Environmental Design workshops plan for reenergized communities

by Tyler Madell

Published December 20, 2019


This fall, two studios in the BA Environmental Design program were busy developing design recommendations for two critical sites spanning municipal borders in and around Buffalo.

Under the direction of urban planning faculty members Margaret Winship and Kimberly Amplement, both of whom are planners for the Town of Amherst, the first group of students developed a plan for the area in and around South Campus, where three municipalities come together.

Meanwhile, focusing on a neighborhood on the other side of Buffalo, urban planning faculty member Jeff Rehler’s workshop completed a development plan for Kaisertown.

Bridging Borders: Connecting Communities Across Municipal Borders

Logo for Greater University District.

The Greater University District Plan seeks to create a cohesive vision for an area that straddles three municipalities around the South Campus: the City of Buffalo, the Town of Tonawanda and the Town of Amherst.

Examining existing conditions including demographics, land use, built and natural environment, and transportation, the workshop found a need to coordinate efforts to address challenges across their study area. These challenges include autocentric design that is unwelcoming and unsafe for pedestrians, lack of integration amongst the diverse demographics present, and unconnected assets throughout the area.

To address these challenges, the workshop recommends the formation of an inter-municipal community development organization to provide inclusive programming and micro-mobility solutions to gaps in the existing transportation systems. Strategically placed smart mobility hubs could leverage opportunities for residents to use scooter or bike shares for first-mile last-mile solutions to reach public transit.

Students also recommend private redevelopment of University Plaza that includes a community-driven rezoning process and provides affordable housing options. The workshop designed a prototype mixed-use development that emphasizes community space and effective connectivity for pedestrians.

Lastly, the Greater University District Plan recommend a redesign of Niagara Falls Boulevard, a major transportation corridor for the area that also serves as the border of Tonawanda and Amherst. The reimagined boulevard would be designed to be safer for cars and pedestrians while also encouraging people to use alternative modes of transportation.

A Cohesive Kaisertown: Neighborhood Planning for one of Buffalo’s Most Compact and Historically Vibrant Communities

Kaisertown Development Plan: Houghton Park entrance rendering.

Kaisertown Development Plan: Houghton Park entrance rendering 

The Kaisertown Development Plan workshop looks at enhancing a historic neighborhood in the southeast corner of the City of Buffalo, bordering the Town of Cheektowaga. Their proposals promote the neighborhood’s social participation, economic development, main commercial corridors, and urban environment. Additionally, they seek to raise awareness of the neighborhood within in Buffalo and Western New York.

The workshop focuses on preserving Kaisertown’s rich history while also addressing needed physical improvements and opportunities for improved quality of life. A significant challenge of the project was catering to the neighborhood’s aging population while also working to increase diversity in the neighborhood.

Looking at current conditions in the neighborhood, the workshop observed a strong sense of pride amongst residents for their neighborhood. Yet they also noticed a need for economic development, as many of the storefronts along the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare are vacant. Furthermore, opportunities exist to encourage alternative modes of transportation and reactivate Houghton Park, a major public park in Kaisertown.

Final recommendations are organized into three areas of concentration: Main Streets (focusing economic development along the main corridors of Clinton and Ogden streets), Houghton Park (proposing an enhanced trail network and a farmer’s market), and Waterfront (offering ideas to build upon the neighborhood’s Buffalo River shoreline with boating docks, green infrastructure and increased recreational opportunities).

The workshop also recommends some neighborhood-wide improvements, including renewable energy support through solar roofs on major municipal buildings and the conversion of vacant buildings into affordable senior housing.