Paladino must step up on urban design

THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Developer Carl Paladino must step up the quality of his company’s proposals with respect to urban design. In recent months, Paladino has riled preservationists after a $75 million Ellicott Development proposal would have demolished a historic property at Pearl and Tupper Streets. In it’s place the firm would construct an over imposing 12 story building that includes a parking garage and residential structure. The building has since been landmarked by the Preservation Board.

Planners lambasted that plan for being widely incongruent with the scale and urban form of the neighborhood. Planners are clamoring for a more human scale, a livelier streetscape, and less automobile oriented spatial patterns. We need our civic leaders to understand the virtue of traditional spatial development patterns, the economics of proximity, and the dynamism of the streetscape when treated as the center of civic life.

Rather than orienting every development project around a parking garage, let’s take the opposite approach. The entertainment district badly needs Paladino’s $75 million investment, but in a form that actively heals an urban fabric that has been long scourged by surface parking lots.

Too many downtown landowners have demolished a rich architectural heritage to make a quick buck on parking. A more proactive city hall would be pressuring parking lot owners to develop or sell their parcels. That could be accomplished with a tax structure that penalizes the destructively speculative behavior that has decimated too much of our center city.

In the absence of leadership at city hall, Paladino could fill the void. Doing so would leave a proud legacy that could meaningfully affect the evolution of the city’s growth for generations. Leaving that legacy would require a robust use of the bully pulpit, something that Paladino has been effective doing. But it would also require the posture of a compromiser, a negotiator, a deal maker.

With the clout of his presence in the regional discourse, Paladino could emerge as the anti-Robert Moses. But first he must see the crafting of a development plan as the highest art of governance and statesmanship.

Development in the entertainment district should convert surface parking lots into mixed-use, streetscape-oriented, pedestrian friendly projects that will collectively heal the fabric of the neighborhood. The district’s super blocks should be bisected with pedestrian alleys and narrow streets, making neighborhoods more walkable.

Rather than replacing parking spots with massive new garages, let’s invest in the buildout of our light rail system and make it more accessible with new and better stations. It’s beyond time that we shed the provincial thinking that has held Buffalo back for too long.

It’s time to build the city we deserve. A nationally acclaimed entertainment district will take private sector leadership to achieve. We hope Mr. Paladino is willing to play a catalytic part.

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