Convert, don’t Build

Anyone following the Adelphia bid to build a huge skyscraper on the Buffalo waterfront, has to laugh at the company’s determination to get it done. The company is having Enron-like financial woes, yet still wants to build this tower in a city that has commercial vacancy rates that rival occupancy rates. I’m not saying the Adelphia project is a mistake, however I think people aren’t focusing properly on how to foster the 24-hour downtown a vibrant city needs.

First, I think, you need to lure people who work in the city to also live in the city. Cities have certain advantages to offer: A concentration of local businesses and services within walking distance (or by train), including restaurants, arts and cultural offerings, and shops. Instead of infilling the city with suburban-type developments (main place mall), or huge gated residential projects, why not play off the strengths of city-living, by revitalizing dense, mixed-use neighborhoods, and provide a housing alternative for people?

I’ve been encouraged to see, as I have pointed out in my blog, that developers in Buffalo are taking interest in converting old commercial and industrial space into residential housing (lofts.) It’s been shown to make money, and I think that might be the catalyst for a true downtown recovery. The kinds of people looking for this kind of housing have been willing to pay upwards of $1000 for a one-bedroom loft—(incidentally, in boston that would be a bargain, but in buffalo! My god, that’s no bargain)—so they must have money, and need services like groceries, restaurants, and bars. Presto!, urban renewal… You don’t need to throw cataclysmic money into develping a new skyscraper, when the marketplace can do you just as good.

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