell your friends to do the same. Become a fan on Facebook and spread the word.

The Manifesto of Buffalo’s Regular People

We are regular people; neither obstructionist nor unnecessarily permissive. We believe that development projects should be reviewed and debated on a case-by-case basis, on their own merits. They shouldn’t be demagogued, lied about, or otherwise treated unfairly.

We also believe that small cliques of people whose public personae are defined by their opposition to new development don’t speak for the entire community, despite their claims. We believe that we can speak for ourselves and don’t need to have our interests represented by people who perhaps unintentionally advocate for the failed status quo.

What follows is the manifesto. Live it, learn it, love it.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I wouldn’t trust heart surgery to a barber, so I believe that city planning should be left to the professional city planners. We have too many hobbyist planners in this town, and they strut about pretending to be experts whilst loaded down with suppositions, overwhelming emotion, and little training. Calling yourself a city planner does not make you one, and whether a particular plan may cause harm or benefit must be weighed on the merits – not on hypothetical situations and feelings.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I believe that small groups of tightly connected amateur planners with anti-commercial prejudices shouldn’t be the deciding factor in regional planning decisions. As Regular Buffalo Person, I am interested in projects that would lead me to go out of my way; off the beaten track, where I can spend my money and do something fun with my kids.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I believe that small groups of tightly connected amateur planners and professional plaintiffs should be consistent in the application of their outrage. If millions of dollars ought not be spent to lure a big anchor retailer, those millions ought not be spent to house trendy art galleries, either. But when people appointed by our duly elected officials decide to spend that kind of money, I won’t disingenuously suggest that this happened without public consent, and I won’t be a hypocrite, either.

As a Buffalo Regular Person, I eschew propaganda buzzwords like “big box”, and will not liken the existence of “parking spots” to some unspeakable evil. I recognize contemporary reality, and prefer to look at a particular project as a whole. I’ll also be sure to ask obstructionists why it would be so horrible to duplicate the pedestrian success of the Walden Galleria in a far more attractive waterfront location not unlike what exists at Quincy Market, Byward Market, or any other public marketplace up and down the eastern half of North America.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I won’t make-believe that small entrepreneurs will somehow be a significant regional draw for a waterfront that is all but uninhabitable for six months out of every year. Sometimes, you have to go big or go home.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I believe that city planning decisions should be made based on a project’s business plan and likelihood of success. Appeals to “values” or “ideals” or “aspirations” of the region invite divisive, subjective debate, leaving no one happy. There is a reason why development projects are seldom subjected to referenda. When proposed projects have undergone a decade’s worth of vetting, it’s somewhat silly to suggest that they’re sudden, novel, or being rammed down anyone’s throat. As a Regular Buffalo Person, I won’t wait until the absolute last minute to express my displeasure with a project that’s all but ready to go.

The absolute last thing that should be done about Buffalo’s inner harbor is to subject it to a citywide citizens’ committee of ideas. Each person – each participant would have a different idea, and implementation of it might be a fun civic exercise, but little else. If the obstructionist class in Buffalo is intent on opposing every single project that is suggested for the inner harbor, then there’s little sense in doing anything at all. The street grid should be re-established and cobbled, utilities should be brought in, the area should be zoned, and then the city should let the market have at it.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I don’t want to participate in some sort of “submit your idea” crowdsourcing method of planning. The people whose idea or vision is rejected will simply become the next round of obstructionists, lying and suing to get their way.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I will not define my support or objection to a proposed development or project based primarily on whomever is leading the effort. I will be open-minded, listen to proposals and make educated evaluations. I will be judicious and serious and will weigh the costs and benefits before speaking my mind.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I will not define each and every project as an epic class warfare struggle nor will I support others who engage in such behavior.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I will evaluate the merits of a project on its value to the region, writ large. No more parochial thinking, we are a region that will either rise or fall as one, we must begin to act like it.

Given the current economic state of western New York, given the fact that downtown Buffalo is completely bereft of any meaningful retail whatsoever – and has been thus for thirty-something years – and given the fact that the Canal Side area has been bare for more decades still, the ultimate obstructionist dream is to let it lie fallow under the shadow of the Skyway, an empty memorial to what might have been.

Perhaps we could file a suit to express our displeasure at the Bass Pro deal being killed. Perhaps we should recognize that without a huge, well-paying employer like HSBC, there will be significantly fewer people in town to visit art galleries, drink wine at trendy-yet-gritty bars, buy tchotchkes, and sup at the taco truck.

Neither the obstructionist few, nor the developers speak for us. We speak for ourselves.

That is our Regular Buffalo Person’s manifesto.