Be Happy and Take It

Posted by MJ

The Buffalo News reported on the green light given to a proposed Aldi's in the economically depressed area near the Broadway Market in Buffalo.

...A month ago, city planners told Aldi's project manager to go back to the drawing board and revise his design so that the store is closer to the street and does not have parking in the front. The goal, planners said, is to foster pedestrian access.
When Project Manager Christopher V. Kambar presented revised blueprints today that moved the store 30 feet closer to Broadway and reduced the number of parking spots in the front lot from 21 to nine, Planning Board members said it wasn't good enough. The store would still be 60 feet from Broadway.
"It seems like no effort has been made," complained board member Frank A. Manuele, a former city planning director. "There has been lip service paid to moving the building a paltry few feet forward, and there's still parking in front."
Kambar, who is with the Victor-based firm of APD engineering & Architecture, said he struggled to find a compromise between Aldi's desired design and the site plan that city officials want....
Even in this area of Buffalo where a vast number of residents own no personal transportation "parking in the front" is still pushed through like some necessity. This also somehow ignores the current Aldi's near LaSalle Metro Rail station on Main st in Buffalo which was built with no front parking. Somehow residents in older poorer neighborhoods miss out on a number of other small box stores around that are built to a higher design standards and site plans (see the new CVS in East Aurora which is built to the corner and has actual windows along the facade instead of bunker walls.). Does placing the same building at the street even cost anything more?

Maybe what these other places have is the willingness to institute design standards and stick by them. Being an older urban area such as "Lockport" should not preclude us from standing up for our selves and our built environment by demanding (thru code) a higher standard of building and site planning. We don't need to be the runt that us pushed around and told "be happy we are even here".

Create a quality environment and other quality projects will come. Allow everything to be built to the lowest common denominator and expect only more of it to come.

Current Aldi's on Main St.

Proposed Aldi's on Broadway

Somehow reality usually turns out much more oil-stained cracked black than the green space in picture makes you hope for.


Anonymous said...

Sorry but there are many people including me that like the 'suburban' look with parking and landscaping more than the street front look. I personally think buildings like the video store look modern and nice with their parking and trees.

Also, I know handicapped people really prefer that look, many won't even go to downtown stores due to the difficulty parking and walking.

Do you know that Ulrich Center doesn't even have handicapped parking in back, at least near Taboo! And of course there isn't any on street handicapped.

MJ said...

That is what the green space of the town is for. Paying over and plopping down cinder block boxes. There is no need to destroy the urban fabric of the city. There are very few success stories of an older area trying to out 'burb the 'burbs.

There are more than enough suburban strips out there. Where a locality actually attempts to provide/preserve an urban design there is success and demand (East Aurora, Lewiston, Elmwood in Buffalo).

Having the houses closer together, shorter interconnected blocks, etc promotes density which promotes walk-ability. If you ignore the walk-ability by paving over Main St you lose a lot of value in older houses and their set ups.

Look around at where old houses are getting rehabbed. Are they near streets that were demolished for large parking lots or near those that were preserved and are thriving with not just auto traffic but also foot traffic.

No doubt that there are some that prefer everything auto based and feel the only good looking place should be there home. For those there is the town. For those that feel the entire public realm should be created to be valuable and enjoyable there should be the city. Don't throw away one of the attributes that city has (should have) a lock on.

Anonymous said...

MJ with all due respect for your opinions I disagree with your vision for Lockport. Your visions are great for a large city, but a small city like Lockport would thrive with yards, driveways and houses with space between them. We are just too small to emulate an Elmwood Ave area. Our Elmwood Ave has houses packed in, you can see the results.
I agree some downtown areas need some street front stores. The Ulrich Center is a good compromise design with it's off and on street parking (but I wish the city would force some handicapped parking). Without the off street parking though store owners do limit their customer base. For example, my handicapped friend rarely goes to Tom's Diner or LaPorts due to the parking situation.

MJ said...

Once again, all I ask is for an example of a "thriving" older city Main St/commercial area that uses large parking in front of overly set back buildings.

I gave 3 examples of the opposite. Lewiston and East Aurora are no Buffalo. They may even be smaller than us. Our Elmwood is "that result" because we offer no pedestrian oriented commercial strip. Why would people want to live close to each other if the benefits of a walkable neighborhood are not there? For the most part the don't. Would knocking down half the houses/residences (half the tax base) in Lockport help any? Show me examples of where large scale demolition worked. Most of what you find is that it just signaled disinvestment and the neighborhood cleared out even more.

Even taking Buffalo. All of Buffalo was dense. The worst off sections of Buffalo are where they demolished the urban designed commercial strips for suburban small and mid box stores. No need (or desire) to live close to those so the surrounding neighborhoods failed. Places like Allen and Elmwood where the strips were kept in tact held on and eventually returned when people looking for a return to an walkable neighborhood came back to invest where they still existed.

I have no problem with the UCC. Actually I love it (except for most stores ignoring the street entrances)It is a great example of taking care of the pedestrian and the driver. All I am asking for is to make it the norm DT and not the exclusion.

Liz said...

I really think some simple steps would really help Lockport. Some of these simple initiatives helped provide the "community" in Buffalo and brought it to where it is today.

1) Bike racks on Main Street. Light posts don't count. I usually ride my bike to my bank on Main and I'm SOL once I get there. Naysay all you want, a bikeable and walkable city keeps people IN the city. Once you're in your car, there has to be a really good reason for people to want to park and get out. You're more likely to stop on bike or foot.

2) Bike lanes throughout the city
We have one of the most heavily trafficked bike trails in the state in our back yard. And what happens once they get here? Nothing. They leave. There's no reason for them to stay, it's not a bike friendly place to be. I really wish someone would open a bike shop on Main street, and the city would grab the attention of these bikers coming through with signage, bike friendly events, etc. and get them to stay, at least for a few hours.

3) Recycle garbage cans next to regular garbage cans
Promoting a green atmosphere in our city is good business. It promotes a positive image of the city.

4) Better signage for our canals. I can't tell you how many times I've been walking my dog on the canal to have visitors from out of town stop me and ask "is this the canal?? what is there to do here??" They simply don't know where to go once they get here.

5) Better promotion for what we have to offer. I often find out about events days after they happen. There needs to be one source of information for events, not the peppering of independent websites that there are now. There's TONS of things going on here throughout the summer, but unless you're from Lockport, you probably don't know about it.

6) More collaboration on arts events with the city. Market Street Art center and Kenan center are jewels in this city. They bring people to the city. It's the city's job to keep them here.

I agree with MJ. Buffalo's Elmwood didn't become a walkable destination overnight. It was progressive community led small improvements that led it to where it is today. Continuing to build under the thumb of the demans of the almighty car is what led Lockport to the urban renewal mess it is today. Main St has made great strides, but we have a long way to go before we can get back the "cityness" that once was here and was stripped from us in the 50s/60s.

I just moved to Lockport 3 years ago and the Main St area was one of the main things that drew me here. We have our own "lexington coop" with the Niagara County Produce store just off main street, we have a cool coffee shop, independent shops, market street art center, the canal, etc. We just need to fine tune and promote and KEEP people here spending money once they're here.

Buildings like the proposed Aldi's do not help that. Look at Transit. Is that what you want Main Street to look like? It's a nightmare.

MJ said...

1) "You're more likely to stop on bike or foot." Correct. That's why it is important for continuous facades (as opposed to little islands). Park once and pass multiple stores. When you are on foot you are more likely to stop in when something in a store window catches you eye. It makes it easy to discover new things. A customer for one business is a potential customer for the other businesses they pass and check out. Part of why I wish both Niagara Produce and Montando's were both right on Main.

2) Lane striping is cheap. East ave jumps to mind with it's ultra wide driving lanes. Best way for us to get new businesses on Main is to do our best to support those that are there.

-) I'm always surprised when dominant parking is deemed the continued solution. After 60 years of watching DTs erode you'd figure someone would question doing more of the same thing. If the blood letting isn't working: do we just keep prescribing more bloodletting?

John Adams said...

1.All these ideas are great ideas. How do convince public officials, the people "in charge" that this is the way things should be?

2.Take a short trip to Pittsford, NY. It has a very nice Small city atmosphere with the canal as it's focal point. Culturally it's very distant from where Lockport is today. The "best" areas of the city are in closest proximity to the city center, not the worst areas like here. all along the canal you'll find restaurants, a bike shop with rentals, Birkenstock shoes. I think you get the picture

3. how do we change that? Don't know that we can. Lockport is more blue collar and less inclined to embrace the arts, music, and quaintness of a college town for example. Some may disagree with that statement.
4. Making this a "cool" place to be would be great. I don't see it in my life time.

MJ said...

The problem with a Pittsford comparison is that it is more similar to Lewiston and East Aurora. It is a commuter village of Rochester filled with a good chunk of money. You have an economically segregated area near the outer ring of the metro area.

Lockport is an old city (like Buffalo, Rochester, Niagara Falls. The federal gov't subsidized moving people with the means out of them through the interstate/road system and federally backed mortgages biased to new builds. Those that could afford to move out took the incentives and did. In the resulting void they were filled in with projects etc for the poor left behind.

Lockport faces the tougher path. But simple ideas like those above can change that. Create a unique area centered around a personal experience. Attract those looking for the Pittsford Experience put priced out of it. Use the lure of affordable houses prime for gradual rehabilitation. The growth can continue from there. And it can be with people from all income levels.

I don't believe that it is impossible. We just need to take the risks to codify for walkable life and to create initial tax breaks (non-punishments) to those willing to take the first step at investment.

Blue collar can be cool. It doesn't really take more money to put the buildings at the street, clean the place up, paint bike lanes, etc. Just need someone with vision to lead the way.

Usually it is community groups/individuals. All the bike lanes, racks, Elmwood design standards etc in Buffalo did not come from the city government but from those who love the small section of WNY they call home and desire to make it better. They pushed and pushed and pushed and continue to do so while the city continues to get in the way

Now only if our governments would just make it easy for us to do the small things instead of backwards zoning, punishment for investment, etc.

Patti said...

Great ideas from all... Literally having the Canal in my front yard, and being peripherally involved in Canal tourism - most people who come here for our "attractions," all of which are Canal related, do have a good idea of why they're here and what they can do while here.
The primary problem I see is the bloody hill up to Main Street. Down here we have a wealth of small businesses and, of course, the boat trip and attendant restaurant, etc. which are great draws. Unfortunately, persons such as myself need the car to get "uptown." I usually shop at the Niagara Produce market (I LOATH the "box stores" but am compelled to go to them for larger purchases) but still need the car to get there. I think we've made considerable progress in the years I've been fortunate enough to live here.

Anonymous said...

MJ I see you brought it up in your second post but you can't even begin to compare Lockport with East Aurora, Lewiston or Pittsford. We are an extremely poor city with a downtown surrounded by the 'war zone' which almost (except you :) ) will walk through. Those other cities are loaded with cash due to the expensive houses and upper income people living there.

MJ said...

If you look up two posts you'll see that I already made that point.

But once again, being "poor" does not mean you need to accept POS site plans and building layouts. If you ever want to start attracting money, start to up the quality of what you have to offer and build on the qualities you possess, no matter how tarnished they may be.

Sections of Buffalo are coming back that they said would never come back and they are around the "urban" sections of the city which were left intact. We have a lot intact. The "war zone" is still intact right at the edge of DT. It can be a building block for rebirth or left to the gradual slide to vacancy and demolition which will only leave us with perpetual empty lots.

Anonymous said...

We have to agree to disagree. I believe increasing the density of low income housing in the war zone area (re: HV) will perpetuate the problem, you believe the better looking housing will help.
I believe opening up more green space in the area by demolishing houses and creating incentives for people to convert houses to 1 or 2 families with yards will help. I like large yards and a family looking neighborhood, I believe you like a denser neighborhood.
I like Mayberry, you like Elmwood Ave!

MJ said...

We agree on that point. I like what I like and you like what you like, which is perfectly fine.

If huge lots are what one is looking for that's what the suburbs/country is for. Around Lockport they are very close by and readily available. A city can't compete with it. New open cheap green space is in large supply. Demolishing several blocks of the city will only result in several blocks of a demolished city (lost tax base)and a sign that the area has long been given up on.

Demolishing half the city to open up yards will only result in each residences taxes being twice as much to cover the legacy bills. Green (brown) space does not pay the bills. Demolition is a short term solution with long term effects on attracting any future growth. How long did the South Block take? Think residential new build would move quicker?

Again why force the country into the city when it exists 5 minutes away? Use the city's attributes (inter-connectivity, density, existing housing stock etc)to attract residents looking for those qualities which are in diminishing supply.

History is ripe with the failures of cities trying to demolish their way to being a suburb. I still await of an example of one where it worked out.

Anonymous said...

When I say demolish I don't mean entire neighborhoods, I mean specific houses within neighborhoods. And I don't mean wait for new builds then, I mean encourage people (financially) to re-convert houses back to 1 or 2 family houses. As far as taxes we are not getting much anyways from most of these houses, and we will be getting basically no taxes from the HV houses.
I am not trying to force the country into the city but I am trying to force some 'ownership pride' in to the city. We need to stop the plague of entire neighborhoods being filled with social service clients who just don't care.
I also strongly feel that the biggest difference between my thoughts and yours is I don't consider Lockport a 'city' as compared to say Buffalo. To me Lockport is a 'small town' which should have yards and houses similar to say, Middleport. One of the reasons I think this is true is the lack of employment here. If you live here you have to be able to drive out of town for a job. In a city 'most' people can walk/bus to their jobs.

Here is some ammunition I found while doing my research that backs you up though, I think you will enjoy it! Please read and consider the rebuttal comments at the end though, especially the one about giving empty lots to neighbors for nominal fees. I am fair, aren't I?

MJ said...

You are fair and I appreciate it. I keep an open mind and if you read back far enough you can see my point of view on some things change. It should be the obvious result of seeking knowledge. "Even the blind change their views."

It does appear to be obvious (try to duplicate the 'burbs) but the last 50 years of urban history in the US show us the failure that route leads too. And once something is gone, it is gone for good.

In limited circumstances (i.e. demolition from fire etc) selling the lot cheaply to a neighboring house is a great plus. I've had friends who have done that in Buffalo. But the more it happens the more it affects the integrity/experience of the street and if nearby, the commercial district.

Just like passing empty store fronts creates a mental barrier to continue to walk, so does empty residential lots. The densest part of Lockport should right next to downtown. Especially if we want DT to grow again (thus lowering our taxes). Luckily it still exists. Go to the out skirts of the city and there are bigger lots for those that desire them.

If we want our taxes lower, we need growth. We need more taxable properties at a higher valuation if we want what we are paying to go down. One less house is one less property paying into the budget which get picks up by the rest of us. It is also once less opportunity for rehab which if we look around, is the path for slow sustainable growth in reemerging urban neighborhoods.

Maybe city is a bad word. Maybe dense is too. How about walkable? The reason I live and invest in the city, deal with a single wide driveway etc is because it affords me the ability to live my life (at times)without having to fire up 4,000 lbs of metal which takes up 8X the space I do every time I want to do something.

And please note, I am not calling for parking banning etc. The best example of balancing car vs pedestrian is right in DT: UCC. Think of going to the mall. If every store was separated by 50 parking spots how many stores would you stop in vs how many you do during a typical visit?

I'm starting to veer so I'll call it quits here. Can you point out the comment you'd like to reference?

Anonymous said...

The comment was the one about selling the empty lots which you already referred to.
Did you enjoy that web site? Bet you did!

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, one last thing. IMHO, I would much rather walk in an area I feel safe in. I know you don't mind walking in the 'war zone', but 95% of the city does mind walking there, it is a HUGE barrier to people wanting to walk downtown. By not attempting to change the character of the neighborhood away from densely packed social services apartments we will never change it.

I agree with you on UCC, except why did the city let them get rid of the handicapped parking when they installed the patio?

MJ said...

Anyone rather walk in an area they feel safe in. Demolishing buildings does not make a place safer. Actually is usually makes it worse since there are less eyes son the street looking over activity.

Do I perceive more safety on Willow than on Genessee? Sure. But I pass kids on bikes playing etc on both streets. I used to be hesitent walking that direction until I actually started doing it. The best way to judge something/one/place is to experience it.

My bet is the UCC lot stil contains the minimum required by code. Best way to check is call the Building Inspection Dept.

I "enjoy it" becuase I enjoy seeing old historical places thrive. I enjoy seeing what was built before us preserved. Especially when everything today appears to be disposible, including cities/towns. It pains me to see the mistakes of the past 50 yrs perpetuated thus holding things back. I enjoy living part of my life interacting with my environment "hands on" instead of in a isolation chamber on wheels.

We both agree that Genesee needs to change. My only point is it will not change by knocking it down or building poor site plans nearby that neglect pedestrians and their experience.

Where we may disagre is on density. Density of money next to DT is what will allow it to thrive and be a destination, as oppossed to a place you drive in and out of as quickly as possible.

Anonymous said...

"Density of money next to DT is what will allow it to thrive and be a destination, as oppossed to a place you drive in and out of as quickly as possible."
Totally agree on the concept, but filling Genessee St with social services people DECREASES the density of money and ensures that most people drive in and out of it AS QUICKLY as possible!

Enough said, but nice debate.

MJ said...

I don't recall this conversation ever being about pro-social-service-recipients.

But being a city we must be realistic in that we will need to provide low income housing. Maybe worth a separate post later on.

Anonymous said...

Adding more subsidized low income housing (hv) add's more social service clients to the area.

MJ said...

I know

MJ said...

cleaned up the "broken record discussion". There are more constructive ways to make the point.

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