True Green Cities / Reflecting on the Highlights of 2015 – Part 1

The FIT Sustainable Interior Environments graduate program celebrated its 5th anniversary in November.

The FIT Sustainable Interior Environments graduate program celebrated its 5th anniversary in November.

Last year was a challenging year on many fronts. There have been successes and losses, for me and the country. I would say from a global perspective terrorism, our crazy presidential campaign, refugees and climate change (at the Paris Climate Change conference) had the most impact. While locally, I have been involved in some big wins (and one huge loss) – the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy Gala, the fifth year anniversary of my graduate school program at FIT, the opening of the 500 Block of Main Street in downtown Buffalo, the active work on the opening of the new Buffalo Architecture Center and sadly the demolition of five of the Shoreline Apartments (by Paul Rudolph) on Buffalo’s waterfront.

While I think a lot about these world issues, the only one I really have any personal concern for is climate change.  I don’t worry about terrorism. I don’t quite see what the point is. Maybe because I lived through the 1993 World Trade Center bombings and 9/11 in New York City? Maybe because if someone really wants to kill me and it’s my time there isn’t much I can do? I don’t see myself as a fatalist, I see myself as a realist.

Paul Rudolph's Shoreline Apartments frame Buffalo's City Hall.

Paul Rudolph’s Shoreline Apartments frame Buffalo’s City Hall.

Here is what I do worry about. I worry about climate change. I worry about the grand mal seizure my kitten Percy just had.  I worry that my luggage will get lost on my weekly flights between NYC and Buffalo (oh and I don’t worry about the plane crashing).  I worry about the check engine light on my 12 year old Subaru. I worry that I haven’t written a blog since August. I worry about racism and xenophobia. With that said, despite these overwhelming international concerns, I start 2016 with great hope and a positive approach. And a plan to return to my regular blogging!

A Park is A Work of Art

A view of the Silent Auction tent at the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy Gala in Riverside Park, with a piece of equipment in the forefront that funds raised would help to purchase.

A view of the Silent Auction tent at the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy Gala in Riverside Park, with a piece of equipment in the forefront that funds raised would help to purchase.

My sister Joanne serves on the Board of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy. She and I chaired the annual Gala this year and were proud to support the Olmsted-designed parks in Buffalo with a theme of “A Park is a Work of Art.” For the Conservancy it was a year of rebuilding, rebranding and rebooting at the Conservancy, and we are happy we could help with this with the support of so many friends and colleagues who made this Gala one of the best and most original at Riverside Park. The funds both the Gala and the Gift Gathering Happy Hour raised will help maintain Olmsted and Vaux’s vision from 1868, which includes caring for 6 parks, 7 parkways and 8 landscaped circles that total 850 acres.

While 40% of their funding comes from the City of Buffalo, the remaining 60% comes from members, donors, corporate sponsors, a wide variety of foundations and organizations, and 1,000+ volunteers.

The Revival of the 500 Block of Main Street

My Forester has a new parking lot on the newly opened Main Street in downtown Buffalo.

My Forester has a new parking spot on the newly opened Main Street in downtown Buffalo.

Finally, after two years of construction, the construction equipment outside my window is gone, my block is open to traffic after 30 years, restaurants and shops are opening and I can park in front of my door to unload groceries! We have trees again and parking spots, bollards that light up at night. What was a desolate embarrassment to Buffalo for decades, is the hottest new block in the city. I wasn’t quite sure I would make it through the two years of construction and now I find myself in the midst of a downtown truly being reactivated when I just may need to make a decision about moving to New York City. But as a friend would say, those are first world problems and 2016 will make it all clearer. In the meantime the cats and I enjoy suddenly find ourselves being back in a true urban environment.

Part 2 will continue in the New Year.  Happy New Year!!

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True Green Cities / Chalk, Sidewalks and Restaurants

Chalk Makes a Downtown Block Come Alive

Chalkfest on the 500 Block of Main Street.

Chalkfest on the 500 Block of Main Street.

An annual festival called Chalkfest was held on my block this past weekend. With construction almost complete finally, hundreds of artists and families descended on the 500 Block of Main Street – showing what activity on our street could look like. This is Chalkfest’s fourth year, although last year it had to be held on a different street because of the construction.

Having our block alive and active from noon-6PM on a Saturday and Sunday reminded me what a real urban neighborhood can be.  A DJ provided music and talk; vendors sold food and crafts; local restaurants opened on the weekend when they’re normally closed.  People who rarely come downtown, ventured down and spent the day with their family.  Residents had something to look at and even my cats sat by the windows both days enamored with the activity.  And we residents had something to participate in and walk to.

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A professional artist puts the finishing touches on his rendition of The Avengers with Thor and Loki outside my building.

The best thing I heard, when I asked a woman and her two children settled in front of my door drawing with chalk, if they could move aside so I could open my door, “People live here?” “Yes,” I said.  “Look at kids, this is a residence! the mom said, “People actually live downtown!” Yes, we do!

Reactivating Downtown

If you have read my blogs over the past few years you will recall that being an urban pioneer in a downtown under construction has not been the easiest thing at this point in my life/career. Having done this in SoHo in the early 90s, I was not quite prepared to do it again.  But as the reconstruction of Main Street and the lightrail is almost complete, excitement about the restaurants and retail that will soon open is almost palpable.  Restaurants and retail are needed. But so are services like dry cleaners, safe pharmacies and of course, a real grocery store.  Proposals were recently received for a new building with a grocery store about two blocks from me. Granted it will be at least two years before that would open, but it does give us hope.

D'Avolio's, a new restaurant, is expected to open across the street from me next week.

D’Avolio’s, a new restaurant, is expected to open across the street from me next week.

In the past year about ten restaurants have opened or will open within a three block radius of Buffalo’s infamous 500 Block (where I live).  A new brewery has opened. Several new high end hotels have opened.  For decades, this block, which used to be the center of Buffalo’s wonderful downtown, has been pointed to as an example of urban blight and urban flight.  I chose to live here because I was able to get a brand new  work/live loft in a century-old building.  I knew it would be years before it was active again, but I didn’t really realize what that would mean for actually living here until I was living here.  Now that I’ve braved two years of construction beneath my windows, I feel committed to trying to stay and enjoy the rewards.

Big Ditch Brewery opened in reused warehouse two blocks from me.

Big Ditch Brewing Company opened in a reused warehouse two blocks from me.

But, life can’t be a festival all the time. I was walking around downtown from 5:30-6:30 on Sunday night.  Chalkfest ended at 6.  By 6:10, downtown was a desert again. Beside the Hyatt, only one other restaurant was open. Not even the new brewery was open.  I did a loop around downtown and I must say I did not feel comfortable.  Festivals and new restaurants are a start for sure.  So I keep my fingers crossed that once the construction equipment is gone, restaurants will stay open past 3PM and on weekends, and more people beyond me will be roaming around downtown.

If you would like to see more photos of Chalkfest and the art, please click here for Chalkfest.

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True Green Cities / Saving Brutalism Can Be a Lonely Battle

Paul Rudolph's Shoreline Apartments frame Buffalo's City Hall.

Paul Rudolph’s Shoreline Apartments frame Buffalo’s City Hall.

Almost two years ago I was contacted by my colleagues at DOCOMOMO US, wanting to know if I knew anything about the plan to tear down five of the 32 remaining apartment buildings at Paul Rudolph’s Shoreline Apartment Complex in downtown Buffalo. Only a few blocks from me, and always a complex I had admired, I rushed to find out the story.  While these efforts of the few of us in Buffalo who seem to care about their significance have not halted the demolition of these five buildings, the story has started to get national attention.  For two weeks, the five buildings have been undergoing a quietly planned demolition, which is starting to make others in the community take note.  

Demolition of five of the 32 remaining buildings at Shoreline began last week. Photo courtesy David Torke/FixBuffalo.

Demolition of five of the 32 remaining buildings at Shoreline began last week. Photo courtesy David Torke/FixBuffalo.

Mark Byrnes, an alumni of the University at Buffalo School of Architecture & Planning, and an associate editor at The Atlantic’s CityLab who writes about design, history, and photography, took on this complex tale and just published a quite well written and researched article, The Slow Death of A Brutalist Vision for Buffalo. As per Mark:

Campagna is fighting a surprisingly lonely battle. In her efforts to help save a piece of Buffalo brutalism, (Buffalo) the city that takes pride in its collection of concrete grain elevators has remained mostly silent in the case of Paul Rudolph. “I don’t really consider myself an activist but nobody else was stepping forward,” says Campagna. “Somebody needed to speak for these buildings.”

While I find it heartbreaking to have to drive past these ruinous hulks now, I am encouraged that their plight is now getting national attention.  Stay tuned.

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