Buffalo's vision for a waterfront park

Video produced by First+Main Films

How does Buffalo "Imagine LaSalle"?

City-building is a complex, collective, and cumulative process in which many agents, large and small, work together (sometimes at odds) across space and time to construct a common home. The School of Architecture and Planning has been an indispensable participant in that process of Buffalo constructing Buffalo.

Across half a century, faculty and students of the School of Architecture and Planning have engaged in hundreds of acts of planning, design, and making, a collaborative endeavor with our community to shape the future of Buffalo. Now it has established the community vision for the next big step in the ongoing construction of Buffalo – the transformation of a waterfront park from a hard, flat stretch of grass to an enchanting landscape at the eastern tip of Lake Erie. 

Buffalo's LaSalle Park on the city's Lake Erie shoreline.

Buffalo's vision for the future of LaSalle Park will transform a flat stretch of land into an enchanting landscape on the eastern tip of Lake Erie. (Still from "Imagine LaSalle" video produced by First + Main Films)

Imagine LaSalle is a community-driven initiative to guide the transformation of the former LaSalle Park into Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park. This effort is made possible through the generosity of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation in partnership with the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo. The University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning and one of its research centers, the UB Regional Institute (UBRI), are managing this engagement process to ensure broad and meaningful community input shapes the park’s future. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, a New York-based landscape architecture firm known worldwide for its creative and unique urban design with projects that include parks, plazas, cultural institutions, gardens and more, is leading the conceptual design of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park. The City of Buffalo is an active project partner represented by its Division of Parks and Recreation, the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation, the Department of Community Services and Recreational Programming, and the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Planning.

The process

During the summer of 2018, 22 focus group members, 1,164 community members, and a team of local youth contributed their perspectives and ideas to envision the future of LaSalle Park.

The collaborative civic work of creating the park has been driven by values defined through public engagement, informed by precedent and analysis of existing conditions, and inspired by an elevation of expectations for the user experience. The work builds on the city's legacy of world-class urban design, and draws from Buffalo's collective vision for its future as represnted in an official planning framework for its downtown, waterfront, parks, and regional economy.

Imagine LaSalle has been an intensive and ambitious civic effort. The project involves the university, city government, and a major donor, but also park user groups, neighbors, advocacy organizations, and federal and state agencies. Over two-plus years, a team from the UB Regional Institute hosted community workshops, conducted survey research in seven languages, and organized design charrettes with youth. They toured a focus group of neighborhood ambassadors through 21 of the nation’s best urban parks.

The park has long served as a gathering place for Buffalonians from all walks of life and backgrounds. As a civic process, Imagine LaSalle has been intentional in bringing together the diverse base of park users and nearby residents so that the park’s transformation is shaped by the community’s vision for what a world class waterfront park could be

- Bart Roberts, an associate director of the UB Regional Institute and Imagine LaSalle project lead.

The findings

That chorus of voices was then synthesized into a community vision report outlining core design principles for the park, from the technical (get smart about parking) to the cultural (strengthen neighborhood connections) to the aesthetic (create a ‘great lawn’ for recreation and events). The report has served as a guiding force for the project, directly informing MVVA’s conceptual designs for the park.

The park will be linked to a wider system of parks and trails, served by systems of maintenance and operations, and nourished by structures of governance that mobilize community support. Among the park’s signature features are a berm to block noise from the I-190, an inviting new bridge to the neighborhood across the interstate, a sledding hill and meadow, reinvigorated flora including 2,500 new trees, new ways to meet the water, a magical new playground for children, and connections to surrounding parks and trails.

View the bibliography of Imagine LaSalle reports and findings, as well as official city planning documents, that are included with the exhibition in Venice.

The Imagine LaSalle civic process is now in its final stages as deigns move through regulatory review and construction documentation. Construction is expected to start in 2022. The following reports offer a glimpse into this process. Visit the Imagine LaSalle website to view full project documentation.

Imagine Lasalle visioning report cover.

Imagine LaSalle: A Community Vision for Buffalo's LaSalle Park, 2018. The report explores the park’s history and current context/usage, and summarizes key hopes and aspirations of a diverse community of park users.

Imagine Lasalle park governance report cover.

Managing High-Quality Park Environments: Models and Lessons from Selected Parks in New York City, Chicago, and Cincinnati, 2020. Researchers from UB look at different park management strategies employed at the parks visited by the Imagine LaSalle focus group in summer 2018.