Tag Archives: vision

Other cities series: Buffalo’s Elmwood Village

Dave and I just got back from a visit to Buffalo, another much-maligned city in upstate New York that has, nevertheless, managed to move forward in its thinking about sustainable urban development. While the addition of one more national chain in Eastwood has caused much furor, Buffalo’s Elmwood Village is just a step or three ahead of us. They’ve lived through the installation of a Kentucky Fried Chicken and its demise. Now take a look at what’s replacing it – photo taken directly from this article in Buffalo Rising:

"Elmwood Village" project

Looks pretty much like the kind of buildings that used to be built in cities where people walked. There are many reasons for this design choice, and a quick search on “walkable” in your favorite search engine will provide them. But a quick review:

  • Density (numbers of people living in the buildings above shops) creates walkability – the people want to walk to businesses nearby so businesses get built for them.
  • Transparency from the street and sidewalk to the interior and also back out creates safety for the same reason the elevators are made of glass in malls: you can see what’s going on outside and people outside can see what’s happening inside.
  • Natural surveillance from the upper floors where people live 24/7 keeps eyes on the street at just about all hours.
  • Parking is located in such a way as to make quick getaways difficult, resulting in lower crime rates.

There’s a lot more to it than that, but let’s take a look at one more fascinating aspect of a densely populated urban community: real estate value. Buried in the comments of the above article is something we might want to pay attention to:

If you want to buy anything within .5 mile east or west of Elmwood you will pay through the nose.

Elmwood does not have a lot of the kind of gorgeous buildings we see in Skaneateles, Geneva or Canandaigua. It’s quite similar to Eastwood’s James Street business district, and I’d be willing to bet that it wasn’t all that long ago that it looked much the same, struggling to shift from the downward spiral to becoming the interesting and walkable destination district that makes it the most desirable neighborhood in Buffalo.

Now look at the home values. Two-family homes  near this project, similar to the many we have within blocks of James, are going for $160,000 to $206,000 (according to zillow.com). By national standards that’s still wildly inexpensive. But it’s about 25-50% greater than what we have in Eastwood.

How does this kind of good development happen?  In part, help from enlightened government. From yesterdays’ Buffalo Business First site (bolding mine):

Plans to demolish a vacant Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet along Elmwood Avenue and replace it with a mixed-use building have cleared another hurdle.

The Erie County Industrial Development Agency’s directors, Monday, unanimously approved an inducement package that will help the development trio of Orchard Park’s Krog Corp., Buffalo architect Karl Frizlen and lawyer Michael Ferdman construct a three story, nearly 20,000-square-foot building at 448 Elmwood Ave.

… The building will house a Coffee Culture outlet on its first floor and upscale apartments on the its second and third floors.

So how do we entice a developer like Krog Corp to build correctly on James and Midler?

All mayoral and Common Council candidates may now weigh in. :-)

They didn’t pave paradise

Anyone crazy enough to read all these posts knows I grew up in Manlius, so walkability was normal for me. My dear ol’ dad was a member of the Village Board for quite some time and I recall fights back in the ’60’s when he and others were trying to prevent the village from tearing down its historic buildings. For the most part, they were successful. And if you walk around Manlius today, you’ll see that there’s still a “there” there. You’ll know, from the quaintly mid-century Sno-Top to the Swan Pond to the ancient Masonic Temple and the early 19th-century homes near the gazebo, that you are in no other place than Manlius, NY.

Continue reading They didn’t pave paradise

They paved paradise

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got till it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

………….From “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell

I’ve been reading a lot about upstate New York lately, in particular Carl Carmer’s books. But I recently got a different kind of book from the library: Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette: A Mostly Affectionate Account of a Small Town’s Fight to Survive, by Bill Kauffman. The small town: Batavia, NY.

batavia1

Same view, but now there’s no “there” there:

batavia2

“Beth is of the opinion, ” says Steve (on p. 162 of Kauffman’s book)… “that with the demolition of downtown Batavia, it lost so much of its character that there was not enough left to hold people, to give them a feeling of community and of belonging.” Anchorless, unmoored, Batavians cast about for any port in a storm.

One paragraph in this book sounds so much like Syracuse in general and Eastwood in particular that I just have to reproduce it here. It is simply a quote by Kauffman of a letter-to-the-editor that Don and Teresa Doran of Batavia wrote:

In reply to why Batavians mock out Batavia instead of being proud and trying to make Batavia big, Batavia is funny. What other town would destroy a possible tourist attraction on a continuous basis?  Batavia could have been a tourist attraction with all the wonderful history that this town had, but instead every ounce of history is being destroyed by the great community leaders. Why bother publishing flashbacks from the past? It only shows all of us how stupid Batavia is….Books and articles are published about the history of Batavia. People just laugh at that. They say, “If Batavia cared so much about its history, why did they tear everything down?” Do you have an answer? I don’t! I am disgusted with Batavia’s great plans! They have turned a once beautiful city full of history and industry into a junk city full of modern, no-class buildings and retail stores that benefit no one and they wonder why so many people laugh at Batavia and move away.

Do you remember Wittigs Ice Cream? The building is still there. I’m told they used to make their own corned beef right there, in a special cooker. That and pastrami, too. And they served some very good hamburgers and pistachio ice cream.

wittigs_closeup

Let’s not tear down our built history. This building had a long-time restaurant in it up until just a couple years ago and it conforms to the overlay district guidelines. It has ample parking behind it and it holds the corner. It’s walkable. Anything is possible where there’s vision and a will… and a mayor willing to exercise both of those rare traits.

Making Eastwood look like every other place is not sustainable. It makes money for the few and deprives thousands of residents of a feeling of community. People move away. And property values fall.

Let’s not pave our piece of paradise. It’s all that makes Eastwood unique.

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