As a die-hard Maple Leaf fan growing up, I was taught to despise every nearby NHL team, which meant hating Buffalo since it was the Leafs’ nearest competitor. The brainwashing of my youth still creeps in whenever discussion turns to the Queen’s City (why does Buffalo have this nickname in a country that fought to remove itself from the monarchy?). I initially cringed at the cover of the Toronto Star today when I saw the feature on how Buffalo is turning its waterfront around. But it is well worth the read.
Buffalo’s mid-century heyday made it a thriving centre for industrial commerce, from steelmaking to grain milling to its role as a significant transport hub for goods coming and going along the Erie Canal, the historic waterway that linked New York City to the Great Lakes. It was also the way station for many of the country’s pioneers, many of whom passed through Buffalo’s waterways on their journey to points unknown to settle the West.
But that, as they say, is history. Buffalo’s maritime importance began to wane not long after the St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959 and by the 1970s, with Lake Erie reduced to a large-scale toxic cesspool, dozens of factories in the region closed, throwing unemployment rates to near Depression-era heights. The city hollowed out. Its population plummetted from an historic high of roughly 600,000 to 358,000 by 1982. It sits at about 280,000 today.
As Toronto continues to creep steadily forward on its waterfront redevelopment plan — the master scheme for the foot of the Don River and Portlands, released just a month ago, is still several years away from starting — Buffalo has already begun building what it hopes will be the anchor of a reinvigorated waterfront.
Called Canalside, it builds on the site of the old Erie Canal terminus, complete with heritage designations, a marine museum and residential and commercial development. The first phases will open in August. What’s more, the development, set at $275 million (U.S.), has been pushed forward by a network of funding from federal, state and civic coffers totalling $136.5 million, with the rest for retail, condos, a hotel and offices being courted from the private sector and expected to come online this year.
On the other side of the Star cover page is a feature on the ROM’s new addition set to open next weekend. Christopher Hume writes:
Shock and outrage will spew from the pages of newspapers, radio talkshows and blogs.
Never will people have beheld a building so ugly, architecture so appalling, design so bad — or such cheap-looking aluminium cladding this side of a post-war Scarborough semi.
You can see it now, the shaking of heads, rolling of eyeballs, wringing of hands, the frothing, spluttering and snorting.
It won’t be pretty.
But if they know as much about history as they should, Libeskind and his clients at the ROM will be thrilled. This has been the reaction to new architecture since time immemorial.
Way back when Pericles was the “first citizen” of Athens during its Golden Age, 2,500 years ago, the construction of the Parthenon was greeted with less than universal approval.
We may view it as the most important, and certainly the most admired and influential, building in the Western canon, but to many Athenians at the time, it was a symbol of the city’s profligacy and a monument to civic hubris.