BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Larkin District and its development and
planning team, including the University at Buffalo School of
Architecture and Planning, won an honorable mention at the
prestigious National Award for Smart Growth Achievement ceremony
Dec. 5 in Washington, D.C.
The Larkin District was one of seven projects across the U.S. --
and one of only two in the Main Street or Corridor Revitalization
category -- that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
award program recognized this year. The EPA recognition highlights
the project's creative approach to building strong, sustainable
communities while protecting human health and the environment.
Over the past decade, the Larkin District, located about a mile
east of downtown Buffalo, has evolved from a largely abandoned
industrial district with decaying infrastructure and contaminated
sites into a thriving urban village and live/work/play
Anchored by the Larkin at Exchange Building -- a former Larkin
Soap Co. warehouse that the Larkin Development Group restored in
2002 into one of Buffalo's most sought-after commercial addresses
-- the district today includes several other mixed-used projects in
renovated historic buildings, green space, improved streetscapes,
brownfield restoration and now residential development.
"The 2012 winners of the National Award for Smart Growth
Achievement are taking innovative steps to realize a vision of
American communities that are clean, healthy, environmentally
responsible and economically resilient," said EPA Administrator
Lisa P. Jackson.
More information on the Larkin District's recognition is
available at http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/awards/sg_awards_publication_2012.htm.
"What started out as an improbable vision has turned into the
reality of a revitalized and reborn urban neighborhood," said
Howard Zemsky, managing partner of the Larkin Development Group
(LDG), which had no tenants lined up when it started the Larkin at
Exchange project. "Our confidence rested largely on the principles
of smart growth and a commitment to restore the district's historic
building infrastructure, celebrate its legacy as a center of
industrial innovation and extend the economic, social and
environmental vibrancy of these developments into the surrounding
neighborhood and city."
Zemsky adds that the Larkin District's success is closely tied
to the project's diverse partnerships across the public, private
and nonprofit sectors, from First Niagara Bank to the New York
State Brownfields Cleanup Program to the Old First Ward Community
Association. Laying out the master plan for the Larkin District was
the UB School of Architecture and Planning's Urban Design
UB's involvement began in 2004, when Zemsky approached the Urban
Design Project, a research center devoted to the critical practice
of urban design, to develop a master plan for an urban neighborhood
that would build on the success of the Larkin at Exchange project
with historically sensitive development, vibrant streets and public
spaces, integration with the surrounding neighborhood and
accessibility via multi-modal public transportation.
The resulting "Larkin District Plan" set the foundation for a
series of investments, including two mixed-use developments -- the
Schaefer Building and the U Building -- that have added commercial,
retail and residential space to the district, mostly through the
adaptive reuse of historic buildings.
"Our goal was to create a historically context-sensitive plan at
the neighborhood, corridor and city-wide scales," says Robert G.
Shibley, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning and
director of the Urban Design Project, which partnered with the
architectural firm Kevin Connors Associates and led a team of
planners and students in carrying out the project. UDP team members
included project manager Elizabeth Cheteny, with graduate students
in architecture and planning Sean Brodfuehrer, Jajean Rose-Burney,
William Smith and Steven Watchorn.
Adds Shibley: "With smart growth principles at the core of his
vision, Howard Zemsky and his community partners have gradually fit
together this place-making puzzle in a way that preserves and
celebrates the district's history and creates new spaces and
amenities for a thriving commercial center and urban
LDG has also acquired 30 properties for future residential
development based on the master plan's recommendations for
multi-use buildings along Seneca and Emslie streets. Such
developments will include the expansion of first-floor retail and
rental housing units on upper floors. Vacant properties in the
central district are under design for a concentration of new
Recent investments in the Larkin District also include
improvements to deteriorated streetscapes in the surrounding area
to increase accessibility and establish critical gateways, a core
tenet of the Larkin District Plan. These include $2 million in new
sidewalks, street furniture, lighting, trees and plantings,
crosswalks, bike lanes, signage and bus shelters, a project largely
funded by Larkin at Exchange anchor tenant First Niagara Bank.
Additional elements of the plan that are being put into place
include a network of green spaces in support of a
pedestrian-friendly environment and stronger connections to the
This past summer, Larkin Square -- a 34,000-square-foot
gathering space for workers, residents and visitors -- opened in
the heart of the Larkin District. The multi-purpose public space
features indoor and outdoor dining, seating areas, retail market
stalls, public sculpture and a free concert series. Envisioned in
the master plan, the project was developed by LDG working with The
Neighborhood Workshop LLC and its principal, Tim Tielman.
"Our design challenge was to transform a railroad-era industrial
superblock into humanized, smaller, multi-use blocks that were knit
together by pedestrian-priority circulation paths," says Tielman.
"The paths and future development sites were placed according to
principles of human geography and wayfinding. All paths lead to
Larkin Square, which itself connects into the city grid. The space
was designed to attract office workers, visitors and local
residents by evoking mystery, adventure and pleasure. The concept
is 'Take space. Attract people. Stir.'"
Zemsky will continue to implement key elements of the master
plan as the boundaries of the district expand. For instance, LDG
has begun pushing for a traffic circle that would complement
Buffalo's designed (but never fully completed) Frederick Law
Olmsted Parkway System.
A land use and transportation planning solution, the traffic
circle at Seneca, Fillmore and Smith Streets would link the
northern and southern sections of the park/parkway system, calm
traffic and establish a historic, interpretive gateway into the
revitalized Larkin District.
LDG has now commissioned the Urban Design Project and its
recently aligned research center, the UB Regional Institute, as
well as Kevin Connors of Eco Logic Studio, to carry out a second
phase to the master plan. This effort will consider the edge of the
district and its connections to the neighborhood, enhance the
district's transportation planning, and offer recommendations for
additional mixed-use neighborhood and commercial development.