Tick, tick...

Robert Coles, a Buffalo architect had a short opinion piece in this week's Buffalo News - Census Clock is ticking down. Same guy who designed the newest library in the County's system, the Merriweather - here's Coles at the library with author and Buffalo critic Diana Dillaway.
Recent population statistics on the decline of cities in the Northeast should give us pause for concern. With a population of 580,000 in 1950 as the 15th largest city in the nation, Buffalo had a population of 276,000 people in 2005, dropping to the 66th largest city in the nation.

In 1900, with 350,000 population, it was the eighth largest city. Some recent statistics indicate that the city’s population is now below 250,000.

We are about to lose the critical mass that makes a city viable, and our major cultural and recreational activities are truly at risk. It is already evident that the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Historical Society, the Science Museum, the Studio Museum, the Buffalo Zoo and the African-American Cultural Institution are facing severe financial shortages. There also has been recent talk about the fate of the Buffalo Bills, and the Buffalo Sabres may also be threatened.

The flight to the suburbs has left the city with masses of poor and underprivileged people...read the rest...
Wanted to know more about this startling 250,000 figure. Emailed a local urbanist and number cruncher who passed along the following...
Coles is a little off in his statement that it was 276,000 in 2005, it is actually the 2006 estimate. And while that may be splitting hairs, the 250,000 count is definitely an underestimate. The Census Bureau's most recent American Community Survey (ACS), based on 2005 data, puts the population at 256,492 with a deviation of +/- 9,824. This may be what Coles is referring to...
fixBuffalo readers have been reading additional news about Buffalo as a shrinking city. Shuffling Away from Buffalo, a post from last month with numerous links to other posts about the story NO politician is talking about in Buffalo.
Anybody wonder why?
ArtspaceBAVPATour d'Neglect - 2007Woodlawn Row Housesfaqmy flickr
the creativity exchangeCEOs for Cities


b said...

This note from the Census Bureau ACS page might partly explain why it's a lower than the other Census estimate for Buffalo in 2005 (but difference of 24,000 sounds weird, 256K vs 279K):

Note: The 2005 American Community Survey universe is limited to the household population and excludes the population living in institutions, college dormitories, and other group quarters.

Anonymous said...

IMO a far bigger problem with what Coles wrote was his proposed remedy - the idea of forcing 10,000 UB students to live in the waterfront downtown connected by a new rail line to Amherst. I say "forcing" because it's very far fetched to think more than a handful of UB students would voluntarily choose to live down there.

Coles writes:
The university now is considering where to put 10,000 new students and 2,500 new faculty members. Amherst, the fastest growing town in Western New York, doesn’t want them and surely doesn’t need them, but Buffalo does. Put them on the waterfront downtown, near the rich cultural and historical resources Buffalo has, so they can gain an appreciation of urban values.

First, there's no honest basis for Coles to write "Amherst doesn't want them". Debates are over particular development locations, but there's plenty of space - both on campus and nearby. And about "and surely doesn't need them" - I've no idea what he means by that.

It's true a small percent of UB students do want to live in an urban area such as Elmwood (very different from waterfront), but when they have a choice by far a huge majority strongly prefer living in Amherst for the short distance to campus as well as many conveniences, amenities, and safety. Preferences for housing generally are in order of: recent on-campus housing (waiting lists sometimes), or Amherst near campus (very in-demand), or Tonawanda a little more distant (similar upsides as Amherst, but a little less convenient and a little cheaper), or University Heights (especially for medical students for convenience, but also for cost-conscious undergrads).

Students are not property of UB, they're customers and their desires will matter a lot. The Univ Heights area of Buffalo could have increased role and President Simpson should consider projects in that area on or near the Main St campus and med school. Another long term possibility could be to move the Law School downtown. That's the most stand-alone school/department that could be separated, but even doing that would introduce some inefficiencies and inconveniences. Being closer to the courts would be a benefit.

But forcing thousands of students to the waterfront would backfire. It just won't be a desirable area in many ways - not close to campus, lacking convenient surroundings, and not even positives of a much more genuine urban critical mass such as Elmwood for the small percent of students who do prefer that over Amherst.

Not to mention other big flaws with the Coles proposal, such as huge costs and it's limited impact when students move away after graduating. Craig, at his new URL (no longer NorthCoast), discusses those here.

b said...

(that anon was continuation of me, btw)

fix buffalo said...



Think incentives. I know Buffalo State students receive a free all zone NFTA pass. The subway is amazing if you live close to it...

I think, like others have that that current UB plan should be renamed - UB 2040!

If UB is so concerned about the City as Shibley and Co. maintain, why are they encouraging the building of new student housing out there.

As you know there is plenty of land on the urban prairie, just a few blocks from Main Street for the same purpose...on stop from the Medical Campus, Allen Street entertainment...the list goes on.

On another note - Just found a 1980 UB commemorative brochure that places Coles as the lead architect for Alumni Arena, University at Amherst. So, much for staying committed to the City, I guess...

Chris Hawley said...

Hey Anonymous,

Many of the fastest growing and most popular universities are the ones located in central cities. Who wants to live in a vinyl compoun off the freeway when one can interact with one's generation among bustling streets, restaurants and bars? NYU, the number one dream school in the country for graduating high school seniors, is popular because of its located in ultra-urban Greenwich Village.

I was told by a planning professor at UB that the North Campus has one of the lowest satisfaction rates in North America in polls of students of how they feel about their campus environment. I don't think that validates your thinking on this issue, Anonymous. Students hate the North Campus!

b said...

Agree totally that UB should heavily subsidize NFTA passes for all students - makes great sense on many levels.

Disagree that any big percent of UB students would prefer Buffalo urban living over Amherst living, for various reasons I mentioned. Hey, I'm not claiming my crystal ball is better than anyone else's, but I base it on people I've talked to and observing what's really happened recently regarding student housing preferences - not on people's hopes and dreams. You should see strange looks from Amherst people, including UB students, when I tell them I prefer living in the city. Even people and students familiar with nicer aspects of Buffalo/city areas will say "Yeah, but to LIVE there?" (Then again, I'm sure you're even more familiar than I am with those kinds of looks and worse!)

It would be an interesting expensive experiment to build what Coles suggests in his article and see what percent of UB students would voluntary choose to live in the waterfront/downtown area instead of Amherst and near-Amherst areas. My prediction is the number would be way way less than the 10,000 number he used. Can't prove it, but that's my guess. But hey - maybe President Simpson will agree with Coles suggestions much more than I do, who knows.

It's human nature to see things through our own personal hopes and preferences, and it seems to me urbanists ignore that a lot of people strongly prefer life in Amherst and near-Amherst. UB students (and faculty and staff) are no exception in general. There's exceptions but in my informal observations, it's a small percent. Doesn't really make sense to spend energy blaming anyone for these preferences, or blaming UB for building housing consistent with these preferences. Or to blame Coles for designing an arena well after the campus was built. Gotta live in the real world.

And add to that reality, also the simple factor of efficiency - being closer to campus means being able to more easily make multiple trips per day (a morning class then an eve class, library session, whatever). This matters a lot to people, as does not having to walk in the dark in city areas such as around Allen St. That's just not everybody's thing.

b said...

Anon 5:15 says "Students hate the North Campus!"

This isn't about the campus itself. That's built and here.

The question is where they want to live, and if your premise is true that they prefer Buffalo urban areas, then why haven't UB students in much greater numbers over the years rented apts along the city's rail line, instead of Amherst and near-Amherst where a huge majority have voluntarily chosen to live?

They've voted with their feet, no? Hey, feel free to prove me wrong, but I'm just pointing out some truth on the ground. Far be it from me to disagree with some visiting professor!

If this were the 1950s/60s, people could reasonably debate where to build the campus - but here we are 50 years later, billions of $$$ in constructed facilities later, and we should focus on present and future. The main campus is distant from downtown, and even adding new many-million-dollar rail lines would still result in less efficient commutes than can be made from areas on or nearby campus, and those many-millions of dollars could instead be spent on much better uses than trying to artificially prop up Buffalo population ranking.

Doesn't mean there's not other more sensible possibilities along these lines. As I mentioned, there's possibility of eventually moving UB Law School downtown. Waterfront won't make sense, but something closer to courts might. And as the Medical Research Campus around High St grows, if it grows, some UB-sponsored housing around there could work, consistent with David's point. But even best case scenario we're talking in hundreds of people at most who would choose that, maybe in wildest optimism I could imagine 400 or 500, not thousands or 10,000. And even 400 or 500 would only be if the High St organizations have real growth, adding say 1000 more jobs - no evidence of that yet, hope is not a plan. Also as I mentioned, some UB-sponsored housing around Univ Heights area of city could make sense, especially for med/health students. Expect outcry from current landlords in the Heights if that ever happens, however.

I'm just suggesting to be more realistic, and less demonizing of any and all Amherst factors. I tell you Amherst does not equal evil, just as I tell others that Buffalo does not equal evil. Both have their pros and cons.

Sounds to me like Coles was looking for some govt-sponsored, top-down, social engineering style silver bullet for Buffalo's population decline. Wrong way to go.

IMHO, any positive impact on Buffalo's population would depend on _both_ of two things:
1.) our metro area as a whole starting to have a better population trend relative to other areas of U.S. (which in turn depends on upstate and NYS becoming less hostile to job-creating businesses)
2.) quality of life in a lot more city neighborhoods at least improving noticeably relative to the burbs (longer jail sentences for any violent criminals, a bunch more strong charter schools, very strong push for vacant building demos, a more professional proactive police force with less union hostilities, etc., etc.)

Neither of those two is likely, unfortunately, so I think the Youngstown approach of shrinking more smartly is what Buffalo should focus on.