Archive for the 'buffalo' Category

The Crash of Flight 3407

Flight 3407 – Reuters

CREDIT: Gary Wiepert, Reuters [via]

Last night, Continental Flight 3407 crashed in route from Newark to Buffalo Niagara International Airport, just a few miles from its scheduled destination. The crash site is just five or six miles from where I grew up, in a suburb of Buffalo, NY.

The Buffalo News has a living topic page dedicated to coverage of the event, which they are updating with articles, photos, video and other resources, as they are put up. They also started live blogging the story, and linking to outside resources provided by citizen journalists.

CNN is carrying live video from the local NBC affliate.

My heart goes out to the victims, their families and the nearby communities. It’s important to remember that these things rarely happen, but when they do, especially so close to home, it’s impossible not to feel sad.

Saving Buffalo’s Untold Beauty

Downtown Buffalo

Photo Credit: Tony Cenicola/The New York TimesA photo of downtown Buffalo.

The Times had a great piece yesterday on Buffalo’s architectural legacy, and recent attempts to save historic buildings:

Buffalo is home to some of the greatest American architecture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with major architects like Henry Hobson Richardson, Frederick Law Olmsted, Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright building marvels here. Together they shaped one of the grandest early visions of the democratic American city.

Yet Buffalo is more commonly identified with the crumbling infrastructure, abandoned homes and dwindling jobs that have defined the Rust Belt for the past 50 years. And for decades its architecture has seemed strangely frozen in time.

There is also an accompanying slide show, from which the photo above was taken.

Full disclosure: I’m originally from Buffalo.

Google Earth in 3D

Google Earth now has 3D-buildings, and it’s really fun to play with. Here is the Times Building, where I work:

Times Building

A 3D rendering of the New York Times Building in Midtown, as shown in Google Earth.

If you have Google Earth installed, see it for yourself. Or, try landing on the deck of the Golden Gate Bridge, (just zoom in).

There seems to be data for a lot of cities, including my home town of Buffalo, and former home of Boston.

Sabres as Oasis?

Chris DruryWe’re heading home to Buffalo for the holiday, (and my 10-year High School reunion), which reminds me of how well the Sabres are playing.

ESPN’s John Buccigross compares the Sabres to the britpop Oasis of all things:

At full strength, the Buffalo Sabres are unequivocally the best team in the NHL. Not only do they have the full complement of parts, but Buffalo has that confidence that Oasis had when they went head-to-head with Blur back in 1995 in a Britpop mano a mano, or more accurately called boyo-a-boyo.

Noel Gallagher said he and Oasis’ soul was more pure than Blur’s because they grew up poor, with dirt underneath their fingernails, while Blur was middle class. The concept is interesting, especially when it is spoken with a rough English accent while sitting in a gigantic and expensive chair.

But Chris Drury, who grew up in a middle-class town in southern Connecticut, makes $3.1 million this season and probably will sign a five-year, $22 million contract with someone next summer. And yet, he plays every game like someone kidnapped his entire family and the ransom is winning the faceoff he is about to take. That’s the story, morning glory.

I may not agree with John’s take on the 90s Britpop war, but it’s hard to argue with his thoughts on Drury.

X-mas in Buffalo

Ornament on the familial X-mas tree

Ornament on the familial X-mas tree

Macy and Jeremy at Spot Coffee, Elmwood Ave.

Macy and Jeremy at Spot Coffee, Elmwood Ave

Exhibit at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery

Exhibit at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery

Continue reading ‘X-mas in Buffalo’

Buffalo Central Terminal Update

Chuck Maley's Central Terminal picturesA while back, I posted about a piece of architectural wonderment lying vandalized and dormant in Buffalo—the old Central Terminal. It’s a beautiful Deco train station from the 1920s, plopped into an otherwise unexceptional suburban neighborhood.

At the time the station was built, Buffalo was still an industrial and cultural center, with a population over one-half million. It was second only to Chicago for its tangling rail network. However, by the late 1970s, both the city and the station had seen better days. The station was boarded up, and the trains instead stopped at a new, strip-mall like parking-lot station not far away.

Well, there is some good news… it seems that some people do care about preserving the city’s heritage. Despite its vandalized and trashed interior, the building is drawing crowds—including some Canadian urban explorers.

What I love about structures like the Central Terminal is that they were built for the public to use. It’s absolutely unthinkable to imagine private corporations building such public spaces today—I think those years have passed, (as have the years of ridiculously cheap immigrant labor).

Here’s hoping there is a developer out there with deep pockets and a creative will.

The Central Terminal at a glance:

  • The Central Terminal opened four months before the Wall Street crash of 1929
  • Designed to handle an anticipated Buffalo population of 1.5 million, it cost $14 million to build
  • The 17-story office tower stands 271 feet high
  • The station closed in October 1979 after years of dwindling rail passenger service
  • A 1969 study estimated it would cost $54 million to restore it for office use, and $16.3 million to demolish it

Basketcase City

Here is an interesting item in the Buffalo News… it seems former mayor James D. “Jimmy” Griffin is starting a “grass-roots” campaign to recall his successor, Mayor Masiello. Just as Buffalo is starting to do the right things it needs to do to get out of financial chaos, past specters responsible for the mess the city finds itself in are in are resurfacing to reassert their influence.

There is no money in the city coffers, and NY State is occupied with rebuilding NY City… yet Griffin finds it necessary to stir up populist anger at the mayor’s insistence that a city of 290,000 cannot afford 2-man police cars.

Now, I’m supportive of unions, and labor in general. But, they’ve got the city hijacked—it’s just not the city of half-million that it was in 1905. My suburban childhood town, Amherst, probably has more class-A office space that 10 Buffalos… the reigning culture there is one of the automobile.

If You Build it, They Will Come
The State built the new campus of the University at Buffalo—on undeveloped land in Amherst in the 60s—in such a way as to confuse pedestrians. The parking lots and mega-steel-and-glass-box buildings are on a scale unfathomable to the pedestrian. It could take you thirty minutes to walk from the dormitories to class, and the only thing that separates you are vast parking lots and curving 8-lane roads. This sort of destructive and unprecedented planning will make an agoraphobe out of anyone that isn’t high on something… There is no urban fabric—you can’t comfortably walk down a block and buy a coke at the news stand on the way to statistics. The street isn’t lined with a buffer of parked cars or trees to insulate the pedestrian from the street. No. This would be the traditional way of planning. Are the streets planned at all?

The fact is, the only way the University at Buffalo makes any coherent sense is from 75 mph out your car window on Interstate-990, (incidentally a useless, sprawl-inducing highway built to link yet-to-be-built shoddy cul-de-sacs north of the city, to the new campus). And from a reactionary administrative point of view, this kind of building assures total control over the “streets”, a worry of these types in the turbulent 1960s.

A Culture of Dashboards
Where was I? Oh yes. The automobile. The Culture in Buffalo. It must be changed. Or at least modified, and we’ve got to for once put an end to people like Jimmy Griffin. Irish politicians, generally speaking, have a particular knack for killing cities for their own personal gain. In my mind, James D. Griffin was the most corrupt city mayor of the past 25 years, eclipsed recently only by Buddy Cianci in Providence. His neighborhood cronies ran the city into the ground, going so far as to poison the man-made lake in Delaware Park, by dumping chemicals such that it wouldn’t freeze for ice-skaters. No, Griffin is only interested in taking care of his clan in South Buffalo, and the whole damn rest of you can go fuck yourselves.

Speaking of his Irish clan, always mindful to underline their white, and therefore privileged status, the Irish politicians identify status symbols that might hide the otherwise sad state of the city. The car, and suburban development in general, are precisely their chosen symbols. They can’t necessarily move into a 4 bed-room McMansion in Amherst, however they can afford a five-year old Chevy or Ford—and avoid taking the subway or, god-forbid, the bus system (which are primarily employed by the African-American population). They envy the new suburban, car-oriented development of strip malls and parking lots, and politician like Griffin decided that this was precisely the kind of construction needed in the city. What resulted, was a mess. Drive down main street from the 198 to downtown to see what i mean. You can literally drive through there without seeing people on the street for blocks—and this is a 4-lane road

Cities should be organized to facilitate suburbanite commuters. Right? Well, this kind of thing isn’t going to be sustainable in Miami, Las Vegas, Philadelphia or Detroit—much less Buffalo. In fact, the financial realities that are starting to surface in less-off places like Buffalo should be a kind of warning. We won’t always have cheap oil, and it should be evident that cities actually offer a healthy way of life. Walk to work. Ride a subway car with people from different clans than you. Preserve our historical buildings, because they were built better than any building in the past 50 years.

The Restoration
Walk to work? These sort of ideas belong to elites, and that explains why the Irish politicians (and others like James Pitts, the African-American Common Council President), resist efforts in this direction. They’re too caught up in what they perceive to be status symbols, i.e., cars, krispy kremes, that they don’t realize that the health of the city and region depends on the health of its neighborhoods. And, yes Mr. Pitts, we will have to invest in the minority neighborhoods. But until we put some money in the coffers, and work on eroding the perception that cities are for non-car driving public-housing types. It’s a mania that cannot sustain itself.


I really am tempted to write a Slate-like cranky criticism of the new Buffalo Bills uniforms, but I will try to say some nice things: The dark blue is great. I like the stripes with the gray on the helmet.

(Here comes the cranky part) So, if you’re going to make an “update” with the new darker blue, why would you keep the lighter royal blue? Wouldn’t it be nice to put the numbers in red, or gray? or the new dark blue? Doesn’t that light blue look just as dated now as it did last year? Why do the white uniforms have a blue bar on the shoulders?

And the logo—change the f*cking logo. I think the Sabres got the logo RIGHT. It’s tough, modern and looks fucking great on the front of the uniforms. The Bills logo (much like the original Sabres jerseys) is the boring old abstract corporate-art that is a direct rip-off of that 1970s Buffalo propaganda “WE’RE TALKING PROUD”. Talking Proud? We’re talking MISERY.

Let me tell you what I really think. In a move true to this nostalgic age we live in, the Bills tried to preserve many elements of the old uniforms, while updating the colors a little. The result? It’s an incohesive mishmash of styles and colors, trying to be everything to everybody and it fails all around. There is nothing intimidating about these jerseys, nor is there anything “new”.

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.

Trains are better than Cars

Central Station, Buffalo, NY, circa 1930.

Presley’s sister Kelly was in town this past weekend, and she left yesterday on the Amtrak train from Back Bay Station, which got me thinking about train stations and trains in general. Everyone in these New Urbanist books that I read can’t fathom how America ended up wedded to the automobile, while the Europeans remain contented with trains.

I think it’s a simple answer: after the war, we just could. It was the thing to do, and we had the resources. But, isn’t there something wonderful about trains? And more importantly, big city train stations? Grand Central in Manhattan is gorgeous. Moderinists moan on about how style should be down-played because it is the taste of economic elites, but I don’t care if putting a building like that up was a capitalist show of wealth and power—it had beauty, craftmanship and it was a place where people of all races and incomes passed through. They destroyed Penn Station in the sixties to put up Madison Square Garden. big whoop. If anything, MSG is more capitalist-minded than the building it replaced.

So, it brings me around to Buffalo and Kelly’s departure… Earlier in this century, Buffalo actually was in the top 5 for most railroad track—Buffalo had industry, and it was located on the important route between new york and chicago. The city built some beautiful train stations (subsequently demolished), who’s architecture seems wonderfully as grand as Grand Central itself. The last remaining station, Central Terminal, still stands on the East Side, though it’s falling apart. I wish to God the city could find some new use for the facility—problem is, it is located in the most economically depressed area of the city.

Boston as a Blueprint

The new Planning news feed at the right of this page is already reaping interesting rewards—among the interesting links, an article that discusses Boston and it’s neighborhoods. Mayor Menino has made neighborhood-based commercial development a priority over the past decade or so, and it’s just the kind of thing that makes economic sense. In awarding grants to individual small business owners, (most of which is federal money anyway), for little improvements such as new store facades, Boston has cultivated a neighborhood approach to development. Occasionally, big “urban-renewal” projects, such as the new Ritz-Carlton monstrosity in Chinatown, do get built, but usually they include some kind of mixed-use, (even if that mixed-use is upscale in this very working-class neighborhood).

It’s never been a very sexy thing to talk about, but the successes of this program can’t be ignored, and many cities are starting to emulate Menino. Buffalo is trying to cultivate this, through the creation and encouragement of city neighborhoods such as the “Pan-Am District” around Elmwood Ave in North Buffalo. Even private college campuses such as Canisius are contributing to the quality of their surrounding neighborhoods by providing low-interest mortgages to professors and staff, to encourage them to live near the schools. Now, answer me this: Why is the major state school, SUNY at Buffalo, located in Amherst (not buffalo)?

What Buffalo Was, and What it Should Be

If you’ve talked with me in the last few months, you know that I’ve taken an interest in Urban Planning, and more specifically those characteristics that make a good neighborhood and city. I don’t know why this subject has peaked my interest, considering I used to be in awe of places like Epcot and I grew up not far from strip-malls. But, I am deeply concerned about that place where I grew up, because the city of Buffalo is rotting at it’s core, while the endless development of pharmacy mini-malls, parking lots, and cul-de-sacs pushes farther out into the countryside.

It used to be that Transit Road was a marker or sorts—suburban development fell off notably in the town of Clarence. But now, Clarence and Lancaster are becoming the newest sprawl suburbs. Housing development is getting less and less dense, taking up more and more land, and as a result, weakening community ties. The goal in the Buffalo area these days, is to earn enough to “get yours”—which means a big house in the middle of nowhere, with lousy architecture, a big front yard, and curving streets that don’t connect to other developments. You can’t walk to a corner store, much less to work or school.

This, of course, means that cars must be used for anything and everything in Buffalo’s suburbs, and increasingly so in these new suburbs. Growing up, I could walk or ride my bike to a corner store, a supermarket, a pizzeria, a k-mart and a bagel shop. For kids growing up in Loch Lea and other developments further out, this is simply not an option—a ride from mom or dad is required, and an (unhealthy) dependence is born. Also, you spend much of your early teenage years looking for older friends, or pining for that 16th birthday, when mom and dad will provide you with a car. There is a sense of entitlement that comes in such a place.

Buffalo, however, wasn’t always so bleak. The Buffalo of my Grandmother’s youth was a vibrant and busy city. Look at some of these photographs… Streetcars zipped up and down major avenues, automobiles co-existed with pedestrians, commercial streets had first-floor storefronts with apartments above, and you knew your neighbor, butcher and neighborhood cop. I don’t want to sentimentalize what was, but I think people understood that there was an art to building neighborhoods—an art that seems to have been lost in post-war, post-industrial Buffalo. The powerful suburban developers like Ciminelli, don’t build permanent places to live. They think that there is no money to be made in traditional (that is to say, mixed-use) neighborhoods. Everything is this set-back-from-the-street, bastardized modernist, flat-roof, single-floor, horizontal monstrosity, with 5 parking spots out front for every 1 customer.

I know I’m taking hyperbolic license here, but I do it only because the prevailing assumptions are so ingrained and accepted that you almost need to shock people to wake them up.

We’ve been living in the age of the automobile. Traffic engineers say we need to widen roads and intersections to decrease traffic and increase traffic volume. Every major study of roadway “improvements” shows that more lanes = more cars. By widening a road like Transit, you are actually creating more traffic in the long-run. Even Robert Moses realized this in 1939, when traffic congestion cropped up on his highways where there was previously no problem. You induce traffic, by building more lanes. And, these wide intersections you see on Transit and other roads, are less safe than narrower, more traditional intersections. Here in Boston, despite our reputation for crazy driving, there are rarely any accidents at all, due to our small blocks, odd intersections and lack of sprawl.

Still, there is hope. I think the economic pressures that 50 years of this kind of development has wrought on Buffalo is starting to change people’s minds about living and working in close proximity. I hope environmental, and economic realities force the city and it’s county of suburbs to draw a line in the sand (and the geography), and say enough is enough. It’s not about Growth vs. anti-Growth. It’s about Smart Growth. Banks, developers and city & town officials need to be shown that it is preferable to ditch this fast-decaying suburban strip-mall way of doing things. If we are going to do this, the state needs to step in and set up stronger regional government. Many people fear this, as being ‘more government’, when in actuality it could save money by eliminating redundant services.

But there is powerful resistance to any kind of regional planning.