For a city of 12,000 people, Buffalo is remarkably big. Locals joke that the city is covered in snow for a “Little Nel” city, and though the name means “hole in the ice” here, the line is because of Buffalo’s cold climate and not due to who had the last name Humboldt. Home to Western New York University and one of the largest private high schools in the region, the city has seen its share of celebrity transplants. The world-famous musician Queen played the very first performance on the base of the Buffalo Bills’ stadium. Buffalo plays host to the Buffalo Sabres hockey team, whose much-coveted “Kojo Nnamdi” jerseys advertise that the jersey number signifies its assistant GM, and one of the team’s key personnel, Nnamdi Asomugha. Despite the moving of Buffalo’s native son, Ralph Wilson, to an Alzheimer’s facility last year, and being a city known more for its Sabres, hockey, and independent movie theatres than world-renowned architecture, Buffalo sits atop the American League ratings of Forbes Magazine’s list of most beautiful cities. Bowing to those roots, this year’s plans for the Buffalo Experience extend beyond parades, celebrity sightings, and the Liberty Hound. Called “Buffalo Alive!”, the $12 million, 15-year master plan has already netted $55 million dollars in private and corporate donations. Starting from the western edge of downtown, Buffalo features a riverwalk running almost a mile along the Ohio River. A wide variety of public events are scheduled, from street festivals to concerts and dragon boat races. This riverfront makes up only a small part of a more-than-mile-long brownfield, overpass, and parking lot along part of downtown that sits below grade and lies next to the remnants of the former Central Terminal. As soon as the sounds of thunder roll through the air, the Civil Engineering Society of Buffalo is there to pick up their flyers. Taking their cue from and a little more detail, the University’s simulations model the effect that such a sound will have on the vibrations of wooden bridges and buildings in the area.
Keeping up the charm of Buffalo won’t be easy. Things have changed in the city. When developing the Lakefront Master Plan in 2001, founder Gary Satow and his colleagues asked how could they restore the old Buffalo character while keeping it relevant in a high-tech town? An analogy they drew was of a football team. “This is a team that was going to be built around three elements: great players, smart players, and smart players,” Satow says. From the brilliant QB to the dynamic running back, every part of the team had to be right. There were no stars or star players, he says. “We don’t have this mega-megastar in Buffalo that’s going to singlehandedly run and score 50 touchdowns a year, because that has been replaced by computers. So we’ve got to be smart to not get left behind. So I like that analogy.” Doing something relevant isn’t easy, Satow and the City’s Department of Planning Commissioner Zev Kazimierz have found. “What’s a good challenge for us as a city is that we have a legacy of a structure that was built to last 1,000 years, and for a relatively low cost. So what are we going to do to protect that legacy?” At least 10,000 people a day visit the 27-acre park that borders Buffalo State College, calling it “The Gateway to the Lake.” Between activities such as guided kayaking tours and fitness and education classes, the Gateway brings in $18 million dollars a year and was once voted the most beautiful park in the country. A popular paddle-boat ride happens on calm summer days to great song, but, like the leaders of Buffalo Living, there are cold summer days when that doesn’t matter. There’s no grand opening scheduled for what promises to be the site of the first homegrown, self-sustaining renewable energy installation. This would be the “Buffalo Niagara College of Engineering”, expected to cost $15 million to $17 million dollars and launch sometime next year. “It’s not like the guy sitting next to you and they’re like, ‘Oh, go, go, go,’ says Julie Martin. “It’s just kind of like quietly going in and doing your part.” Martin says there’s lots of talk in Buffalo of retiring the buck, buying in together and making the “difference.” “Things like that, that these independent schools have done and will continue to do, that’s where that can make a big difference. Maybe we can do this.”