"What's Next" workshop is first step in long-range planning initiative

Published November 12, 2018

"The workshop opened a critical conversation, but it was only the first step. We are now working to define a process that engages the expertise and perspectives of our full community."
Bradshaw Hovey, UB research professor in urban planning

Community leaders and national urban planning scholars who came together last month for a special long-range planning session proposed a long list of "big ideas" for the region to consider as it looks ahead to the next 50 years.  

The "What's Next for Buffalo Niagara" workshop was organized by UB's urban planning program as a way to tap into the expertise of planners from across the U.S. and Canada, who were in town last month for the 2018 national conference of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning. On the table for discussion was how the region can make decisions today to adapt to global mega trends like climate change, demographic upheaval, and constant technological transformation.

The one-day workshop, held on Oct. 24 in UB's Hayes Hall, convened more than 80 local actors and national experts, including UB faculty and students, local leaders from the public, nonprofit and private sectors, and urban planning scholars from such institutions as Cornell University, Columbia University, the University of Michigan, the University of Illinois (Urbana Champaign), and Florida State University. More than 100 members of the community attended a separate public presentation and forum, held on Oct. 26 at the Buffalo Convention Center, to reflect on workshop results. 

The result was a rich and complex discussion that emphasized how we will need to think and act differently in Buffalo Niagara if the region is to do its part in responding to what the International Panel on Climate Change describes as a global emergency to cut carbon emissions. 

Workshop participants, however, proposed to use the the crisis as an opportunity to work toward making life in Buffalo Niagara healthier, fairer, and more sustainably prosperous through improvements in transportation, housing affordability, employment and job training.

Among their proposals was a comprehensive effort to achieve zero-carbon in power generation and transportation; build access to affordable housing in healthy neighborhoods; invest in public transit and regulations to inhibit sprawl; protect regional water resources from the Great Lakes and our watershed; invest in infrastructure and job training, especially in sectors such as health care, tourism, and advanced manufacturing; and develop the regional agriculture sector to secure our food supply, reduce carbon emissions and create jobs. 

Many were eager to discuss the "elephant in the room" - local governance structures that participants called "archaic" and poorly equipped to tackle the challenges of today, not to mention the next hundred years. In addition to a general call for more open, inclusive and participatory governing processes, solutions ranged from reinvesting in the voluntary One Region Forward regional sustainable development plan to a “binding” land use planning regime.

Workshop organizer Bradshaw Hovey, a research professor in urban planning at UB's School of Architecture and Planning, says the conversation was just the first step in a longer process to chart the long-term course for Buffalo Niagara. "The workshop opened a critical conversation, but it was only the first step. We are now working to define a process that engages the expertise and perspectives of our full community."

Hovey says that process must consider the interconnected character of the issues Buffalo Niagara will face. "For example, during our discussion, the potential for Buffalo Niagara to receive significant numbers of climate refugees and migrants was understood as an economic opportunity, a resource for neighborhood revitalization, a challenge for structures of governance, as well as a response to the climate emergency."

As an immediate next step, a full report will be circulated among the participants for comment before being published for broader review and comment.

The “What’s Next for Buffalo Niagara?” workshop was made possible by major funding by Friends of Tony Masiello and Ashai Design Consulting, with additional support from The Baird Foundation, Foit-Albert Associates Architects, and CannonDesign.