Urban Project

 

(This 1042nd Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on March 13, 2011.)

 

In October the National Trust for Historic Preservation will meet in Buffalo and it seems to me that this meeting represents a challenge. Will we meet that challenge? I'm not so sure.

 

The conference title, Alternating Currents, perhaps refers to the role that the early development of electricity played at Buffalo's 1901 Pan-American Exposition. But alternating currents has another meaning to me. I look at the six-minute film trailer on the conference website, www.preservationnation.org, titled Buffalo, New York: This Place Matters and, while I am impressed, I find little that is encouraging about this city that dates within the past half century. We are in the down side of an alternating current of history.

 

We do have wonderful old stuff: buildings designed by famous architects like Frank Lloyd Wright; parks and traffic circles laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted; beautiful old churches and synagogues. Those represent a great historical heritage that derives from the time when Buffalo was a major city.

 

But where are we today. We are distinguished by the empty shells of the Statler Hotel and the Buffalo Central Terminal. And those wonderful parks are perhaps best characterized by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Park behind the museum. King's name is certainly not honored by the decrepit condition of that park.

 

And what have we built recently? Sports stadiums, a huge mall and what seem like ten thousand neighborhood banks.

 

Meanwhile, our parks are juggled back and forth by city and county politicians in competition to see who can do the least for them.

 

Needless to say, I am not encouraged. We have some sprucing up to do before the National Trust brings people to Buffalo from all over the country. And we owe it to ourselves to take this opportunity to begin rebuilding this city's reputation.

 

Thankfully, we already have programs like "Buffalo in Bloom" led by individuals like Kate Mukowski, Maureen O'Connell and Sally Cunningham that encourage homeowners to make their property attractive. We have the too little appreciated volunteer home building and repair organization, Habitat for Humanity, and the Re-Tree program that is making good strides replacing those thousands of trees taken out by the October 2006 storm. We have the staffs of the Buffalo and Niagara Riverkeepers, the Olmsted Parks and Buffalo Arboretum who are struggling against our regional apathy to further beautify their areas.

 

Yes, these are troubled times, but that ought to challenge us to address our problems. And in the process hopefully put some people back on a payroll.

 

I offer one example of the kind of project that we should support. Dave Majewski has developed plans for what he calls the Urban Habitat Project at the Buffalo Central Terminal and, if he can carry his program to completion by the time the National Trust people arrive, he will have done us a great service.

 

I visited the area Majewski is leading the effort to transform and it impressed me as a real challenge. It is a triangular three-acre enclave bounded by Memorial Drive, Curtiss Street and the extension of Sweet Avenue. Standing at its southwest corner and looking toward the terminal building, I could see what may best be described as nothing: an open area with a backdrop to the south of what looks like the bombed out areas I visited in Europe at the end of World War II.

 

Majewski wants to transform this ugly landscape into an attractive and properly maintained tree-lined urban public green replete with interesting features: native wildflower plantings, wetlands and natural regeneration demonstration areas, and areas designed to attract resident and migrating birds.

 

Majewski claims that, given the kind of support that is building, his team can bring this project off before October. He already has the backing of Fillmore district councilman David Franczak and Mark Lewandowski, head of Central Terminal restoration of which this project is a part.

 

This project has, I believe, much to offer. It can serve as a catalyst, anchoring further development in an area that has seen too little attention, and hopefully it can also support and enhance the efforts to restore the terminal.

 

But best of all, it can bring some beauty with its attendant respect to a neighborhood of the Buffalo's East Side, turning it into an area the Trust attendees ought to visit.-- Gerry Rising