Urban planning studio on Buffalo wins national award

Group photo of the MUP studio that won an award for its report on innovation districts in Buffalo.

Students in urban planning and real estate development worked under the directoin of Professor Ernest Sternberg to explore the feasibility of an innovation district in Buffalo.

Published July 19, 2019

A graduate urban planning studio on the feasibility of innovation districts in Buffalo has earned the inaugural "Best Student Paper" award in a national competition organized by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning.

The inaugural Planning & Entrepreneurship Awards, sponsored by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, recognize faculty and student research at the intersection of urban planning and economic innovation. 

Studio members, including graduate students in urban planning and real estate development, worked in consultation with high-ranking planners from the City of Buffalo and real estate development professionals to conduct their assessment. 

Innovation districts are a relatively new term used to describe mixed-use urban areas that have a high concentration of innovative businesses and often anchor institutions such as a university. They may also be centered around business incubators and accelerators, with startup businesses located around them. Innovation districts generally have high walkability and transit access. 

According the the studio report, key benefits of innovation districts include strengthening the local urban economy, revitalizing historic neighborhoods, and spurring an expanded tax base. Students also highlighted the need to make sure people in need of affordable and low-income housing are not priced out of the neighborhood.

Based on case studies of existing innovation districts MidTown Cleveland, InnovatePGH (Pittsburgh), and MaRS Toronto, the students began to conceptualize a rubric for rating possible sites in Buffalo.

For their proposed innovation district in Buffalo, the class focused on downtown and the medical campus as possible locations - home of 36 percent of the region’s innovative firms and five incubators. Four sites were chosen in this area.