ECHDC’s slow progress has planners demanding a second Harbor Development Corp

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC), a subsidiary of Empire State Development, has managed an excruciatingly slow 15-year process to develop the City’s Inner Harbor — all the while developers have been chomping at the bit to invest.

Now, some urban planners are calling on the City of Buffalo to establish its own parallel development process — perhaps through the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation or directly under the control of the Mayor as a normal function of the City’s Office of Strategic Planning.

“The ECHDC governance structure limits local input, it strips local elected officials of control, and it delays the progress that we can be making by putting Albany politics smack in the middle of a decision the agency makes,” explains Matt Ricchiazzi, a local urban design critic.

“Rather than burdening ECHDC with additional waterfront development objectives, let’s set up a second process that can be conducted simultaneously,” he posits.  “We need participatory planning processes that address South Harbor and Riverside as well.  We can walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Urban planners explain that the longer that the most desirable swaths of the city are untouchable by developers because the City hasn’t gotten the urban planning work done to facilitate that development in a high-quality way, the longer the City’s economic stagnation will continue.

“High-quality urban design enables development and economic growth by addressing all of the concerns of the body politic through iterative design,” Ricchiazzi explains.  “The absence of urban design leads to conflict and creates political logjams that take decades to clear.”

Ricchiazzi wants Mayor Byron W. Brown to direct the Office of Strategic Planning to acquire lands currently owned by the Niagara Frontier Transporation Authority (NFTA) and to establish a participatory planning process to address that site’s redevelopment.

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