Buffalo Waterfront Flickr Image by Rho-bin

Building a Vision for Buffalo’s Waterfront:

“This is not your typical policy meeting. This is about inspiration”

If you can create a process that’s democratic and inclusive, the product will be one that will be lasting- and that all people will buy into…” -Mark Goldman.

We’re inspired by the work of this highly-motivated group of people in Buffalo, NY who insist on moving away from big, “look-at-me” designs and toward lower-cost, creative interventions that will bring immediate improvements to their under-used waterfront.

Mark Goldman, one of Buffalo’s biggest zealous nuts, along with a creative team of unlikely partners, hosted a 2-day Forum in November 2010 called “Aspirations and Inspirations” to kick-off a visioning process to re-invent Buffalo’s former industrial waterfront as a multi-use public destination sustained by local artists and businesses.

IMAGINING BUFFALO’S WATERFRONT from nathan m peracciny on Vimeo.

To us, events like these signal a shift away from the traditional master planning process and towards a new, place-based agenda to transform our cities. Instead of a standard design charrette, Buffalo kicked things off with a festival meant to send a message “to the decision makers that there are other ways to think about planning our waterfront.”

Three local artists were each commissioned to create a piece for the occasion, including a waterfront soundscape created by Bryan Wanzer, a metaphorical mime and puppet show by Michele Costa, and sculptural work by Dennis Maher.  Every aspect of the event, as Mark Goldman explained, was intended to bring “more creative thinking, more imaginative, more artistic point of view to the way we think about the waterfront.”

Aspirations and Inspirations united a diverse group of local stake holders, including artists, curators, teachers, librarians, business people; in short, “the whole range of men and women who are active in this community.” Involving creative people at the outset of planning discussions, before moving onto policy debates, can set a new course for all aspects of future development.

PPS’ Fred Kent was there to contribute his expertise and encourage Buffalo to seek “lighter, quicker, cheaper” solutions.

Tony Goldman, Mark’s brother and CEO of Goldman Properties, toured the waterfront site and joined Fred in offering his expertise on ways to recognize the potential of under-performing urban areas and transform them into some of a city’s most frequented and beloved destinations.  The National Trust recognized Tony’s work with the Crownshield Award for his historic preservation efforts.

Some interventions will be put in place as early as this summer

As Buffalo’s Business First reports, ideas for short-term improvements that emerged from these sessions were recently aired by directors of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) and plans are already in the works to get them off the ground, and fast.  Here are just a few of the lighter, quicker, cheaper interventions Buffalo is considering:

  • open a cafe in the ground floor of the Buffalo and Erie County Naval Museum
  • extend the bike path to connect the Central Wharf with the Buffalo River
  • create a beach volleyball area along the Outer Harbor
  • build a permanent pond hockey venue
  • host a series of “drive-in” movies
  • light up the grain mills along the river
  • transform the Green Belt pathway into a cross country skiing and snowshoeing track

Buffalo’s Mayor, Byron Brown, who sits on the ECHDC board, emphasized the city is looking for quick wins that will build a great destination over the long term. “These are all part of a great process that really engaged the public,” said Brown. “What we have to do is to see which ideas will work the best and which ones we can bring together in the quickest manner to give us a vibrant waterfront.”

We think Buffalo is leading the way in getting away from behind-closed-doors discussion among officials and policy-makers and towards an inclusive, imaginative, and democratic process for creating great places.

We want to hear from you: tell us about the creative, citizen-led campaigns that are transforming your city!

A New Planning Forum to “Free People’s Minds” was last modified: March 26th, 2014 by Megan MacIver