Durable Growth

CNU 22: Only to urbanists would Buffalo be better than Dallas

Buffalo City Hall

Buffalo City Hall

In my last post, I began my report from CNU 22, the 22nd annual meeting of the Congress for the New Urbanism.  Today, I’ll offer some moments from the conference.  Not detailed analysis, but just moments.  Snippets of conversation or observations that give a flavor to what it’s like to hang out for five days with urbanists, looking at the world through urbanist-tinted glasses.

Buffalo versus Dallas: CNU 23 will be held in Dallas, a choice that many CNU members found odd because of the pervasive suburban slant of Texas.  The destination will be in sharp contrast to Buffalo with its proud history of urban glory and its current efforts to recapture some of that glory.

But CNU folks understood than much of the world would find Dallas the more desirable destination.  I rode in from the airport with a CNU member from Dallas who expressed it best, “Only to urbanists would Buffalo be better than Dallas.”

Buffalo Streetscape:  Downtown Buffalo is filled with great buildings.  The photo is of the Buffalo City Hall, an art deco masterpiece that is on the National Register of Historic Places.  And it’s surrounded by buildings that are equally striking.  They bespeak of a time when Buffalo was among the leading cities in the country.

But the sidewalks of Buffalo are oddly quiet.  The occasional pedestrians appear lonely among the tall buildings.  And they can jaywalk with ease because of the paucity of cars.  A fellow CNU attendee expressed it well.  “It’s as if we’ve come upon the abandoned city of a great civilization.  But we aren’t the first to arrive.  Others arrived before us and are now slowly beginning to repopulate the buildings.”

Buffalo Weather:  Buffalo is well-known for its weather, particularly the “lake effect” snowfalls of wintertime.  On the opening evening, I chatted with a member of the local host committee and asked about the snow.  He acknowledged that it gets deep, but also noted that Buffalo knows how to deal with snow, so the city still functions well on most days.

Besides, he noted, “No one stays home when it snows heavily.  Those are the nights when you have to be at the pub with your friends, watching the snow pile up.”  That seemed a fine measure of civic life.

Buffalo Skyway: The outgoing CNU president and CEO, former Milwaukee mayor John Norquist, has been using his political capital to advocate for the removal of urban freeways where surface boulevards can provide the same traffic function.  Norquist argues that conversion to boulevards would eliminate community dividers, improving civic life and bumping property values.

In the Bay Area, removal of the Embarcadero Freeway and replacement of the Central Freeway with Octavia Avenue are examples of the kind of urban transformations that Norquist is seeking.

(In the North Bay, I’d suggest that Highway 12 east from Santa Rosa toward Bennett Valley is another freeway segment where the community would be better served by a boulevard.  And also perhaps Highway 29 through Napa.)

Given that background, it was interesting that the opening night function was held at First Niagara Center, immediately adjoining the Buffalo Skyway.  The Skyway is among the prime targets of urbanists who argue that the flyover of the Erie Canal accomplishes little except sapping the life of the land beneath it.

I walked to First Niagara Center with a group of conference attendees.  As we approached the building, I noted a sign on the surface street beneath the Skyway, “Watch for Falling Debris”.  Looking up, the Skyway was the only possible source of debris.  Yup, I can imagine that constantly looking for hubcaps falling from the freeway fifty feet above is a damper on urban street life.  We hurried inside.

More moments will follow in the next post.


Blog readership jumped with my last post.  A really big jump.   And darned if I know why.  I checked several possibilities, but none proved out.  Perhaps it was only because I included “CNU 22” in the title.  To be safe, I again included CNU 22 in this title.  And will continue to do so for the next few posts.

But regardless of why the new readers arrived, you’re welcome.  I hope you stay around.  I’ve been described as an urban generalist, touching at various times on land-use, density, traffic, transit, municipal finances, climate change, travel, and any other aspect of urbanism that catches my attention.  And I often try, with varying levels of success, to apply the information to my home territory, the counties that are arrayed around the north end of San Francisco Bay.

If you have any questions or comments, let me know.


Early in the history of this blog, I noted when readership passed 1,000, 5,000, and then 10,000 pageviews.  Those milestones seemed to add validity to my early efforts, but I eventually decided that I needn’t note every landmark.

However, I passed 100,000 early this week and couldn’t let that milestone pass unnoted.  (I probably would have passed 100,000 even without the readership jump, but the new folks assured that I moved past the threshold with good velocity.)

Thanks to all the readers who have been part of the 100,000.  Thanks for coming back three times a week and for becoming part of the conversation.

Schedule Notes

The first couple of downtown/ballpark outings are nearly upon us.  Dates and places are below.  If you wish to join the outings, let me know.  We can coordinate on meeting places, etc.

San Rafael: Friday, June 13 – Pittsburg Mettle at San Rafael Pacifics, first pitch 7:05pm

Alameda: Sunday, June 15 – Sacramento Spikes at Neptune Beach Pearl, first pitch 3:00pm

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. – Dave Alden (davealden53@comcast.net)

Written by Dave Alden

Dave Alden

Dave Alden is a Registered Civil Engineer. A University of California graduate, he has worked on energy and land-use projects in California, Oregon, and Washington. He was also the president of a minor league baseball team for two seasons. He lives on the west side of Petaluma with his wife and two dogs. The blog that he writes can be found at http://northbaydesignkit.blogspot.com.

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