This week, Buffalo’s preservationists got a big boost from a lavish New York Times spread celebrating the city’s architecture. Critic Nicolai Ouroussoff concluded that the city had a rare opportunity to use its historic neighborhoods and restored landmarks as potent tools for Buffalo’s economic recovery.
The Times’ validation is rewarding and useful, but it is also timely. Named both to our 2008 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places, and to the Preservation League of New York State’s Seven to Save list, the residential area adjacent to the Peace Bridge remains under threat of needless, large-scale demolition for a massive transportation and security project.
The Peace Bridge crosses the US-Canada border at the Niagara River, entering Buffalo in the historic Prospect Hill neighborhood situated around Frederick Law Olmsted’s Front and Columbus Parks.
Local leaders’ vision of adding a new signature bridge as a gateway to the city -- and the goals of improving transportation and border security -– could be accomplished in a range of ways, locations, and configurations. Instead, these goals hardened into the Public Bridge Authority’s plan to add a new bridge alongside the old one, and expand the border entry plaza currently at the bridge deep into this neighborhood.
In the tree-lined blocks of homes dating largely from 1850 through the mid-20th century, some houses are modest and some are grand. Most are tidy, some are vacant. Overall, the neighborhood is stable and remarkably strong in the face of uncertainty. The Public Bridge Authority itself acquired several significant houses in the area over the years. Unmaintained, they are a demoralizing, inescapable reminder of the residents’ predicament. In a Rust Belt city struggling with real vacancy problems, it would be particularly wasteful to damage this viable neighborhood.
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