Published on June 30th, 2014 | by GrowWNY Intern1
Reclaiming Our Waterfront
BY: JOSHUA BERES, GROWWNY INTERN
Few issues are as prominent in Western New York today as the debate over how to use our incredible waterfront along Lake Erie. Coming up on July 9th there will be a series of public meetings on the development of a significant portion known as the Outer Harbor. All of the talk about the waterfront lately reminded me of a presentation I attended entitled Reclaiming Waterfronts at the 22nd Congress for New Urbanism. My eyes were opened to just how important developing the area along the water is for the future of WNY.
The first portion of the presentation was given by Chris Glaisek who discussed the process of developing the waterfront in his home city of Toronto. In fact, Toronto’s current project to reclaim their waterfront area is one of the most significant city building projects in the world today in terms of scale and capital being invested. Approximately 2000 acres of this real estate is under public ownership which allows the people to be more invested in the decision making process. Contrary to a redevelopment, which is concerned with the private market, Glaisek was adamant that since the project is focused on the public’s agenda, the term revitalization is more appropriate. Over the next 5 years, the addition of parks and improved streets will capitalize on this exceptional plot of land. Furthermore, the emphasis on sustainability and green infrastructure is a priority in all phases of the revitalization. Creating greenways for transport and natural storm water systems in the parks will give Toronto’s waterfront an edge in environmental consciousness.
Despite the promising future Toronto’s waterfront holds, Glaisek also explained that there are certain obstacles that must be overcome. One of the biggest issues is public cynicism, due to the failure of 4 previous efforts to revitalize the waterfront. Other issues that plagued the Toronto project was the complexity, global competition, limited resources, and even a moratorium on waterfront development by a previous mayor. In order to combat these problems, Glaisek and his team created a master plan that divided the waterfront into smaller, more manageable sections. Furthermore, they launched design competitions for these sections of the waterfront; a truly ingenious idea that promotes public involvement and saves resources.
After this introductory talk, Tom Dee, the President of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) moved the discussion lens into focus on WNY. To start, Dee exclaimed that his vision is to revitalize WNY’s waterfront because “Buffalo’s greatest resource is its water.” In order to do this, the ECHDC has been following a set of guiding principles:
o Accessibility – having a welcoming atmosphere, easy public access and pedestrian friendly.
o Diverse Use – providing a collection of unique attractions that make it an enjoyable experience.
o Design – incorporating green infrastructure and sustainability so that it may be enjoyed all year.
o Financial Payback – creating local jobs and business opportunities.
Dee explained how this has already been accomplished at Canalside, which he defined as an urban entertainment district where culture, history, and our great natural resources
coalesce to form a world class public space. So far, this area offers a beach playground, boardwalk, Adirondack chairs, restaurants, concerts, festivals, and soon the Harbor Center as well. In addition, the number of public events being held in this area has risen from just 115 in 2010 up to over 800 in 2013! In order to emulate the success of Canalside at the Outer Harbor, Buffalo River, and other sections of Western New York’s waterfront, Dee plans to continue applying the above principles to create spectacular waterfront property. To wrap up the presentation, Dee said “We’re not talking about dreams anymore; we’re talking about the reality of revitalizing our waterfront.”
It is clear that improving WNY for the future will start along the edge of Lake Erie and our other waterways. Without a focus on our waterfront we are essentially losing a large part of what makes WNY such a special place to live. Taking another step towards a more sustainable and vastly upgraded city starts on July 9th. We hope to see you there.