Finalized: Richardson Park Proposal
After inviting the public, during the summer, to give input on a proposal to create a Richardson Park, the Campaign For Greater Buffalo last Thursday evening unveiled a final version of the plan at a public presentation. The next day, I caught up with Tim Tielman at the Campaignâ€™s offices on Forest Avenueâ€”appropriately located directly across the street from the Richardson-Olmsted Complex in which they have invested so much time, effort, and thought.
Although the community knows the Campaign primarily as a preservation organization, this proposal made it clear that they have taken a close look at many aspects of the redevelopment of the Complex, including open space preservation, economic development, the needs of Buffalo State College, parking, and connectivity for bicycles and pedestrians.
In fact, Tim opened the conversation by asking me if I was aware that cities across the countryâ€”as diverse as Chicago and Seattleâ€”have been using parks projects as economic development tools? And further, was I aware that Olmsted had also promoted his own park projects, in his day, as economic development projects? Tim told me that, fortunately for future generations looking to conserve his parks and landscapes, Olmsted left us a significant body of documentation and correspondence. That correspondence shows that he made the same case as modern planners for investment in parks: that within their regions, parks both attract development around them and enhance the quality of life. That message seems to be taking hold once againâ€”Tim told me that the scale of park investment today has reached a level unmatched since the massive projects of Olmstedâ€™s time.
And few of Olmstedâ€™s projects were as massive in scale as those he carried out in Buffalo. As Tim showed me on maps of the area just north of his office, Olmstedâ€™s plan united large open spaces such as the Richardson-Olmsted Complex grounds (which formerly extended north to Scajaquada Creek), Forest Lawn Cemetery, and Delaware Park. Even the layout of the adjacent Parkside Neighborhood is Olmstedian. But with large open spaces in urban areas comes almost irresistible encroachment pressure. Tim showed me a gruesome drawing of a study of Central Park in New York City as if all the encroachments proposed over the years had actually happened.
Encroachments have certainly taken their toll on the Richardson-Olmsted Complex, the major one being Buffalo State College, which since the 1920s has taken over half the original grounds. Another would be the modern buildings built near the original Richardson-designed buildings, some of which have been built over the footprint of demolished structures that were part of Richardsonâ€™s design. And certainly no small encroachment, especially on the significant landscape elements nearest Richardsonâ€™s buildings, has been due to the insatiable 20th-century appetite for surface parking. Tim showed me photos taken from similar vantage points showing the effect of surface parking on the landscape.
Whatâ€™s important about the Campaignâ€™s plan is that it recognizes the encroachments, and attempts to come to terms with them in a way that allows the complex to maintain and regain its special significance. For example, with parking, Tim showed me how parking for 500 cars could be removed from surface lots by allowing parking along certain roads within the complex. Tim calls this conceptâ€”a phrase I believe may be unique in the annals of landscape designâ€”â€śOlmstedian Parking,â€ť a nod toward its successful use along the ring road in Delaware Park. But the Campaignâ€™s proposal also recognizes that, in order to fully address surface parking encroachment, some underground parking structures may be neededâ€”a concept that has been used near the Art Institute of Chicago.
As for perhaps the single most visible modern encroachment, the highrise Strozzi building, the Campaignâ€™s planâ€”to my surpriseâ€”does not call for its removal. Instead, it would take advantage of the footprint of a nearby demolished building to re-establish the East Meadow area of the historic layout, along with the original road alignment there. Re-establishing that road alignment is key, Tim told me, as Olmsted laid it out specifically to provide views along the line of buildings from different parts of the grounds. This change, as Tim showed me, could also allow an improved eastern approach and entrance to the Strozzi building.
And as for the encroachment of Buffalo State College, the Campaignâ€™s proposal suggests that if the collegeâ€™s needs require expanding across Rockwell Road, that the additional space would best be taken in the area called the â€śnorth central quadrantâ€ť to minimize the effect on the Olmsted sight lines.
It is those sight lines which prove central to the Campaignâ€™s focus and proposal. A precept of the plan is that no loss of open space affecting them would be acceptable. As Tim showed me, the most significant single aspect of the creation of the Richardson-Olmsted Complexâ€”and key to its heritage valueâ€”is that Americaâ€™s greatest living architect of the time, H.H. Richardson, collaborated closely (for the first time) with Americaâ€™s greatest landscape architect of the time, Frederick Law Olmsted. Through this collaboration, Olmsted designed his landscape to take advantage of the sight of the buildings from different angles on different approaches to the complex, in part reflecting the relationship of buildings and grounds that both men had seen for themselves in the European countryside.
The Campaignâ€™s plan maintains this historic relationship through two core concepts: a greenbelt totally embracing the buildings, and a view corridor left open between the westernmost outbuilding (still standing) and the footprint of the easternmost outbuilding (now demolished). To maintain the open space while keeping it useful, Tim again draws his inspiration from historic uses of the grounds: for agriculture and athletics. He suggests that some of the open space could be used for garden allotments for neighborhoods and community organizations, and for field sports such as football and baseball.
A final piece of the proposal is a great example of creative coloring outside the lines: the Olmsted Meander (pictured). Through a combination of new and existing paths, it would establish a connecting ribbon running through all of the Olmsted-designed and Olmsted-influenced landscape in that part of the city. This would be something unique to Buffalo, and a natural way to link the open space and recreational resources that are there because of Olmstedâ€™s vision for Buffalo, and a testimony to Buffaloâ€™s willingness to nurture, support, and embrace Olmstedâ€™s vision. Will our current generation of leaders also embrace this vision which is inspired by, and firmly grounded in, Olmstedâ€™s work in Buffalo?
Spokesperson for the Richardson Center Corporation, Eva Hassett, told me: â€śWe have found Timâ€™s presentation to be thoughtful and stimulating, and have been very impressed with the amount of work he and his group have done. We have reviewed his concepts as part of our overall master plan thinking and are very grateful to have him as part of the group and part of the process.â€ť
As for the status of the planning process, Eva told me that the Community Advisory Group (of which the Campaign For Greater Buffalo is part) is currently meeting monthly to provide community input on the master planning process for the Richardson-Olmsted Complex. Its mission is to reach back out to the community and organize the large public meetings that are part of the planning process. According to Eva, she and other members of the Richardson Center Corporation board, some of the Master Plan consultants (like David Gamble from the planning firm Chan Krieger), and other members of the Community Advisory Group (including co-chairs Max Willig and Gregory Patterson-Tanski) have seen Timâ€™s presentation.
Tim suggests that anyone interested in supporting this plan should express their support to elected officials, and to the Richardson Center Corporation, which is working to engage the public in the planning for the complex (see here).
Campaign For Greater Buffalo (http://cfb.bfn.org/)
Greater Buffalo Blogs (http://greaterbuffalo.blogs.com/gbb/)
Richardson-Olmsted Complex (http://www.richardson-olmsted.com/)
Buffalo Architecture and History, Richardson Complex (http://www.buffaloah.com/a/forest/400/index.html)
Buffalo Architecture and History, Olmsted in Buffalo (http://www.buffaloah.com/a/archs/ov/hp.html)
Images provided by the Campaign For Greater Buffalo History, Architecture, and Culture