the dream boat Buffalo

// an ideal city//

Currently I can’t seem to get Johnny Cash’s ‘I’ve been everywhere’ out of my head but unlike the man in black, I have not been everywhere. But this is one of those rare moments where I don’t mock myself for not having Marco Polo travel credentials. My ideal city has been something I’ve been attempting to process for many years now. Researching cities I may, possibly, job permitting…happily call home after graduation.

Growing up in a rust belt city always made me long for a ‘real’ city. Now that I’m in one I find it increasingly more difficult to understand my old sentiment. Ever since parting Buffalo I have wished for it to come back to me. Not the poor economy or the less than stellar transportation system, but the people, buildings, and food. There are very specific things about my hometown (which I’m admittedly obsessed with) that I sincerely desire Washington, D.C. to adopt. Specifically, the people in Buffalo are the nicest, most helpful people I have ever come across in my life. I am only starting to realize this however, because when you grew up in the Mecca of societal niceness you don’t realize what you have. I often feel as though I’m in a shockingly real Twilight Zone episode and Rod Sterling is narrating my encounters with Washingtonians as if I was the kanamit in the production.

The Buildings within the city are not replicable, there is something about the Guaranty Building designed by Louis Sullivan that always gets to me (in a good way) when looking up at the intricate detailing from a cracked sidewalk. The idea that the Guaranty Building was built based on a ‘Form Follows Function’ principle still fascinates me…In a time when everywhere in America is anywhere in America, Buffalo seems to stick out. There is no other city where you can see the architecture of HH Richardson, Frank Lloyd Wright, Eero Saarinen, Daniel Burnham, Richard Upjohn and Louis Sullivan.

Buffalo food has been paid homage to on the back of bar menus for years (the ‘Buffalo wing’) but food in Buffalo is more than just a chicken limb. Food within a city tends to show the city’s roots, and while many of the standard dishes are something out of an American cookbook, other food outlets show the ethnic makeup of the city. Delicious Italian, Indian, Thai, French, Irish, German, Burmese (and many others) decorate the city- the influence of these tasty goods affects the happiness of your tummy but rarely the size of your wallet. Unlike mediocre, expensive, food that is all over DC, Buffalo allows a lot of bang for the buck you work so hard for.

Now, I’m not saying Buffalo is my ideal city- because there is always something to improve on, and the notion of an ideal city means something so good it could only be fictional (in my opinion). I would love to live in a city where mixed use is common; I like the idea of living next to your favorite restaurant, or bank or grocer. I think that mixed use is one of the only ways to bring together a community; you live where you work (a concept that was definitely neglected in the 1950s). With mixed use housing people tend to care more about their work environment because it is not just a place where your employer is, it’s your own neighborhood.

A compact city is also something I believe in. The reliance on foreign oil is insane, and a mid-sized city where people live where they work would significantly cut down on commuting. People will spend less of their time in a car and more time with family, and friends- I believe people would be happier (commuting everyday sounds like a torture mechanism).

Urban parks would cut through streets with barbers, vets, and other common businesses so that people could spend their lunch breaks eating a locally produced egg salad, instead of a processed burger patty at the local McDonalds.

I’ve learned that people are really receptive to improving their neighborhood if you let them. Overtly gentrified land, and crime related arson (two evils on opposite ends of the spectrum) would be a thing of the past if locals had a say in the urban makeup of their community. These grassroots groups and town hall meetings (they are shockingly effective in smaller areas) would help facilitate the development and retrofit of planning tools that use neighborhood design, green infrastructure, and iconic building retrofit. By involving community members the city can create walk-able green mixed-use developments that reduce the amount of ghg emissions released from transportation and building districts.

Chicago, IL through Cloud Gate.
Media: Charcoal

Chicago, IL through Cloud Gate.

Media: Charcoal

HH Richardson Complex: Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane. Buffalo, NY

Sustainable Building? Yes please! Condo idea I put together on sketch up

Green roof, runoff water systems, FSC Wood, Pervious surfaces

// Perspectives on Buffalo, NY- my hometown//

Through the mature maple trees I’m able to see a cityscape- an old metropolis left to face the effects of an aged, semi-forgotten manufacturing settlement. The downtown area is beautiful if you look past the worn infrastructure and mass vacancies that seem to have poisoned Buffalo, NY. 

When I was younger and my parents would bring me to the downtown area I was always fascinated with the grid roads, waterfront and the seemingly endless mass of buildings; both big and small- painting a picture of a bustling urban area.  Maybe it’s because I was young and Buffalo was my only image of the world, or maybe it was because my parents often spoke of what a magnificent city Buffalo used to be, but there was nothing more beautiful or magical than downtown. For a long time Buffalo felt whimsical- like a scene to a fairytale that featured an urban princess who used only the tallest building has her tower.

As I aged I began to see cracks in my holistic image of Buffalo. I guess it’s because blight became apart of my vocabulary; along with closures, joblessness and urban decay. I began to realize the life of my urban princess wasn’t as glamorous as I previously thought- but this wasn’t the end of my fairytale. Buffalo was now visually more like a Tim Burton film- sure; it was filled with moments of unpleasantries but at the end of the day there was a charm to be seen by the buildings that once carried so much life. 

Buffalo is centered on a grid system- making it exceptionally easy to get around- with the exception of a parkway system built for its beauty, not practicality. Fredrick Law Olmstead designed the parkways system of Buffalo, with the idea that few cars would need to be on the road and those that were in those cars would much prefer a nice view over a quicker way. Interestingly enough, Olmstead was unable to drive himself- making the planning of highway ramps particularly interesting…

The city itself saw its building-hay-day during the turn of the 20th century. Making much of the architecture still standing more than a century old. Because Buffalo was one of the largest ports in the United States during this time, wealthy people lived by the waterfront. Buildings located near lake Erie have delicate features etched into their marble and brick outlay. Although the city’s buildings have worn- many are still handsome. The designers of these buildings influenced the work of future generations because of their structures within the city. An example of a masterpiece still protected by the city is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House; an exemplary structure from the architects prairie era that humorously ties together a street corner in a townhouse heavy area on the north side of the city. Another example, and a personal favorite of mine, is the Guaranty Building (now the Prudential Building) designed by Louis Sullivan and fellow architect Dankmar Adler.  This building set a precedent for how office buildings in the area were designed; light from the outside shines easily in because of spacious windows. The beauty of this building is centered on the idea that good design can be sustainable because light emitting windows reduce the amount spent on lighting.

Culturally Buffalo is very similar to the populations seen during the turn of the 20th century. Today, Irish, Italian, Polish and German ancestors still live in the city; but have since accepted and welcomed their neighbors of different ethnic backgrounds.  The white flight of the 1950s made racial tensions within the city high. As more white families began to flock to the suburbs the inner city grew vacant and more impoverished. Finally, diversity within the city is becoming more prevalent again- especially on the west side of Buffalo (a historically Italian neighborhood) that is now home to many refuges of Burmese and Somalian decent. Neighbors of all areas within Buffalo are coming together with the singular goal of improving their neighborhoods, which helps ease racial tension previously experienced. 

The economy in Buffalo isn’t good, to put it simply. Buffalo has an unemployment rate of about 10%. Meaning, that you probably know someone without a job who wants one. The joblessness in Buffalo grew over the last two years as a result of more companies consolidating their offices. It is one of the greatest upsets for the city but it isn’t something that should be seen as embarrassing for the sheer number of people out of work.

Another condition that the city of Buffalo prepares itself for is the massive amount of snow come winter. Buffalo is very good with making sure that all the streets are plowed- I’m convinced they live by the motto ‘the snow must go on’. If someone’s car is stuck in the snow there is always a neighbor willing to help.

The best part about Buffalo, besides all the memories I have growing up there, are the people. Buffalonians are known fondly as the city of good neighbors, a statement that continues to hold validity years later. There is something about braving the winter tundra and economic troubles that make people within the city come together and try to improve some of the problems- or just make someone else’s day a bit easier. Because of the history of the city, people know that everyone faces bad times; this kindness is given in part because everyone needs someone at some point.

As Buffalo continues to develop, my favorite spot in the city remains nearly unbothered. There is something striking about aging with an unchanged built environment, this fairytale spot gives some form of permanence in a consistently regenerative world.  

spring in champaign, il

Another k-12 school site proposal

Site Sketches for new k-12 school, built near metro

baby face’s

Urban Design Student
Architecture Nut
Rust-Belt City Enthusiast