The road to our renaissance is paved in brick

Mayor Byron Brown’s administration deserves credit for its accomplishment on Ardmore Street on Buffalo’s Westside. After asphalt pavement had receded to expose a largely intact brick road beneath, residents petitioned the city to remove the aged asphalt to fully expose the brick. Brown, with Public Works Commissioner Stephen Stepniak, deserve credit for their responsiveness.

Residents are pleased that the brick has added to the neighborhood’s historic charm and ambiance just around the corner from Colonial Circle. Sure, the brick is worn — but in a way that is inviting, authentic, and exudes a sense of place. It’s a desirable aesthetic that will surely help boost the block’s property values. The city achieved this compelling improvement for less time, fewer materials, and a lower cost than repaving the street.

So why wouldn’t Mayor Brown highlight this success? And – far more importantly – why wouldn’t he replicate it elsewhere?

Much of Buffalo’s original brick and cobblestone streets lie largely intact beneath a few layers of asphalt pavement – particularly on side streets in the city’s oldest neighborhoods where major road reconstruction hasn’t taken place. For these transitional neighborhoods in particular, a historic aesthetic can breathe new and investment activity in the city’s beautiful but aging housing stock.

Mayor Brown should set an ambitious objective: bring back the brick to every residential side street where it is possible. We can transform the image

Beyond increasing property values, brick roads have other practical quality of life impacts. Brick side streets calm traffic, thereby improving public safety. Brick streets are more permeable, reducing runoff water and non-point source pollution.

The fiscal impacts would be great for the city. Brick streets enjoy a much longer lifespan than asphalt or concrete. Brick is far less costly to maintain than asphalt, which is easily prone to potholes requiring intensive labor and equipment for regular repairs. Brick repair is far less costly, requires lighter equipment, fewer laborers, and is far less frequent.

It’s time for Buffalo to rebuild itself in our own image – to embrace a counter cultural and post modern effort at revival – and to chart a path forward that appreciates the city’s character and history.

Will paving contractors moan? Sure. Will construction unions groan? Of course. But they can both be placated with far more impactful (and considerably more lucrative) government contracting opportunities: like highway removal, the construction of parks and public spaces, and light rail expansion.

Imagine broad swaths of the city transformed into Victorian-era urban villages set in a post-industrial city with a style all our own.

The road to our renaissance is paved in brick.

Will Byron step up and own the accomplishment? He has always acted a bit above historic preservation and urban design issues – but for a guy in his third and final term and looking for a legacy – he might take the time to rethink the city’s road spending for the next two years.

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3 comments

  1. If you’d research a bit, you will find that very few streets were ever brick. A City atlas from 1891, 1894, or 1915 will confirm this (they’re online) … Most residential streets went directly from dirt to asphalt. Buffalo had more miles of asphalt than any city in the world, in 1900.

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  2. I grew up on a brick street in South Buffalo. At a very early age I knew it was beautiful. I’m all for returning the streets to brick, for beauty’s sake, and for slowing traffic.

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