Asking the Right Questions About Development Projects

This past month, Buffalo saw the approval of a number of significant development projects in its neighborhoods, including 1111 Elmwood, a mixed-use redevelopment of the corner of Elmwood and Forest Avenues.  These projects implement the smart growth principles that our city and our region have prioritized; fostering sustainable new investment on urban sites already served by infrastructure and public services.

Projects like this also represent a significant step forward for Buffalo Niagara, but they face a demanding balance of requirements, challenges and community expectations.  Unlike greenfield construction on previously undeveloped sites, smart growth projects, which typically occur in an urban setting, are confronted with constraints related to size and configuration of the land, limited access and parking, more numerous layers of municipal oversight and a broad spectrum of community members and stakeholders who weigh in on the project, while also meeting the financing requirements of their investors and lenders.

However, often, the dialog and decisions made about such projects is limited to a much more simplistic vantage point: what does the project look like and how its going to impact traffic and parking?  These are important components, for sure, but the conversations often lack the context of the balance of all factors impacting a project.

In August, the Urban Land Institute brought a program called UrbanPlan to Buffalo to address exactly this issue.  UrbanPlan is a realistic, interactive exercise in which participants learn about the fundamental forces that affect real estate development in our communities. Participants role play various members of a private development team, including the site planner, community liaison, municipal liaison, marketing coordinator and financing expert.  They experience the challenging issues, complex trade-offs, and fundamental economics in play when proposing realistic redevelopment projects.

UrbanPlan’s mission is to create a sophisticated level of discourse among local stakeholders involved in land use decisions through the education of tomorrow’s voters, neighbors, community leaders, public officials, and land use professionals so—together—we can create better communities.

This year was the second that the program has been administered locally and the intention is that it become an annual education opportunity for Public Officials.  Participants in 2017 remarked with positive feedback in both its realism and its value to promoting a more robust dialog about projects, leading to better informed decisions.

If you know a public official or important community stakeholder that would be interested in participating in a session, make sure to get them connected to ULI and make it known that better dialog on the projects revitalizing Buffalo Niagara is an important need.