Buffalo Up!: Creating a Highly Livable Skyway Corridor and (Re)establishing a Citywide Green Infrastructure

Collaborators: Landscape and Planning - Hao Liang, Shih-Chia Chiu, Theresa O’Neil, Shannon Hasenfratz  ∕∕  Urban Design - Shiyu Chen, Wilson Rui Qian  ∕∕  Traffic Planning - Zhuojin Wang  ∕∕  Advisors - Andrew Nash, Yuxiang Luo

Role: Landscape Architect / Project Lead

Status: 2019 Aim for the Sky The Buffalo Skyway Corridor Competition Finalist 

Location: Buffalo, NY

Learn More: ▶︎ Empire State Development    ▶︎ The Buffalo News

Buffalo Up! will forge new connections to the waterfront through key transformative projects and smart developments at a human scale. The plan will support activity within and access to a key open space for Buffalo and a tree farm on site will support Buffalo’s green infrastructure and citizen education.

 

Our vision is to create a process and tools for implementing a plan.

Creating a pretty picture is a good start, and we have created a physical vision consisting of projects for the Skyway Corridor, but far too many great visions remain on paper. Therefore, our vision includes developing an implementation process and products to build our vision, in addition to a physical vision.

 

Our vision is to create a highly livable environment in the Skyway Corridor.

The fundamental ingredients for economic development today are knowledge and livability. Livable environments attract the creative people needed to develop new ideas and companies. The raw material for new products is knowledge.

Our vision targets development for the future economy.

Globalization, migration, and climate emergency are remaking the world before our eyes. Tomorrow’s successful businesses and organizations will develop products and processes designed for that new world. Our vision supports the development of these new products and processes.

 

Our vision is built to spread.

Our vision can only succeed by helping make all Buffalo more livable and supporting future-oriented businesses throughout the region. We use the Skyway Corridor to prototype and demonstrate livability and economic development strategies that can then be extended broadly.

Matrix of Momentum - Small Actions Forms Big Impacts

Lake Erie defines characteristics of Buffalo’s waterfront - the view, the natural landscapes, and the shoreline. The site has a rich cultural heritage. Within the context of city renewal and living improvement, future development presents imminent opportunities to tackle emerging challenges in infrastructure and sustainability. Through careful analysis of existing context and technological trajectory, the matrix integrates green and mobility systems with development. It aims to deliver a future waterfront that gives Buffalo an urban identity; rekindles connection between communities; and provides opportunities in sustainable growth.

It’s about systems. It’s about strategies. It’s about management. It about going from small to big influences. The earlier stage of the project will be about small scale interventions, such as fixing one sidewalk and planting a few trees, and slowly we will have more power to upgrade a street. Many streets will evolve into a nicer district. Planting a couple of trees in improving multiple aspects of microscale. Connecting the trees becomes corridors/parks. The network of trees becomes habitat, etc. Gradually, we have infrastructures for new transportation methods, green systems, established industries, and recreational programs. In each of the interventions, we have low to high-cost solutions. We combine and manage them with a strategy. We start with small interventions and reasonable projects, and strategically built up the city's systems. How to integrate different systems and how to carefully manage to yield positive results is the key. That will provide the city with an optimum momentum.

A Landscape Approach - A Growing Buffalo

Once known as ‘one of the best-planned cities in the world’, Buffalo was famous for its sophisticated urban features and carefully designed park system. Today, the Buffalo Olmsted Park System is an extensive network of parks, parkways, and smaller green spaces. Despite this, the northern and southern parks, which were developed 20-years apart, are somewhat isolated from each other. 130 years later, Buffalo Up! proposes introducing new, green infrastructure that connects these spaces, as was Frederick Law Olmsted’s intention, while stimulating urban life and rejuvenating the City's rich history.

Buffalo Up! encourages Buffalonians and visitors alike to experience Buffalo’s outdoor amenities, building upon the city’s historic legacy of integrated urban and park planning by establishing a ‘Green Heart’ of the park system at the Buffalo Waterfront. Downtown’s adjacency to Lake Erie offers the opportunity to connect to the waterfront, offering panoramic views and recreational amenities, as well as Outer Harbor to its south, introducing naturalistic areas and potential nursery space. The gradual stitching together of the city’s park system will accommodate the eventual transition of the Skyway from vehicular route to waterfront park system; benefiting all neighborhoods in Buffalo.

This green system will evolve into one of the driving engines of Buffalo’s future growth in infrastructure, economy and urban life. The waterfront will be a critical building block of this city-wide infrastructure.

Transforming the Skyway

Our vision is to create a sustainable transport system for the Skyway Corridor that makes a major contribution to the corridor’s livability by replacing the existing highway. This system would apply intelligent transport systems (ITS) strategies to existing routes thus increasing their efficiency and build a sustainable transport network through the corridor.

We firmly believe that the cities which succeed in the future will be those that remove urban highways planned in the 1950s when they need rehabilitation and replace them with sustainable transport systems tightly integrated with urban livability projects. The Interstate Transfer Program clearly demonstrated the success of this approach during the 1990s. We will fight together with advocates in other cities to include a similar program in federal legislation designed to fight climate change (e.g., Green New Deal).

Ultimately, we can imagine a Skyway Corridor with almost no cars. Existing traffic would be reduced as people use improved public transport, new cycling, and walking routes or live in housing within the Corridor. Those who still needed to drive would be guided to highly efficient alternative routes (Michigan Avenue, South Park and the Thruway) which would be outfitted with ITS technology to smooth flow and livability improvements to reduce community impacts. 

Building on Buffalo’s Progress

Our proposal capitalizes on the significant investments in the precinct over the last decade. Our plan seeks to build upon successes at Canalside and the Outer Harbor Waterfront and enrich local vacant lots with a tool kit and framework for ongoing redevelopment more on the vision for inner harbor area.

Enhancing Buffalo’s Livability

Our vision is to create a set of vibrant mixed-use neighborhoods adjoining a world-class waterfront park. The neighborhoods will be highly livable, to attract residents and businesses. The waterfront will combine passive and active spaces with cultural institutions such as museums and performance spaces. It will form a living room for local residents and workers, as well as creating an iconic destination for visitors for recreation, education, events, and performances. A sustainability center and tree nursery will create a low maintenance landscape and support the completion of the original Olmstead landscape vision for Buffalo by supplying trees for completion of green infrastructure corridors elsewhere within Buffalo and establishing a green heart at the Buffalo Waterfront connecting into existing open space and trail networks and establishing critical new links with a pedestrian bridge reconnecting Michigan Avenue and ferry service connecting canal side with the Outer Harbor. 

Outer Harbor South Connecting to a Renewed Economic Engine

Redevelopment of the Bethlehem Steel site will create a thriving, modern industrial precinct connected seamlessly into the adjacent waterfront open space and the CBD beyond. The redevelopment will honor and continue the history of the site as an economic engine for upstate New York and New York State as a whole. On-site energy production in the form of wind turbines is a true symbol of progress and Buffalo’s new green economy. Our vision is for industrial and light industrial uses within the redevelopment site to transition to research and development and innovation uses toward the Skyway.

          

Serving the local community and New York State

The redevelopment of the Skyway will raise the profile of Buffalo and create an international destination and case study for adapting the aging infrastructure. However, the most important stakeholders are the local Buffalo community. The community will continue to enjoy recreation on the Outer Harbor lands, but will also have new cultural destinations. Green Infrastructure in the form of trees cultivated in the waterfront precinct will help green the whole city and have social and climate benefits for citizens across Buffalo.

 

Alignment with Existing Policies

Our proposed solution gradually introduces changes to traffic flows and pedestrian patterns in a way that respects the physical and regulatory constraints of the area. The planned pedestrian bridge honors the role of the river in Buffalo’s industrial economy and will rotate to allow full flow of freight traffic and prove visual interest and excitement for pedestrians in the area. The Green Code establishes a valuable set of guidelines for Buffalo’s waterfront that will be applied in our design of the site.

Our proposed vision and future detailed designs are intended to be consistent with the spirit and intended outcomes of all relevant plans and policies. More detailed planning will be guided by these existing policies. 

Lackawanna Zoning

We have proposed deviation from the Light Industrial Zoning of the former Bethlehem Steel Site because we believe that the future of the precinct as an economic engine can be expanded to include cutting edge research and development spaces in addition to manufacturing uses to round out its support for the new green economy.

Climate resilience is another important consideration and constraint for planning the future of the Skyway and the Outer Harbor District. Our designs will take into account future climate conditions and help build the urban forest that will reduce urban heat island in Buffalo in summer and shelter streets from icy winds off the lake in winter.

Finally, we note our decision to commit to investment and activation of the outer harbor waterfront to strengthen the connection to the future employment core to the south and create a regional and international destination. We believe that we are also enhancing the passive recreation elements that the community values so much and strategically positioning development to minimize any impact on existing and planned open spaces.

Buffalo Comprehensive Plan

Our plan is in line with the Comprehensive Plan’s core concept of transforming Buffalo’s Economy with both the jobs cluster and innovation hub at the former Bethlehem Steel sure, but also by enhancing Buffalo as a visitor destination to drive growth in tourism. It also supports and fulfills the concept of restoring Olmstead’s vision for the city and the waterfront.

 

Buffalo Green / Green Buffalo

The Olmsted “Six Parks, Seven Parkways, Eight Circles” plan for Buffalo emerged a century ago with the desire to connect the city through parks and green-ways, creating uninterrupted green interlace. It was a visionary notion, to urbanize the city through the landscape. That vision has carried through to Buffalo's identity today. As was demonstrated in early 20th century Buffalo, well-established landscape infrastructure will attract development, increase property values, and offer incentives for young professionals to live and work in Buffalo. The waterfront is a valuable resource that should be carefully designed as a resilient landscape system that completes the current Olmsted green system. This rejuvenated waterfront will set the foundation for Buffalo's future growth.

Local Waterfront Revitalization Program

Outer Harbor North will become a landscape destination after the enhancement of the connection from downtown Buffalo to the Outer Harbor. The new Outer Harbor Park will become a natural recreation center that visitors can enjoy outdoor activities and the view of Lake Erie. The feature of landscape design is trying to achieve Olmsted’s classic design concept, which is creating diverse natural landscapes that reconnects people with the natural environment.

 

Along the Skyway Corridor, we proposed the mixed-use development at the vacant lands. It provides the modern waterfront lifestyle opportunity for potential residents and new industries. In the short term, the Skyway can function as the main connection between Downtown buffalo and Outer Harbor South. After the Skyway naturally phases out, the linear space will become a green boulevard. A new urban center is formed.

 

For the Inner Harbor, the short term plan is to keep the industrial lands for maintaining job opportunities. These industrial buildings can be transformed for function and use through the industrial transformation in the future. The postindustrial landscape can be a cultural identity for buffalo’s waterfront.

 © 2023 by Wendy Yifei Wang.