One Region Forward – Likely Without You

Last night, something called the “Community Congress” as part of a new regional planning effort called “One Region Forward” was held at Babeville. First I heard of it was when I started seeing pictures and Tweets about it as it was going on.

Admittedly, this is partly my own fault, since both the Buffalo News and Buffalo Rising had regurgitated key points from its press release in the last week, but regionalism and regional planning are things that I’m extremely interested in – I think it’s a huge component of what may be WNY’s improvement, if not renaissance. 

So, given that I pay at least marginally more attention to this stuff than the average person, I was genuinely disappointed that I knew nothing about it, and had no idea that it was going on. It was, however, well-attended, so that’s why I’m so surprised. One way the effort could have gotten the word out would have been to follow lots of people on Twitter – the moment you get followed by a local regionalism congress, chances are you’d check it out. Instead, as of this morning, it’s following 39 people. On Facebook, it has a paltry 208 followers.  That’s a crappy job getting the word out, if you ask me. Given that we have more marketing, PR, and social media experts per capita than we deserve, this is amazing to me.

UPDATE: I learned today that no one at the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation knew about it at all. 

So, what’s this all about? 

 One Region Forward is an effort to better plan how we grow or shrink western New York through a collaborative process; a way to reduce wasteful sprawl without population growth that wastes resources and empties existing communities, rather than trying to repair or reverse their stressors. It is a huge issue that is fraught with difficulty related to racism and classism. From the press release, 

The regional vision will help guide development of One Region Forward, an initiative aimed at ensuring long-term economic prosperity, environmental quality, and community strength across the two counties and 64 municipalities of the Buffalo Niagara Region.

“We will face enormous challenges as a region in the 21st century,” Hal Morse, executive director of the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council said. “Where we work, how we get around, what kind of neighborhoods we live in, and many other aspects of our daily lives – even where we get our food and water – will be under pressure. One Region Forward is about repositioning our assets to support long-term sustainable growth and development.”

The One Region Forward effort is building on a series of recent planning initiatives aimed at reviving the Buffalo Niagara economy, reducing our regional “carbon footprint,” regenerating core cities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls, developing the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, and growing the University at Buffalo, among others.

“We’re not starting from scratch,” Howard A. Zemsky, chair of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, a leading partner in the effort, and co-chair of the Regional Economic Development Council, said. “Our commitment is to make sure that all the plans for our region are working toward the same ends.”

Discussions at the Community Congresses will build on recent planning work in the region – not just the Regional Economic Development Council strategy, the “Buffalo Billion,” the Buffalo Green Code, and others – but others including more than 160 regional, municipal, and special purpose plans throughout Buffalo Niagara.

“We’ve read all of these plans and abstracted a series of statements about what values are common across them – statements about economic development, parks and recreation, transportation, housing and neighborhoods, climate change, water resources, food access, and more,” continued Shibley

“It will be up to citizens participating in the Community Congresses to tell us whether or not we got these right,” Shibley added, “and how we have to change them if we didn’t.”

Based on this direction from the general public, detailed implementation strategies will be developed by a series of working teams on land use and economic development, housing and neighborhoods, transportation, food systems, and climate change mitigation and adaptation. A subsequent Community Congress will review these strategies later in 2013. Further work will produce a Regional Plan for Sustainable Development, a document that will give our region priority status for funding opportunities today and into the future.

One Region Forward will develop more than just a plan, it will build capacity and tools to support local decision-making, conduct public education activities, and launch implementation campaigns for prototypical projects around key issues such as redevelopment of suburban retail strips, strengthening village Main Streets, or rejuvenating urban neighborhoods.

The effort is led by a broad-based steering committee that includes representatives from both counties; mayors and supervisors from across the region, the cities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls, major community based organizations, major public agencies in housing, education, and transportation, and the leading business sector organization in the region.

One Region Forward is funded by a highly competitive, first-of-its kind, $2M federal grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as part of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities Initiative, an interagency partnership among HUD, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority is administering the program through our region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council.

 One Region Forward is sponsored by the following entities: Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council (GBNRTC), Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA), Erie County, Niagara County, City of Buffalo, City of Niagara Falls, Association of Erie County Governments, Niagara County Supervisors Association, University at Buffalo Regional Institute and Urban Design Project (UBRI/UDP), Daemen College Center for Sustainable Communities and Civic Engagement (CSCCE), VOICE Buffalo, Local Initiatives Support Corporation Buffalo (LISC), The John R. Oishei Foundation, Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC), Belmont Housing Resources for WNY, Inc. (Belmont), Buffalo Niagara Partnership (BNP), Empire State Development, Niagara County Department of Social Services, and Niagara Falls Housing Authority.

There will be a second congress held in the Niagara Falls Conference Center on Saturday February 2nd from 2pm – 4pm.  


  • Slight correction: Location this Saturday is Niagara Falls Conference Center…the Convention Center is now Seneca Niagara Casino. Thanks for the social media links.

  • the tl;dr: I didn’t get an invite, someone call the waaambulance.

  • You have got to be kidding me with this post.  Word was all over the place and the attendance showed that.  I’m sorry that I missed the event, myself, but heard it was excellent.

    Given your typical nonsense and infatuation with ripping on people who have a personal interest in making a difference (and no I don’t mean Paladino or Collins), the region is probably better off with you having not attended.

    win win

    • Given your typical nonsense and infatuation with ripping on people who have a personal interest in making a difference (and no I don’t mean Paladino or Collins), the region is probably better off with you having not attended.

      Please explain what you mean by the statement shown above. 

      Did you know no one at ECHDC knew about it either? Seems like more than just an oversight and “word was all over the place”. Perhaps among the professional urban planners and their hangers-on. Not among average people who don’t necessarily move in those circles.

      Also, if the effort is going to solicit public input in order to sell WNY on regionwide planning initiatives, I wonder whether having, I dunno, professional planners tell people it’s good that they didn’t show up is the best PR? Food for thought, I suppose.

  • After living in Buffalo for over 10 years, I moved back to the southwest where I am originally from. Something that troubled me in Buffalo is that it seems the same names appear over and over in these planning efforts:  Shibley, Zemsky, etc.    Nothing against these folks but how do you make change when there isn’t new people coming into Buffalo with new ideas?  Their processes are not challenged by other planners, developers and business people from outside the region.  The pushback I will get from this post is that these people are doing great things for Buffalo and why change it. I believe diversity in business, leadership and public processes opens more doors for potential positive change. Look no further than nature, the more diverse an ecosystem the healthier it is. In my opinion having outsiders involved and looking at the region through a different lens will develop new and more creative solutions. But that means the existing leaders would have to be willing to step aside. Will their egos allow them to do so?

  • The degree of genuine citizen attendance and participation at these planning events is usually pretty sad. And if this one was like the others I have attended, much of the time was probably spent handing out clickers so that the audience can “participate” by hitting buttons on the clicker while a couple of pros talk for an hour. Every time the planners take a demographic reading of the room and then, finding that no one under 40 or non white has shown up, make the predictable pledge to “do better” about getting the word out in “the neighborhoods.”

  • You described it perfectly Michael!  

  • So, Alan, do tell us how the follow up Congress in Niagara Falls was.

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