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By Jill Jedlicka

Buffalo is a coastal city, and Western New York is a Great Lakes region. It is evident that our economic revitalization directly correlates to how we embrace, protect and enhance the quality of our waterfront.

Ninety-five percent of North America’s fresh water flows within our community, and this public trust resource delivers essential services to each and every one of us every day. As we continue our transformation, our region will redefine our future through our ability to apply innovative, cutting-edge economic development practices to the revitalization of our waterfront. Even the seemingly small decisions being made today have the potential to cumulatively impact this treasured resource.

In recent years, we have all witnessed the realization of the best and brightest ideas for waterfront revitalization that have been generated through transparent processes from within the community. From Lewiston to Lackawanna, Niagara Falls to Buffalo, or the various municipalities within the 40-mile Niagara River Greenway corridor, we have numerous opportunities to revitalize our waterfront.

Not many regions in the country have the opportunity to re-create and redefine themselves. It is imperative that we set standards of excellence for our waterfront redevelopment – standards that prioritize healthy water, open space and recreation, and that promote sustainable development and cleaner advanced manufacturing. Our biggest opportunity lies within Buffalo’s outer harbor, the heart of our waterfront that has a second chance to demonstrate that we are building on our legacy of being one of “America’s best designed cities.” For this site and others, we have the opportunity to apply standards of excellence for green infrastructure, sustainable manufacturing, eco-tourism and public access that deliver long-term ecological and economic benefits.

The decisions we make now should come from a position of strength and confidence that we no longer have to lure or compromise for potential investors, but create a healthy environment and blue economy in which investors compete for the privilege of developing here. Waterfront access, resilient shorelines and high water quality should never be afterthoughts, but should lead as primary decision points. We have to consider how this economic boom will impact our drinking water supply, our water access and our quality of life.

It is time to shake off the rust and cynicism from past generations, and focus our collective and collaborative energies on how we restore our greatest natural asset. It is within our power to elevate our standards and firmly establish a world-class waterfront. We have the intellectual capital in our own community to put our region back on track, becoming a national and global leader in the blue economy.

Jill Jedlicka is executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.