New York High Line

Empire State Building from the High Line Park (2011).

Empire State Building from the High Line Park (2011).

I visited New York in September for a series of meetings with OpenPlans about organizing a Transportation Camp in Washington DC during the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting in January 2012.

The High Line Park, New York (2011).

The High Line Park, New York (2011).

While there I was able to visit the High Line, an old aerial railway line that ran along the west side of Manhattan. The rail line has been converted to a walkway and is probably one of the most successful urban design projects from the last decade.

If you go to New York be sure to take a walk on the High Line. All my NY High Line photos on Flickr.

Buffalo Freeways to Remove-Part 2

Buffalo Historical Society May 10-1
Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, behind the freeway.
(Source: Andrew Nash, 2010)

Yesterday I wrote about Rust Belt city planning in general. As I was looking through my Buffalo photos for the post I came across the photo above.

Can there be a better illustration of the insanity of building freeways through parks? The huge bright green freeway signs in front of the only building remaining from Buffalo’s Pan-American World Exhibition (1901). Looking over Delaware Park’s Hoyt Lake from the Casino towards the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society building … and there they are, the huge green freeway signs.

Of course the freeway also generates noise and pollution in addition to creating a wall that splits the park into pieces.

Many will argue that once a freeway is in place you can’t remove it, but Portland and San Francisco both did and have not looked back. (Check out the great StreetFilms on San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway replacment). Previously I wrote about tearing down several Buffalo freeways, maybe that’s too much to start.

How about this? Just close the freeway between the Elmwood exit and Parkside. Just this summer. Give people plenty of warning. Install some improvements (and directions) on alternative routes and give it a chance.

Create a Buffalo Beach, just like Paris.

Rustbelt City Planning

Buffalo City Hall Jun07 - 01
They had a way with words back then.
City Hall Mosaic Buffalo NY (source: Andrew Nash, 2007)

As a city planner who grew up in Buffalo NY I can’t help but be interested in how to revitalize Rust Belt cities. My solution: Rustbelt Cities need to be bolder and more creative (DUH.. what city/company/person doesn’t need to be bolder and more creative?).

Rust Belt city leaders will say, we are being bold and creative, we’re planning a big box store to compete with the suburbs or we’re planning a festival marketplace/ convention center/ casino to attract tourists. What’s not bold about that?

Buffalo aerial sept08-12
Buffalo waterfront and downtown: looking for a few truly bold and creative ideas.
(Source: Andrew Nash, 2008)

Well, big’s not always bold and it’s rarely creative. Truly bold and creative ideas are place-based. In other words you can’t create a festival marketplace without the festival and you can’t build a big box store without the suburban streets and parking.

There’s a saying: if you’re an apple don’t try to be a banana, you’ll always be a second-rate banana. It’s even worse for a city: if you try to be a suburb you’ll destroy what’s good about the city (and, you probably won’t be successful anyway).

What can cities do? Create the festival and place-based development will follow. Support businesses that fit into the existing infrastructure and complimentary businesses will follow. As anyone who has ever practiced this type of ground-up planning can tell you, developing bold and creative ideas that are place-based is much harder than it sounds.

Gates Circle Buffalo-sept10-4
Buffalo’s Omstead-designed park system is a
bold and creative idea that’s place-based.
(Gates Circle, source Andrew Nash, 2010)

One of the biggest challenges is that often Rust Belt city leaders are so desperate they’ll support anything short of a chemical waste dump (and sometimes even the waste dump). Once leaders embrace an idea anyone opposing it is a NIMBY or against progress.

This “with us or against us” view came to mind when I read the fascinating post the Problem with Boosterism in the Rustwire blog. The post and very thoughtful comments describe how Boosterism can blind people to addressing real city problems.

But, and here I return to my current work, social networks and Web 2.0 technologies can be used to help develop and implement the kinds of bold and creative – but place-based – ideas needed to revitalize Rust Belt cities. It’s an exciting period and there’s much to learn about how this will work. Some resources I have found who are using social networks and Web 2.0 techniques to help improve Rust Belt city planning include:

  • Rustwire Blog – a group of journalists doing some serious thinking about Rust Belt issues, check out their Blog Roll for more excellent blogs and their flickr group Rustwire for sharing photos.
Buffalo Elmwood May10-02
Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo
(Andrew Nash, 2010)
  • Buffalo Expat Network – this is a really cool idea, mobilizing people with connections to a city (e.g. who have moved away) to generate ideas and support for revitalization; (they have fun too!) … includes a Facebook social network.
  • Art Voice Buffalo – great example of an alternative newspaper covering local issues without the Boosterism that seems to be required of ‘traditional’ city newspapers (see especially the stories by Bruce Fisher – here’s a recent one on fiscal policies and urban planning). I am sure that there are similar newspapers in other Rustbelt cities.
  • GLUE – Great Lakes Urban Exchange – founded in 2007 as a forum for people to exchange stories, ideas, and best practices between otherwise isolated cities ranging from Buffalo to St. Louis to Minneapolis. An excellent platform for learning from each other.
  • PPS – Project for Public Spaces – while PPS does not focus on Rust Belt issues, their approach to “placemaking” is exactly the type of ground-up planning that’s needed in Rust Belt cities.

The list is far from complete. Please add more links and ideas in the comments!

I will tag future posts on Rust Belt city planning: Rust Belt Cities. Several of my previous posts tagged Buffalo also deal with Rust Belt city planning … I think some are bold ideas – like tearing down a couple of freeways. Finally, here’s  a link to all my Buffalo flickr photos.

Bus Meister Game – Thanks for the Feedback!

London Buses - 2
Double Decker Bus in London: from my flickr photos of London.

Thanks to everyone for providing feedback on the Bus Meister game via e-mail, comments and at the TRB meeting!

One funny question was, “Why are the buses traveling on the left (curb) lane?”

The answer is that we wanted the buses to travel left to right and also wanted to show the buildings in the background … so the buses need to travel “British style”. Maybe we should make them double decker?

Our next steps are to revise the factors to make the game work better (i.e. show the benefits of PT priority more clearly), then we will make Bus Meister a real game with levels (top level is “Bus Meister” of course!). When we launch this version of the game it will be on facebook and have a more interactive website so that players can use social networking to get involved in improving public transport in their own communities. … Lots to do, but quite exciting.

Bus Meister game:

Bus Meister Public Transport Priority Best Practices wiki:

Please keep those comments coming!

Creating City-Scale Collaboration with Games

Jane McGonigal has developed this slideshow about using games for city scale collaboration. It’s something I am working on as part of my Bus Meister project ( It looks like we are going to get a small amount of seed funding from the city of Vienna to develop a game and start the social network and best practices wiki database. More later, but McGonigal’s work is extremely interesting and well worth seeing.

Waterfront Planning in Buffalo NY

Here’s a fine article “Our Waterfront, Ourselves” by Bruce Fisher about what to do when a large big box retailer pulls out of a waterfront development project. This has been a shock to Buffalo’s planning and development community – providing for lots of discussion and questions (be sure to read the comments).

An excellent feature is that Fisher starts from the – should be obvious – point that the Buffalo area is shrinking and therefore whatever is done needs to be quite different from what’s done in growing regions. Hmmm… why don’t we ever think this way in planning school?

Too many cities chase the chimeras de jour – festival marketplaces, downtown ball parks, convention centers, casinos, … all big plans that capture the imagination but fail to spur city economies.

In this context Fisher’s suggestion that funds be spent to clean up the water, increase public access and encourage local initiatives rather than subsidizing big box retail and parking make lots of sense.

Fisher’s article is refreshing as both planning theory and in Buffalo’s public debate over this important issue.

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