Sickamore Village - Groundbreaking

Visited the Sickamore Village site this afternoon. Here's the background - Sickamore Village Revisited - with pix and site plan.
sickamore village
Kept hearing reports this week that blasting was happening here and the City was softening the site for the newest suburban development in the City limits. Blasting equipment in front of the sixth house with piles all over the site.
along Sycamore Street, looking east
The word is that these are market rate houses starting at 200K with a planned opening later this Fall. On top of the serious design flaws - inward looking lots, fences on the street - and the fact that these will be heavily subsidized, really gotta wonder who's going to be moving in.

Heard through the grapevine that there's a secret study floating around City Hall that has identified dozens of african americans living in the suburbs that want to move back to the 'hood. In the event that doesn't happen, Byron Brown was asked at a recent planning meeting - "Who's going to move in and what happens if they don't sell?" Word is that Byron scanned the room to see if there was any media and suggested that City would simply demolish them!

Very interesting foreclosure information emerging on some of the heavily subsidized "vinyl victorians" just across the street from Sickamore Village on Jefferson...stay tuned. I'll be following this debacle all summer long.
ArtspaceBAVPATour d'Neglect - 2007Woodlawn Row Housesfaqmy flickr
the creativity exchangeCEOs for Cities


Anonymous said...

Tell me it's not really called "Sickamore." You photoshopped that sign, didn't you. Please tell me this isn't really the way the City spelled it.

Michele J said...

I honestly cant remember being against a project more than I am this one!

Anonymous said...

YA... LEAVE THE LAND VACANT...we certainly wouldnt want any middle class citizens, white or black , with spendable income moving imto the city....this is all reserved for po' black folk....DUHHHH!

Michele J said...

Ummmm Are you aware this land was a "former" toxic waste dump? So obviously you will be the first homebuyer in the area?

Carl Trexevant said...

The sign says that it is funded with "Urban Development Action Grant". Wasn't that program done years ago? Is this another example of "spend it or lose it before it's too late"?

Honestly does anyone in City Hall or HUD know what their building and where? THEY should have to live there if it is going to be so great.

b said...

Anon 10:04 - Yes actually, leaving this site vacant is indeed far preferable to spending scarce taxpayer funds to artificially subsidize relocations of middle class residents from existing houses in Buffalo into one of these new builds.

Existing houses they leave behind are likely candidates to soon join Buffalo's current 20,000 vacant fire trap eye sores - which the Brown admin HOPES to find enough tax money to demolish as many as 1000 per year. At that hoped-for rate, if sustained, the problem should be dealt with by - oh say the year 2027... except for future decline between now and then - in a city losing several thousand per year to other states. Just brilliant huh?

Seriously, shouldn't basic common sense tell us to focus scarce tax money (fed, state, city, whatever) on dealing with existing vacant fire trap eye sores, instead of artificially subsidizing creation of new ones?

And for this particular site, also add the future liability risk the city apparently wants to voluntarily bring itself. There's a very real risk that future real or imagined health problems of new residents will result in a Hickory Woods type legal action against city taxpayers with claims that the govt supervised clean-up of this site did not sufficiently remove all known toxins. Hopefully that never happens, but even if it doesn't this project is still a very bad idea.

Hey, if it's such a good idea to build $200K homes on this site, then fine - let any private sector developer do so without taxpayer money - and with the developer fully assuming risks of future lawsuits about toxin clean up.

Anonymous said...

Mayor has no plan or vision for improving the mess that gets worse each day. Who voted the dickhead into office?

Anonymous said...

earlwapyThe citizens..voters , elected a status quo career politician, who's greatest acheivement was getting a street name changed...who's more naive, the elected career do nothing except for thyself politician or the gullible ..voters? You get what you receive..and the city is now and will continue to "get it" until a sucessful business backgroud individual emerges and is elected to bring this city out of its pitiful situation!!

Chris Hawley said...

This makes me Sickamore to my stomach!

Bad planning all around. Even if they were sold, the density is not high enough to produce anything for the neighborhood. With few nearby amenities, the houses will only depreciate in value besides. Money poorly spent here could have been wisely spent on streets adjacent to existing neighborhood retail and transportation corridors.

Anonymous said...

Corridors such as Sycamore and Jefferson?

Nearby amenities? Oh, such as those found near the greenfields of Lancaster, Hamburg and Wheatfield.

Density makes sense where land is scarce, it isn't scarce on the east side last I checked.

The wisdom of residential on a brownfield site is another matter.

Chris Hawley said...

Anonymous, density always makes sense. Density allows people to be part of livable neighborhoods where daily conveniences are within walking distance, know their neighbors, make public transit viable, and create a healthy urban core. Broadway/Fillmore, Midtown, and the Larkin District are all East Side neighborhoods that would see more benefit from a project like this because it would contribute to existing synergies, support public transit and location efficient living, and build on and expand neighborhood retail amenities. Sycamore and Jefferson contains very few locational advantages to speak of, and without sufficient density and concentration of people and resources, this development will have zero economic impact. Yes, it is better to leave land vacant than waste scarce public resources on a nonviable neighborhood.

Density is not the result of a scarcity of land; a scarcity of land exists because of density. You've got your logic backwards. And no, very few people in Hamburg, Lancaster and Wheatfield live within a few minute's walk of *any* amenity.

Gabe said...

Chris Hawley,

Of course density makes sense. Of course living in livable, walkable neighborhoods is better health-wise and psychologically for people, not to mention the environmental advantages to such a living arrangement.

But try telling this to your average WNY denizen, or any typical middle-class American.

It's like a doctor telling their patients that eating lots of veggies and exercising will make them healthier, yet the people still waste away on the couch eating junk food while watching brain-rotting TV programs.

Your average person won't sacrifice their god-given creature comforts unless their own survival is threatened and/or the resources that enable such bad habits become scarce.

Back on topic, you're damn right, "Sickamore" is a massive waste of valuable public $$$ and there are no locational advantages to that particular area.


Have you ever read The Economy of Cities by Jane Jacobs?

I think more young planners need to read this, otherwise the whole planning profession becomes too focused on seemingly shallow aesthetics rather than the actual economic building blocks of how cities really function.

It's a wonderful book that throws a much-needed economic perspective on why cities even exist in the first place. I found that each chapter was a new "duh" moment for me. The book sheds light on why homo sapiens even bothered creating "density" in the first place.

Chris Hawley said...

Gabe, good show. Cities and the Wealth of Nations, by Jane Jacobs, is also a must read filled with uncommon wisdom on a commonly misunderstood subject.

Yes, you're right in a sense. If good economic sense prevailed, people would live closer to one another particularly in a time of rising gas prices, long commutes, and unsustainable lifestyles. Yet cities continue to sprawl into the hinterlands and McMansions sell like... Big Macs.

Nonetheless, urban policy in urban situations such as Buffalo's should encourage proximity, mixed-use, walkability, location efficient living, and sufficient concentrations of people and resources to multiply the economy.

It's not merely an aesthetic thing; sprawl can be beautiful as in Coral Gables, Florida, and urbanism can be ugly, as in Chinatown, New York. Yet Coral Gables can only function as a consumer spending outlet (in nice stucco homes and strip mall spending) for people who feed off the broader urban economy, and Chinatown provides a sufficient concentration and mix of people to self-generate wealth and an expanding economy. Chinatown is the only expanding industrial district in Manhattan.

Anyway, as I'm sure you agree, this housing would have been great in the Larkin District, Midtown, or Black Rock where there is potential to grasp and a good base of urbanism, economic vitality, and public infrastructure to reinforce.

Mark K said...

The buildings themselves may be ok but the site plan itself is inside out and backwards for a City setting. There are backyard fences lining up to the sidewalk on Jefferson and Sycamore.

I predict that if this project is built as designed that the houses will not hold their value, nor will other complementary projects be designed and built to become part of an overall new urbanist area. I hope that the project and subsequent projects prove me wrong.

BenMcD said...

I think anonymous meant that density is a result of scarce land and not means to an end. In other words, you don't go about creating density as part of a plan. Density happens when you have no other choice. At least, I think that's what he/she meant.

Chris Hawley said...

It's so long ago that this post was originally made but I'll respond for kicks.

Density always involves deliberate planning. As we look at Buffalo and where density is situated, it clearly flows with the directional push of a planned street system that centered the region's travel routes on a central area - Niagara Square-ward, later buttressed by planned transportation networks centered first around an intricate canal system and then passenger railroads in the 1850s and 60s. That wasn't enough to create substantial desnity, however. In the 1890s, a vast electric streetcar system made previously impractical density of people and commerce 1) possible and 2) desirable. Downtown was not particularly dense before the streetcar era and, in fact, was not even recognized as, or even called, "downtown" with its many shopping and cultural destinations that we start to see around 1890 and forward. Without large investments in public transportation, that locational value and resulting land "scarcity" would not have been created and the downtown we remember never would have existed or even been possible.

So no, downtown Buffalo did not become dense in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries because land was "scarce." There's developable land in abundance all around downtown Buffalo for hundreds and hundreds of miles. Today you can buy an acre a few blocks off Main Street for a thousand dollars, yet on Main Street it can go for $1 million easily. Why? There's land everywhere! Land scarcity clearly does not explain the causes of density.

Land becomes "scarce" because public investment in infrastructure and deliberate long-term planning creates value that increases the capacity of cities to concentrate large numbers of people in small spaces, resulting in increased and concentrated economic activity which cities are renowned for making possible. There actually is no real "scarcity" of land, just a scarcity of space served by fixed transportation infrastructure, typically not extending beyond an average walking trip of five minutes. The land within that sphere of access has added value because it can be proximate to people who arrive there using the fixed infrastructure.

So, yes, one can in fact go about creating density as part of a plan; that's how density is always created. Density never happens because of a scarcity of land. If that were true there'd be obscure islands like Genoa would have towering skyscrapers all over, and Chicago would be a wasteland. After all, look at all that land around Chicago! No scarcity there!