Many Buffalonians are feeling a justifiable sense of satisfaction over the “resurgence” the city and region have enjoyed in recent years. Employment is up. Population is steady. There’s development on the waterfront, new housing in the city, rebirth in some neighborhoods.
But what about the future? What lies in store for Buffalo Niagara in an era of climate change, rampant technological innovation, wrenching demographic transformations and other disruptive forces? What does it mean for how we build our city and our way of life?
This is the big question that local experts and planning scholars from around the world will address in the “What’s Next for Buffalo Niagara” workshop this October in conjunction with the annual conference of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning. The conference is being hosted by the Department of Urban and Regional Planning in the UB School of Architecture and Planning.
With roughly 1,000 planning scholars coming to Buffalo, workshop organizers say it seemed like an obvious opportunity to make use of their expertise and marry it with the experience of local experts in government, not-for-profits, universities and business to think about how to prepare for a challenging future in the 21st century.
“Now is not a time for complacency,” says workshop organizer Bradshaw Hovey, research associate professor in the School of Architecture and Planning. “Now is the time to ask ourselves what we need to do in the years to come to ensure prosperity, health and community 50 years from now.”
The workshop will enlist 30 local subject matter experts, 30 planning scholars from ACSP, plus 10 UB faculty members and 10 graduate students to work in five topic areas: energy and environment; economy and employment; land use, transportation and metropolitan form; housing and neighborhoods; and governance and civic culture.
Their assignment: In a single day, draft a set of statements about what Buffalo Niagara must do — immediately and over the years to come — to ensure that it continues to thrive as a city-region in the 21st century.
Planners typically plan for the next five years, sometimes the next 20, but hardly ever for the next half-century. There are too many uncertainties, too many unknowns. Yet the long-term future begins today.
“There is a fundamental connection between what we do in the present and what kind of city we make for ourselves in the future,” says Robert G. Shibley, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning. “Which means we have to decide what to do in the present, always thinking about where we want to end up in the future.”
The workshop is being underwritten in large measure by former Buffalo Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, whose partnership with Shibley, the Urban Design Project and others in the School of Architecture and Planning crafted the planning framework that has guided billions of dollars in new investment over the past quarter-century.
In 1994, Masiello’s first year in office, the new mayor asked Shibley to lead a public engagement process. A series of “summits” for downtown and neighborhoods set the public agenda for a new plan for downtown — Buffalo’s first comprehensive plan in four decades — as well as plans for the waterfront and Buffalo’s Olmsted Parks, all of which have been embraced and extended by Masiello’s successor, Byron W. Brown.
“So much of the progress we have made over the past 25 years has come out of this partnership between the city and UB,” Masiello says. “What we need now is the next generation of ideas and energy, and especially new people at the table. We have to keep this going, which is why I was eager to support this workshop.”
The task before anyone trying to think 50 years into the future is a daunting one. Many of the vaunted “mega-trends” that forecasters talk about — globalization, urbanization, demographic change, climate change, the digital revolution, the gig economy, the sharing economy — have already taken hold. Even trends like the biotechnological manipulation of human life, autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence and robots seem not so far in the future. What happens after that?
“We can’t know exactly what these trends will bring,” Shibley says. “But we don't have to be victims of them. We can actually, in a cultural way, decide what kind of community we want to live in and make sure that the decisions we make and the actions we take lead us in that direction.
“That’s only possible,” he adds, “if we understand that the future really is now.”
The workshop begins at 8 a.m. Oct. 24 in the atrium of Hayes Hall on UB’s South Campus and continues from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in 403 Hayes.
A call for participation has been sent out to members of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning, inviting faculty members and graduate students to apply to participate in the workshop. Buffalo Niagara residents are also invited to apply for participation.
Applicants should describe their areas of expertise and interest to ensure that workshop participants collectively possess the range and depth of knowledge necessary to inform this process. It is also the intention of the organizers to convene a panel of 80 participants who reflect the diversity of the community and the academy in terms of age, gender, race and ethnicity, as well as subject matter expertise.
Visit the “What’s Next for Buffalo?” website to fill out the application form.
Following the “What’s Next for Buffalo Niagara?” workshop, a public forum will take place Oct. 26 so that members of the Buffalo Niagara community and ACSP planning scholars can hear and respond to results of the workshop.