By Larry Beahan
The Olmsted-inspired 21st Century Park on the Outer Harbor, as presented by its promoters over the past several months, is an ideal use of that invaluable 100-acre stretch of shore from Times Beach and Wilkerson Point to the terminal facilities just before the Small Boat Harbor.
The park’s concept – which includes continuous public access for sailing, boating, kayaking, paddle-boarding, fishing, strolling, sunset viewing, an outdoor amphitheater, restaurants, a promenade, meadows, beaches and lagoons – would rival the waterfronts of any city in this country.
It is very difficult to understand, then, why these seemingly well-intentioned promoters brought representatives of Brooklyn Bridge Park to Buffalo to advertise their approach to another waterfront, an approach that has failed miserably as a park.
Instead of a park, they have a high-rise, luxury, residential development with a nice front lawn. In fact the lawn isn’t so nice because ordinary people who can’t afford these apartments have to trample on it to catch a glimpse of the harbor.
BBP, as it is called, is a stretch of abandoned wharves along the Brooklyn waterfront with a magnificent vista of New York Harbor. A group of Brooklyn residents organized to preserve it as a public park with full public access, including lawns, walkways, ball fields, pools, an open-air theater and a recreational building. These original organizers lost control of the process. Another group took over and devoted 25 percent of the non-water portion of the park to high-rise apartment buildings, the proceeds from which pay park maintenance.
Recently I drove down the Niagara Thruway past that long stretch of condos – an earlier mistake of ours that obscures the view of the water. I crossed the Buffalo River via the Skyway. Then I drove back along this magnificent waterscape that should be a public park. The earthen and concrete rise of Route 5 formed a wall to my right. I imagined a wall of condos to the left and realized that I would be in a ditch if we were to follow the BBP model. There would be no view at all.
Poor old Frederick Law Olmsted would be doing back flips in his grave if he heard of this tragic possibility.
With the BBP in mind, on May 6, the board of the local 800-member Adirondack Mountain Club passed a resolution stating: “… we do most vigorously oppose any Outer Harbor Park that would include residential or other large-scale commercial buildings, after the unfortunate example set by Brooklyn Bridge Park.”
In short, the club hopes that the organizers of Buffalo’s 21st Century Outer Harbor Park drop the BBP condo idea like the hot potato or rotten tomato it is.
Larry Beahan is secretary of the Niagara Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club.