The Greening of Buffalo -- A Path to Economic Growth

International project suggests how to grow and use Buffalo's green infrastructure system

Release Date: February 19, 2008 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Last summer, graduate students in urban planning in the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning and the University of Stuttgart in Germany worked collaboratively to produce a planning proposal designed to promote the expansion of Buffalo's green infrastructure and its economic prosperity while offering a new landscape-planning methodology in response to the destructive October 2006 storm.

That project, "Buffalo: A City as a Park," is one of eight projects cited by The Institute of International Education (IIE) in its 2008 Andrew Heiskell Award Competition for Innovation in International Education. Three universities were named winners of the award and five others, including UB, received honorable mention in the prestigious international competition.

The International Comparative Urban Planning Studio involved 13 students and was led by William Page, professor in the school's Department of Urban and Regional Planning, and Niraj Verma, professor and chair of the department. Also participating were 10 students and a professor from Stuttgart University's urban planning program. A studio is a laboratory in which planners address and solve a specific problem.

UB participants attended the "Green and Growing Summit" held by the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo last May to assess and plan for the "re-treeing" of Western New York after the previous October's storm. They then traveled to Stuttgart to study the green infrastructure of what is a typical European city, which they found to be life-affirming and supportive of extensive social interaction and ease of travel among all age groups.

The German planning students then came to Buffalo to examine the city's existing park system, landscape plans and storm damage. The two groups of students conducted a series of workshops through which the Buffalo green infrastructure proposal was developed.

"The project celebrates the resilience and community spirit of Buffalo," says Page. "Its main goal was to engage, what was by any account, a disaster and define how this could be developed into entrepreneurial energy aimed at making the city a better place to live and increase its entrepreneurial growth," he says.

Verma adds, "While 'greening' and 'park' are the leitmotif of the studio, the student planners gave equal attention to the area economy and the nature of the various communities that make up our city. Indeed, these may be the ultimate aims of this grand vision of the students."

In fact, the students engaged in widespread consultation with a broad swath of community leaders, entrepreneurs, business representatives, schools, developers of community gardens, the block clubs that know that neighborhood pride and neighborhood responsibility go together. They interviewed members of food coops; the children and adults whose community spirit is on display in the many gardens, parkways and walkways of Buffalo; geographers and cartographers, and representatives of Buffalo's economic, social and political systems.

Their efforts resulted in a project report with the same title as the studio: "Buffalo: The City as a Park," which was funded by the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and the German Academic Exchange Service.

Page explains that the report was presented to the Community Foundation for use by its Green and Growing Steering Committee.

"This is a public-private partnership composed of representatives of every private organization and public agency in the city working on the improvement of our green infrastructure, development of parks and other green spaces; the establishment community gardens and the maintenance of efforts to re-tree the city," he says, adding that this project will help guide the committee's actions in these efforts.

The report's authors write, "Disparate green infrastructure, however abundant, is unlikely to serve the vision of Buffalo as a park, a place in which greening aims for economic prosperity.

"New connections intertwined with existing green infrastructure, however, can distribute the green areas evenly across the region, ensuring accessibility for people from every part of Buffalo," they write. Not only can it make Buffalo a more attractive city with a new and economically enticing image, but it actually can make the city an exciting and desirable place to live and work.

"Re-imaging of the region," they write, "has the goal of moving Buffalo's image away from that of a recovering rust-belt city to one where green dominates the landscape in a way that makes community life rich and the city itself beautiful."

Specific proposals by the planners are accompanied by a timeline and methods for project development. Recommendations include:

* A public introductory advertising campaign to emphasize the benefits of greening to our city and the need for community action and volunteers to assist in this effort.

* Public promotion of successful greening projects currently underway in Buffalo on an easily accessible public database to encourage more projects.

* A city-wide festival to advertise ongoing greening efforts and the positive effects generated from implementation of the plan to turn Buffalo into a city as a park.

* Raising awareness of Common Council members and other city officials of issues surrounding greening issues and to encourage changes when it comes to problematic zoning, land use and title transfer laws that prevent community development of vacant spaces, non-permeable parking surfaces absent of trees, institutional impediments and under-funded green spaces and parks, as well as the need for more urban agricultural efforts like the Queen City Farm and other community food initiatives.

* Developing updated maps and other plans to identify and correct missing linkages in green infrastructure, such as making streets into green corridors and focusing on park-like strips along roadways.

* Increasing involvement of community leaders, block club activists, educators and other prominent individuals to carry on the work of the 2007 Green and Growing Summit led by the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo.

The UB students who participated in the studio are Janel Bedard of East Aurora; Sarah Cashimere of Rochester; Nathaniel Key, Robert Watkins and Quinn O'Brien of Buffalo; Bhakti Kulkami of Maharashtra, India; Ching Chen Lee of Tainan, Taiwan; Thomas Lyon of Canandaigua; Jeffrey Mancil of Williamsville; Amanda Mays of Grand Island; Steven Nagowski of Amherst; Arlene Rodriguez of Franklinville; Kari Terwiliger of Newfield, and Katherine Veith of Derby.

The IIE awards are named for the late Andrew Heiskell, a longtime member of IIE's Board of Trustees, a former chairman of Time Inc., a renowned philanthropist and a passionate supporter of international education.

Profiles of the 2008 winning projects can be found on the IIE Web site,, which showcases nearly 50 winning programs and honorable mention recipients from the seven years of the awards.

This year's winning programs will be recognized at an Awards Luncheon on March 13 at the United Nations, as part of the 3rd Annual IIE Best Practices Conference. The programs also will be featured in the spring 2008 issue of the IIENetworker magazine and highlighted by IIE throughout the year as the best practices in the field of international education.

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