Buffalo Dipping Its Toes into Another Linear Park Pool

Can Buffalo avoid mistakes of linear parks past?

The Buffalo skyline is seen beyond construction work in October 2015. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

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Neighbors packed into Buffalo’s Saturn Club on Tuesday night to discuss a proposal to turn a blighted elevated railroad line into an elongated park and urban connector, WBFO reports.

Such an effort would add to the growing list of “linear parks” recently converted or soon-to-be converted from (mostly) abandoned rail lines in urban cores around the country. These include The 606 and the Englewood Line, both in Chicago; the Rail Park in Philadelphia; The Meadoway in Toronto; Detroit’s Dequindre Cut; Buffalo Bayou Park in Houston; similar projects or proposals in St. Paul or Seattle, and the North Buffalo Rails to Trails Park.

But, while attracting lavish praise and many fawning headlines, the flagship examples of such projects, NYC’s High Line and Atlanta’s BeltLine have also garnered criticism for failing to deal with the sudden rise in property prices along both linear parks, turning long-established working-class neighborhoods into towering landscapes of luxury condos and rentals.

In Atlanta, the BeltLine did start out with a plan for financing affordable housing along its route, but those goals have mostly been ignored, leading the project’s original designers to quit leadership of the effort last year. At least one nonprofit has tried to step into the affordable housing breach around the BeltLine.

According to WBFO, Buffalo project consultant Anthony Armstrong said on Tuesday that support for the project was widespread.

“We’ve had surveys back from almost 500 people. We’ve spoken to hundreds of people in community meetings and at open houses. Here, tonight, we will have a couple hundred more. The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” WBFO quoted Armstrong saying. “From our surveys, we have over 90 percent, reaching 95 percent, people who want to see this happen, who want to have a place where they can connect with nature close to downtown, where they can connect with others in a new positive public space.”

At least one Buffalo resident, Jarrett Coppin, worried that so far, those participating in the planning process haven’t been sufficiently representative of Buffalo’s population. “There should be a Buffalo voice in planning it, because this is a community that’s comprised of multiple different races and ethnicities,” WFBO quoted Coppin saying. “So I think that everybody should have a voice in the planning and implementation of the project.”

In Washington, D.C., the 11th Street Bridge Park is another linear park under development, to be constructed atop a former highway bridge that would connect the wealthier neighborhoods of Capitol Hill and Navy Yard with the long-segregated, lower-income neighborhood of Anacostia. That park includes a plan for equitable development, which recently got a funding boost to get the ball rolling, even as park construction has yet to begin. The plan includes a community land trust that would preserve both affordable rentals and affordable homeownership. The recent funding boost includes dedicated dollars for the land trust to begin acquiring properties.

UPDATE: This article has been updated to include reference to another linear park already constructed in Buffalo.

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Oscar is Next City's senior economic justice correspondent. He previously served as Next City’s editor from 2018-2019, and was a Next City Equitable Cities Fellow from 2015-2016. Since 2011, Oscar has covered community development finance, community banking, impact investing, economic development, housing and more for media outlets such as Shelterforce, B Magazine, Impact Alpha and Fast Company.

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Tags: parksgentrificationhigh linebuffalo

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