The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) has been criticized for advancing a development plan for Buffalo’s outer harbor that includes small cul-de-sacs of exclusive luxury housing that privatizes much of the publicly owned parcel. The announcement comes after weeks of public meetings that sought public input.
The participants feedback was a clear and sound rejection of housing along the harbor’s edge, which citizens’ demanded be preserved for public use as open space. Residential development should be further inland from the lake’s edge, oriented tightly along the City Ship Canal and the Buffalo River — which, of course, would necessitate the removal of Route 5.
The removal of that elevated highway will open up hundreds of acres of land for development — ripe with waterfront views and lakefront breezes. It would allow us to simultaneously accommodate the emergence of dense urban development while preserving maximum public access to the water. It will require a traditional urban street greet of small blocks, narrowly configured streets, and pedestrian oriented spatial patterns.
With Route 5 gone, we can move real estate development inward, with streetscape infrastructure linking the Outer Harbor to the City’s existing street grid, allowing the urban fabric of Downtown and in the First Ward to grow towards the water. With a solid street grid that demands density, mixed uses, and a submissiveness to traditional urban form, we will end up accommodating vastly more development than ECHDC’s current plan.
Because Rep. Brian Higgins pushed hard for the elevated highway to be rebuilt in 2007 — constituting an epic $50 million mistake that will cost us tens of millions more to fix — the ECHDC continues to dismiss the public’s demands for waterfront highway removal.
His critics rightly suggest that — if he could get over himself and admit that he made a mistake — maybe Brian Higgins could actually achieve legitimate development on the waterfront rather, than just photo op feel gooderies. Maybe then we would be able to finally get around to doing the hard but pressing work of removing Route 5, transforming the Skyway into an elevated pedestrian park, and laying a street grid that will literally reshape the city.
Let’s do this right. The public will tolerate nothing less.