Canalside & a Sense of Tacky Place

Both Chris and I have written extensively over the past several years about what’s going on at the Inner Harbor. (Unfortunately, links will have to wait).

In late 2010, the planning for Canalside was co-opted by a crowdsourcing process that provided all of the ills of central planning with none of the decision-making efficiency. After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a facile “placemaking” exercise by uncredentialed huckster Fred Kent of the Partnership for Public Spaces, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation retained consultants to help flesh out the historical/cultural aspects of the Canalside project.

While the district had historically been a wetter, be-bricked version of Mos Eisley, the “history” that will be reproduced at Canalside was always going to be sanitized through contemporary biases.  While Chris and I advocated for the notion of giving people things to do and see, we were vilified for our suburban-colored glasses and our cultural, architectural, and artistic ignorance.

We merely traded a political planning elite for a cultural planning elite.

And the cultural elite’s Cultural Masterplan is out & embedded below.

Initially, Canalside will feature a Children’s Museum, which will fill a gaping hole in our city – one that Explore & More temporarily filled by bringing certain exhibits to a tent at Canalside during the temperate months. It was like the #Occupy version of a children’s museum. But another feature is something Mark Goldman personally lobbied for incessantly – a “solar powered carousel”, and an interpretive “how Buffalo fed America” look back at the times before the St. Lawrence Seaway and interstate network.

When it comes to the historical significance of the canal terminus, there’s a fine line between education and nostalgia porn.

Longer term, the plan is in deep Niagara Falls fail territory with a “4D theater production” depicting a balloon ride, which will “immerse visitors in a ‘you are there’ journey, with 4D effects such as falling snow, wind gusts, rumbling seats, scents, surround sound…”  The cost of re-making the “MOM” ride at Massachusetts’ Jordan’s Furniture and the 4D rides in the Falls will be $25 million, plus operating costs of about $1.3 – 1.7 million per year.

$25 million to take something that was supposed to be “authentic” and give one a “sense of place” and turn it into sideshow tack and a snack shack. This entire placemaking exercise has been an absolute crock of crowdsourcing nonsense that has let dozens of unelected people with tiny constituencies promote their personal biases and prejudices in the name of the entire community.

They sold us on “authentic”, and “lighter, quicker, cheaper”. We’re getting fake, phony tack. Where’s the sense of place?

Does this follow the 2004 Master Plan?


Sense of Place if Buffalo is Jurassic Park


CanalSide Cultural Masterplan Final Report

A presentation to accompany the report is here:

Cultural Master Plan Presentation

On a side note, renderings of a summertime and wintertime Aud block at Canalside look quite inviting. Let’s stick to this:

Artist Rendering of Aud Block in Summer with Public Canals

Artist Rendering of Aud Block in Winter with Public Canals


  • Those images portray a tale of two cities: one is a Disney fantasy and the other suggests late 19th Century Currier & Ives. If we’re shooting for historical authenticity and staying close to our roots, the latter nails it.

  • How will they keep the shallow water from becoming a stagnant debris filled basin?

  • Agreed. Here it goes again. Buffalo and its white elephants. Couldn’t believe it when I saw they resurrected the ‘Solar Powered Carousel’. The cultural master plan , with a few exceptions, is nothing more than capitulation to the law suit happy mafia. On top of it, they pay bag money to an associate of theirs, and call it a consulting fee . How fast can you waste 350million. Buffalo is about to find out.

  • Jordan’s Furniture! Love that place!

  • The latter plans…we agree. The former junk is indeed totally tacky, and looks like something that was inspired by the Bass Pro lovers. What’s the matter with just enjoying the open air, water, sun, moon, stars, wind, etc?? Besides no money to be made, that is. Here’s an idea that is cheaper etc: Hand out little shovels and whisk brooms and let people dig for the original canals, and charge for it. 2 birds, 1 stone. No worse than those nightmarescapes that someone thought up.

    The waterfront HAS a sense of place now, and the final two sketches would enhance it; all the additional touristy doodads will seriously detract from it.

  • Why are there no trees? Why is there no grass?

  • Why tease people with renderings of dense streetscapes with plenty of buildings capable of supporting retail and restaurants? Judging by the past with this “destination” we will be lucky to see the public market built in the vision shown above. I’ll be expecting to see more lawn chairs, more grass and more triangulation..or whatever Fred Kent spewed on about.

    I understand the need to set the market for retail and other commercial property. But is it that difficult to build some a few spaces within the desgin guidelines to lure a few bars/restaurants in? There is a market for them – particularly during the Sabres season – let them draw additional vistiors to set the table for additional commercial development. Is that a completely ridiculous train of thought?

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