What vision do citizens have for the future of Buffalo Niagara? Participants from across our region had a chance to weigh in at Scenario Planning Workshops last fall and Workshops on the Road this past winter. As diverse as the feedback was, looking over all the 115 maps that were created, some clear trends and common themes emerge.
At Community Congress Workshops this past fall, and throughout a number of Workshops on the Road, citizens got to map what they want their future Buffalo Niagara to look like in forty years. Using a series of markers and “place type” chips, citizens worked in small groups to map the form and location of their ideal scenario for future regional growth and transportation connections.
Some participants knew each other, while others did not. Everyone who participated was asked to work together, compromise, and develop a scenario that best expresses their group’s vision for the region’s future. To this end, each group gave their map a title, and wrote down the principles that guided their decisions on how they mapped their choices. Take a look at the 115 maps and learn about what went on at the workshops.
There were a lot of different visions for the future of Buffalo Niagara expressed in the maps, but some distinct common threads were seen across many of the maps. Below is a summary of what the maps say and what they suggest about the region Buffalo Niagara’s citizens want to see for the future.
We Should Grow Where We’ve Already Grown
Most of the maps expressed a strong desire to preserve, revitalize and re-purpose existing places rather than creating entirely new places. Many specifically wrote about “limiting sprawl”, “rebuilding infrastructure,” and “focusing development.” Here’s what they had to say:
- Focus development and reinvestment where infrastructure exists: according to where participants placed their chips, 94% of new jobs and 87% of new homes were envisioned within the developed area.
- Prioritize growth in downtown areas: more than 90% of maps focused revitalization in the downtown areas of Niagara Falls and Buffalo. Overall, maps envision placing 25% of new jobs and 7% of new housing in downtown areas.
- Revitalize neighborhoods in decline: Many chose to place chips in older urban neighborhoods in decline, like those in Niagara Falls and the east and west sides of Buffalo. Usually this was done by placing “Traditional Neighborhood” chips in these areas to revitalize their housing stock and commercial districts.
- Bring jobs back to large former industrial sites: Many chose to place their “Office Industrial” Chips on former brownfields in Lackawanna, Buffalo, the Tonawandas, and Niagara Falls, among other places.
We Should Build Walkable, Livable Communities and Preserve Those that Are Vibrant and Working
In general, participants prioritized compact, mixed-use and walkable neighborhoods over more spread out, homogeneous places. Here’s what they had to say:
- Preserve the character of villages with strong Main Streets: When asked to identify communities they liked and whose character should be preserved for future generations, citizens strongly identified walkable, vibrant village centers (e.g. East Aurora, Orchard Park, Lewiston, Youngstown, Hamburg, Williamsville, and others).
- Invest to make strong village centers throughout the region: Village Centers were the most popular place type. Overall, participants traded for and used nearly twice the number of Village Center chips that they started with (played 44% more VC chips than what they started), placing 23% of new homes and 13% of new jobs in this place type.
- Revitalize and create new traditional, walkable residential neighborhoods: Participants traded away 72% of the single-use residential neighborhood chips (“Single Family” and “Exurban Residential”) in favor for more dense and mixed-use neighborhood development types. The most popular place type for new homes was the “Traditional Neighborhood” as participants placed 55% of new housing in these walkable, yet predominantly residential areas.
- Avoid suburban, auto-centric forms of retail development: 49% of suburban strip chips were traded in, signaling participants’ preference for more urban forms of retail development.
- Promote a transportation system sensitive to pedestrians and bicyclists: At least eight of the maps prioritized expanding bicycle-pedestrian infrastructure and “complete streets.”
We Should Connect Our Places by Expanding and Diversifying Our Transportation Options
Making connections was one of the most predominant themes expressed across the 115 maps. Participants drew and wrote about making new connections or improving existing ones with specific suggestions about linking to universities, the airport to downtown, Buffalo to Niagara Falls, urban centers to one another, and doing it “without cars.” Here’s what they had to say:
- Make and improve transit connections across the region: Nearly all maps (106 of 115 – 92%) noted that making and improving transit connections so that people are able to get around without a car was important to them. 77% added at least twenty miles of new transit-pedestrian connections.
- Connect our major attractions via transit: 100 of the 115 maps included connecting downtown centers, the airport to population centers, and the University at Buffalo to the city. Specifically, 79 of the 115 maps created stronger transit connections between downtown Buffalo and the Buffalo Niagara International Airport; 66 maps envisioned stronger transit connections between downtown Buffalo to the UB North Campus area; and 60 maps want to see stronger transit connections to be made between Buffalo and Niagara Falls.
- Highway investment should only focus on alleviating major bottlenecks: 71% (only 33 maps out of 115 used red markers) of the maps added no highway infrastructure at all. But some added road lanes to alleviate major bottlenecks like Transit Road and the I-90 by the “Blue Water Tower” and at international bridge crossings. Some even suggested we remove highways  that obstruct or intrude on the urban environment such as the Niagara Section of the Thruway, the Scajaquada Expressway, and the Humboldt.
- Bicycles and pedestrians are important: Many of the maps included notes or principles promoting alternatives to transportation  especially multi-modal systems and specifically accommodation for bicycles  expanding the bicycle-pedestrian infrastructure and “complete streets.”
- Leverage trails to connect parks, waterfront areas, rural communities and natural assets: Citizens connected waterfronts and other natural assets to rural communities by adding an average of 53 miles of multi-use recreational trails per map. Trails were often drawn to expand the existing trail network and to connect parks, recreation assets and rural communities.
We Should Protect Farm Land, Parks and Natural Areas to Ensure a Good Quality of Life
Farmland, open space, parks, waterfront, and other natural areas were themes woven into practically every map. Here’s what they had to say:
- Conserve open space and land: 94% of maps drew areas where they do not want to see future development. 23% indicated that the entire “non-urbanized” should be conserved.
- Preserve and protect farmland: Fifty Nine of the maps wrote about the need to preserve and protect farmland while while others emphasized a priority to promote agriculture  including urban agriculture  and improve access to locally-sourced food .
- Make waterfront access and development a priority: Nineteen of the maps talked about waterfronts as a guiding principle for future development. Emphasis was given to promoting public access, development and recreation. 46 of 115 maps also elected to put recreation trails along the Erie and Ontario lakefronts.
- Protect, maintain and expand parks and green space: 52 maps included green space as a prominent theme with maps specifying parks and park systems, including Olmsted, open space, forests, “green infrastructure,” and the conservation or restoration of natural areas.
- Invest in greenways and trails to connect our region for recreation and tourism: 88 of the maps added trails or bikeways, 46 of these maps put trails along the Erie and Ontario lakefronts. Other common written themes included “rails to trails,” walking and running paths, and protecting and developing the Niagara River Greenway.
To check out all this great feedback for yourself, click here to view all the maps created at the workshops.