By Joanne Kahn and Joan Bozer
One of the largest parcels of urban, undeveloped waterfront land in the northeast exists on our doorstep. Citizens for a 21st Century Park on the Outer Harbor feels vigorously that the best use for this land is a significant park that will finally create public access to Buffalo’s most important asset, Lake Erie. The former Port of Buffalo site and adjacent lands are Buffalo’s window on the Great Lakes and represent the region’s last opportunity to provide direct, convenient access to the lake.
Frederick Law Olmsted proposed a visionary lakefront park on Lake Erie as part of his landmark comprehensive plan for the Buffalo park system. The citizens of Buffalo didn’t get their lakefront park, but they have never given up on the dream. Many plans have been offered to support this goal, however, progress to date has been dismal.
The need for additional parkland is undeniable. Buffalo’s park acreage is far below that of similar cities. In addition, Buffalo’s existing park system, largely developed by Olmsted 150 years ago when the city was a fraction of its present size, has been continually abused and diminished by ill-considered incursions.
For example, the Scajaquada Expressway splits Delaware Park in two; Interstate 190 cuts Riverside Park off from the Niagara River; Humboldt Parkway was obliterated for a road to the suburbs; and Front Park no longer has a magnificent view of Lake Erie.
Let’s not squander the opportunity to rectify past errors. The 21st Century Park on the Outer Harbor would be the southern anchor for the Niagara River Greenway, which has all the ingredients for a successful park celebrating Western New York’s importance as the gateway to America’s interior. From Fort Niagara to Niagara Falls and south to Buffalo, there are many important historic and cultural attractions that could greatly enhance the region’s attractiveness as a tourism destination and provide meaningful economic growth.
More than two decades ago, New York State passed Coastal Zone legislation that recognized the importance of our coastal areas. This limited resource should be reserved for uses that are coastal dependent, not wasted on projects that don’t need waterfront access and are better suited to other locations.
The future of Buffalo’s development and growth lies in making Buffalo a world-class city in which people want to live, work and play. Thoughtful development will increase our quality of life. Envision a peaceful public park at the edge of the city – a place for residents of Erie County and beyond to enjoy Lake Erie and its beautiful sunset, a place to hike, bike, boat and appreciate natural habitats year round – the 21st Century Park on the Outer Harbor.
Joanne Kahn is coordinator of Citizens for a 21st Century Park on the Outer Harbor. Joan Bozer is a former Erie County legislator.