Each time I’m in Buffalo, NY I remember anew what a beautiful city it is. Buffalo is graceful, light and airy despite its very elaborate and important architecture. A system of parkways radiates from the center of the city to connect its neighborhoods and parks.
This was the work of America’s first landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, and it was widely recognized at the time. Olmsted did his first drawing for Buffalo in 1868; his plans went to Philadelphia for the Centennial Exposition and to Paris in 1878. He himself said that Buffalo was “the best planned city, as to its streets, public places and grounds in the United States, if not the world.”
1960 was a horrible year for Buffalo’s Olmsted design. The Kensington Expressway was built as a submerged road inside Humboldt Parkway. The Scajaquada Expressway was sited across Delaware Park, separating its meadows from its lake. And I-190 was built along the Niagara River waterfront, cutting the city off from its most significant natural resource.
History has not been kind to master planner Robert Moses and for good reason: many of his projects were vastly destructive. Not only were Buffalo’s new expressways eyesores, they split up the very organization of the city. And they were and are dangerous. One of my childhood chums was struck by a car and seriously injured on the Scajaquada Expressway in the early 1970s. Just last year, a car lost control on it and barreled into the park, critically injuring one child and killing her brother. The road runs at street level, is twisty and has lousy entrances.
The Kensington Expressway runs below grade in what was once the central median of Humboldt Parkway. Of the three expressways, this is the one that caused the most damage, gutting what was once a healthy, vibrant part of the city and turning it into a slum.
Buffalo’s buildings have long been recognized by architectural historians. Its parks are ably managed by the Olmsted Conservancy. However, the damaged parkway system has been pretty much ignored until recently.
A group called ROCC Buffalo is lobbying for Humboldt Parkway to be restored. They are not talking through their collective hat. It would be feasible and relatively inexpensive to demolish the Scajaquada and the Kensington and restore those sections of the original Olmsted design, making Buffalo more livable in the process. We all understand house restoration, but why not city restoration?