Buffalo has been the recipient of both praise and tough love from two of the biggest names at this week’s Congress for the New Urbanism.
The city is moving in a positive direction, Andres Duany and Sjoerd Soeters say, but still has a long way to go to fulfill its potential – especially a vibrant downtown.
Duany, the revered founder of the movement to turn neighborhoods and downtowns into places of vitality, also suggested the city and region engage the public before spending enormous sums on a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills.
Duany, 65, has been a constant speaking presence at the conference, which has drawn more than 1,200 urban planners, architects, urban designers, transportation engineers, real estate developers, preservationists and students.
He and Soeters spoke Thursday night at Silo City, the conference’s best-attended event with upwards of 1,000 people, and both spoke to The Buffalo News.
“There are stadiums that are beautifully embedded in the city, and lend energy to them. But I think it’s very important that you don’t present people with the question, ‘Do you want the stadium or not?’ It should be more like, ‘We can either spend the money to build a stadium, take down a highway, have the best school system in the region or subsidize 20,000 entrepreneurs,’ ” Duany said.
“If you ask them that and they still decide to do the stadium, then democracy has spoken. What is not intelligent is to say we do the stadium or not. That’s an on-off switch, not a real choice. A totally manipulative choice.”
Duany was greeted like a rock star when he began speaking amid the cluster of grain elevators to the eager crowd. Giant images of Buffalo and other urban landscapes were projected onto a nearby silo as well as a screen as he spoke.
He said he thought Buffalo would require a 15-to-20-year vision and was adamant that new millennials should be handed the reins for the work ahead.
“I think young people know how to use the low-cost, high-value assets of a city like Buffalo. I would dedicate the entire city to those under 30,” said Duany, co-author of the influential books “Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream” and “The Smart Growth Manual.”
“But you have to stop making the bureaucracy an impediment. Everything should be done to enable the under-30-year-olds to get real stuff done, like opening businesses, helping them with building codes, supervising a contractor or even how to hold a hammer, for God’s sake. It’s our job to clear the deck so the next generation can take over.”
Another suggestion: “Buffalo should fixate on Toronto like a laser. It’s the most approximate success story, and I would figure out why.”
Soeters, 66, gave a “blunt” assessment of Buffalo after taking a walking tour of downtown. The post-modern Dutch architect is known for placing an emphasis on the human need for social activity in his designs.
“The European opinion of a city center is that it should have a maximum mix of functions. It should have living, shopping, institutional buildings, government, law, church and culture,” he said.
“My impression is that shopping has disappeared completely, there is not enough housing and there is much too much parking – the car is dominating everything,” he said.
Soeters suggested requiring cars in the future to be put underneath new builds to help rid the streets of surface lots and said many streets were too wide for human interaction.
But Soeters had positive things to say about Buffalo’s historic buildings .
“You have wonderful, wonderful buildings. I went to see the Louis Sullivan building. It is a precious building. You should be very proud of that,” he said of the Guaranty Building.