“Buffalo Cleans Up From Dirty Industrial Past
Along the shore of Lake Erie, the rusting relics of Buffalo, N.Y.’s industrial days have long blocked access to the water and posed risks to residents. Now, after decades of inaction, the city is finally clearing a path for the public to return to the waterfront.
Buffalo’s approach has been dubbed “lighter, faster, cheaper.” Tom Dee has led this effort as president of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., a special state agency in charge of city waterfront property. He says years were wasted chasing grand redevelopment projects, but now the strategy is more homegrown.
A Long Time Coming
Seen from the deck of the excursion boat Miss Buffalo, miles of waterfront covered with “no trespassing” signs, fenced-in factories and empty grain elevators stand as reminders of a time when Buffalo boasted one of the country’s busiest ports.
Jill Jedlicka narrates the boat’s tour, pointing out how it used to look when Buffalo was bustling. As head of the nonprofit Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, Jedlicka has fought to clean up waterfront land still polluted from industry, now long gone. She says safety hazards forced the public to stay away for too long.
“If you talk to some of the last few generations,” Jedlicka says, “people will tell you, ‘I’ve been hearing the revitalization of Buffalo’s riverfront and waterfront for years; it’s never going to happen.’ “
Near a new patch of green space known as Canalside, not far from where the Miss Buffalo docks downtown, retiree Wayne Minear sits in an Adirondack chair reading a book. Just two years ago, Minear says, this was all a disgusting bramble of dirt, broken concrete and twisted metal.
Today, dog walkers stroll along a new boardwalk. Teenagers dive to catch Frisbees on fresh sod. Tourists watch a sunset from kayaks and water taxis.
“Just a few boards, and some grass and chairs, and look what happens. People are coming down here,” Minear says. “There’s people everywhere. This would have never happened before.”
Photo: Daniel Robison for NPR