BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Don't tell the students in the University at
Buffalo Law School's Regional Economic Development class the next
big idea to revive Western New York communities isn't sitting in
plain sight -- complete with reader-friendly illustrations.
That goal -- bringing fresh economic development ideas to
neighborhoods that need a boost-- was the brainchild of the late UB
President William R. Greiner. Over time, he recruited UB Law School
Professor John H. Schlegel and two top community development
players to teach in the course. The challenge was to create an
innovative cross-disciplinary course -- Regional Economic
Development -- intended to give law students practical experience
in the subject, with a distinctive emphasis: bringing visualization
to the legal debate.
At the same time, the course would let students attempt to
identify a real need in the community, apply the theory learned in
the classroom and then design a plan that would address this
Recently, the Regional Economic Development course added one
more component. The law students would work with students in UB's
School of Architecture and Planning to give the projects what its
instructor called a three-dimensional element, a quality that gives
those looking at the proposals the opportunity to visualize what
the actual project would look like far beyond the normal
"It's the old line from 'The Music Man." 'You've got to know the
territory,'" says Schlegel, who took charge of the course after
Greiner died in 2009. "You have to be able to see the site in the
neighborhood. Seeing it will help you understand whether the local
people will either embrace a project or reject it. And that will
make the lawyer's role more clear."
The 14 students taking the course last semester produced five
projects, which they presented this semester. Essential to their
proposals was making them as visually interesting as possible. And
that's where students of Mitchell Bring -- an architect and
specialist in computer visualization and model-building, and an
adjunct professor in UB's School of Architecture and Planning --
Bring's students worked with the law students to add "3-D
visualization" to the projects.
"In the real world, lawyers are teamed up with urban planners
and architects working with developers," Bring said. "This gives
the students a great opportunity to combine all their talents and
Bring says those designing the course wanted to get the students
and those reviewing the projects the ability "see the environment
they were talking about."
Schlegel had the benefit of sharing the teaching with two people
recruited earlier by Greiner, people who clearly could bridge the
gap between academic courses and real-world application: Richard
Tobe, recently appointed Erie County deputy county executive, and
James J. Allen, executive director of the Amherst Industrial
Development Agency and an adjunct professor in the UB Department of
Urban and Regional Planning.
The result were five student projects -- all grounded in urban
planning principles they studied in class -- designed to address
and fundamentally change a shortcoming in five Buffalo
* "The "Heights Plaza" Proposal by Daniel Fabian, Joel
Terragnoli, with Gun Hyoung Kim. Their plan to revitalize the
University Heights neighborhood and the Lasalle Street
neighborhood, includes a "virtual walk" around the neighborhood
that provides a "bird's eye view" of the changes in streets and
amenities the students propose.
* "Railroad Renaissance: An Urbane North Buffalo Community" by
Michael Cimasi,Shervin Rismani and Jeffrey Tyrpak, with Theresa
DeCelis and Meng Yu. This project proposes a new "pedestrian
friendly yet auto accessible" environment for the vacant
Erie-Lackawanna Railroad corridor in North Buffalo between Delaware
and Colvin avenues.
* "Encouraging Social and Economic Growth in Kenmore's Delaware
Avenue Business District" by Michael Herberger, Ryan McCarthy and
Jacob McNamara, with Elnaz Haj Abotalebi. The students proposed
changes include a gateway and pedestrian-exclusive zones in the
heart of the Village of Kenmore.
* "The Rock: A look at Buffalo's Black Rock Neighborhood Through
the Eyes of Jane Jacobs" by Christina Akers, David Burgess and
Megan VanWie with Troy Joseph. The students recommend short-term
improvements: street lights, public benches and beautification
projects; along with longer-term changes such as a pedestrian
* West Utica Street Triangle by Gretchen Sullivan and
Christopher Szczygiel, with Zhaoyu Luo. The proposal suggests a
"micro-loan" fund for residents limited to $1,000 each, a community
land trust and specific changes such as an ethnic community
kitchen, a community gym and an ice skating rink.
In-depth descriptions and visuals for all five projects are
available upon request.
"The university values cross-disciplinary teaching and
research," Schlegel said. "Our approach may be a little odd, but it
works. These law students will come out this better lawyers,
especially those who will be doing development work."