Buffalo's Comprehensive Plan

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Various maps highlighting the different access levels and nodes.

Location: Buffalo, New York. Buffalo, New York

Fifteen years ago - the year after the Congress for the New Urbanism first convened - three hundred citizens met in the studio of a public television station for a community workshop aimed at the rejuvenation of downtown Buffalo, New York. The work begun that day led, not only to a new plan for the city's downtown, but to the rehabilitation of the very idea of planning in the Buffalo-Niagara region.

Fifteen years later, Buffalo has an adopted city-wide comprehensive plan, a downtown plan, a waterfront plan, and a restoration and management plan for the city's ireeplaceable Olmsted Parks and parkways system. Together they constitute a locally unprecedented structure of policy, planning, and design guidance that operationalize CNU principles and is infused with the spirit of New Urbanism.

This body of work emerged as a response to the city and region's long-term industrial decline, economic stagnation, metropolitan fragmentation, demographic retreat , and physical deterioration. For decades, community leadership failed to craft a credible strategy for economic restructuring; public planning as a vehicle for leading change had fallen into deep disrepute. New municipal leadership mining the , energy of an active and locally-embedded citizenry crafted an approach that was simultaneously "top-down" and "bottom-up," strong leadership inviting broad participation.

The result to date is an interlocking array of plans for downtown, waterfront, and parks rationalized under the umbrella of a city-wide master plan with the former elements adopted by reference as part of the latter. These elements nest within broader regional efforts at "smart growth," cultural tourism, and regional economic development planning and have inspired other planning efforts such as for the Elmwood Village neighborhood, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, and the University at Buffalo campuses.

The comprehensive plan connects a regional economic development strategy with a city-wide land use plan and urban design guidance for strong neighborhoods and great streets and elaborates this in the downtown, waterfront, and parks plan. The umbrella plan tells a simple and compelling story in a memorable way: Buffalo needs to "fix the basics" and "build on assets" guided by a clear understanding of what "smart growth" means in a de-industrialized city and region and inspired by the imperatives of environmental preservation and repair.

"Fixing the basics" in these plans means reinvesting in public infrastructure, improving public services, rebuilding schools (as the core of sound neighborhoods), and working to repair housing and the fabric of the city's mostly 19th century neighborhoods as the basis for a future of quality urban living.

"Building on assets" means, in part forging an economic development strategy that takes advantage of Buffalo's strength in health care, education, finance, regional entertainment and the arts, and cultural and historic attractions of national stature (e.g. Erie Canal Harbor) then finding a place for them in the city-wide, downtown, and waterfront land use schemes.

It also means repairing and enhancing the things that once made Buffalo "the best planned city in America": its connection to the water, its "great bones" first sketched out in Joseph Ellicott's 1804 l'Enfant-inspired radial and grid street plan, and its truly incomparable city-wide system of Olmsted parks and parkways, abused and neglected to some degree, but still in tact and reparable.

Besides its people, Buffalo's greatest asset is the city itself, surely the renowned architecture of Richardson, Sullivan, Wright, Saarinen, and many others, but also the vernacular architecture of houses and ordinary commercial buildings and the city's hundreds of churches. Taken together these were the setting for a more humanizing urban life, one lived in the street, experienced on foot. These plans believe that what once was can be again.

Buffalo was, in some sense, a New Urbanist city before there was a New Urbanism, a city of mixed-use neighborhoods, vibrant commercial districts, and a thriving 24-hour downtown; a city of streetcar corridors and streetcar suburbs; a city embedded in its region, bounded by its waterfront and hinterland. The work of the comprehensive plan and its companion elements, then, is not so much to design the city as it is to repair the body of the city as it refits its economic engine for a new century.

Transect Zone(s): T4 general, T5 center, T6 core.
Status: 26-50% Built
Project or Plan's Scale: Region
Features: Affordable/subsidized housing, Civic buildings & parks, Live/work, Transit oriented development, Waterfront.
Land area (in acres): 7095
Total built area (in sq. ft.):
Total project cost (in local currency): 310
Retail area (in sq. ft.):
Office area (in sq. ft.):
Industrial area (in sq. ft.):
Number of hotel units:
Number of residential units (include live/work): 10000
Civic uses (type and size): Full range supporting a city of 292,000 people
Parks & green space (in acres):
Residential types: High-rise, Mid-rise/loft, Low-rise flats, Townhouse/rowhouse/maisonette, Semi-detached, Small lot detached, Large lot detached, Live/work.
Project team designers: The Urban Design Project - The School of Architecture and Planning, University of Buffalo SUNY; City of Buffalo's Mayor's Office; City of Buffalo Common Council; City of Buffalo Strategic Planning; Carter International; The Regional Institute; City of Buffalo Department of Public Works; Wendel Duchscherer, Architects and Engineers; Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper; County of Erie; Trowbridge and Wolf, Landscape Architects; The Center for for Computational Research, University at Buffalo SUNY; Greater Buffalo Regional Transportation Council; Deleware North Companies Parks and Resorts
Project team developers: The Urban Design Project - The School of Architecture and Planning, University of Buffalo SUNY

Previous site status:

Starting/Ending date of construction/implementation: -