What's Next for Broadway-Fillmore? Find Out on Dec. 8

After years of dead-end plans, national trends and federal interest bode well for the area

Release Date: December 3, 2004 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Buffalo's Broadway-Fillmore district has faced hard economic times for nearly 40 years. The ethnic, economic and cultural makeup of the neighborhood has changed dramatically, and proposals for improvement have come and gone, often without making a difference.

It may be, however, that a new day has come.

Community members and business leaders in the Broadway-Fillmore area have been working for months with senior students in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning on what both consider "real" plans to invigorate the neighborhood, grounded in the past success of other "fresh market" projects, national shopping trends, and interest by the federal government.

On Dec. 8, the students will present the results of this semester's work in the school's Senior Undergraduate Workshop in Environmental Design led by Alex Bitterman, research assistant professor of urban and regional planning.

The presentation will take place at 6 p.m. in the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Center, 1081 Broadway. The event will be free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served.

Most Buffalonians know that restoration plans for the Broadway-Fillmore district and the Broadway Market, its linchpin for decades, have been floated regularly for decades. Despite piles of full-color architectural renderings, not much more than disappointed hope have come of any of them.

Bitterman, director of the Information Design and dissemination Program in the School's Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access, and co-editor of Diversity in Design, explains that this project will not end up like that, because it is designed to promote slow, incremental change grounded in a deep understanding of the community and will not be imposed from without.

"The proposals developed out of the students' in-depth research into the neighborhood's history, economic and demographic trends and transport of goods and services. They worked with active guidance from an advisory board of community members, business owners, city officials, lawmakers and representatives of the neighborhood's non-profit agencies who will help move the plan forward.

"We did not concentrate on the market or the market building, per se, because even if the market itself was vastly improved, if there is no change in the dynamics of the neighborhood, it will not succeed," he explains. "Rather than take the approach that other planning entities and other studios have taken, we are investigating the entire community and neighborhood dynamic and how these can be tied in with the growing popularity of 'shopping as entertainment,' to offer sustainable -- and fundable -- programs of change like those that helped even deeply distressed communities thrive again."

Bitterman points to the interest has been expressed by Rep. Louise Slaughter and Sen. Hillary Clinton in bringing in federal funds to assist in the rehabilitation because other "market projects" in similar neighborhoods in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Rochester and Boston have had an enormous impact on development in their surrounding communities.

"In Cincinnati, for instance," he says, "there was a city- and federally supported historic restoration of the Findlay Market, a beloved institution located in one of the worst, most decayed areas of that city -- an area much, much worse than the Broadway-Fillmore district. Nevertheless, as a result of careful planning, the surrounding neighborhood has become a thriving area of Cincinnati and a big tourist attraction." For more information, go to http://www.findlaymarket.org/.

"In fact," Bitterman says, "Loft apartments a block away from the Findlay Market now sell for $300,000."

"Our presentation on the Dec. 8 will discuss the results of investigations by academic architects about how trends in American shopping have changed dramatically even over the past decade," Bitterman says, "and how the Broadway-Fillmore area can benefit from that.

"Today, people are interested in a kind of 'commercial theater,'" he says. "They want their shopping experiences to be unique and enjoyable. Buffalo has the market and federal interest in its development and beyond that, some unique architecture that could be tourist attractions."

He cites not only a series of magnificent neighborhood churches like the highly decorative Corpus Christi R.C. Church on Clark Street http://www.pbase.com/ kjosker/image/21919275, built by Polish immigrants and the splendid art deco Central Terminal (now declined and abandoned), but vernacular structures like the one-story, two-family "shotgun" houses built with help from the Catholic Church to house Polish workers, that now are home to many new Asian immigrants.

The students will offer five major recommendations for the neighborhood and detailed phased plans with which to implement them.

"The proof of the pudding," says Bitterman, "will be in the way gradual, community-involved, grassroots change can harness the rich ethnic and cultural identity and heritage of the Broadway-Fillmore area, and help it thrive in the 21st century."

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