11 Most Endangered Historic Places
Peace Bridge Neighborhood
Year Listed: 2008
Location: Buffalo, New York
Threat: Development, Poor Public Policy, Road Construction
A veritable catalog of American domestic architecture, the Buffalo neighborhoods of Front Park, Prospect Hill and Columbus Park boast a depth of history and sense of place like few others. The community's extraordinary collection of homes date back to the 1850s, and are a complement to the visionary park designs of Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. Today, the heart of this community stands to be severely compromised by a transportation project for the Peace Bridge, which connects Buffalo on the U.S. side of the Niagara River with Fort Erie in Canada. Citing congestion and a need to increase vehicle processing capacity and border control activities, the Public Bridge Authority (PBA) plans to expand the existing U.S. transportation plaza. With construction set to begin as early as 2009, this historic and vital community faces imminent peril.
While various Peace Bridge expansion plans have been proposed and debated for almost 20 years, the scale and destructiveness of this latest proposal is staggering. In order to increase the existing bridge plaza footprint from 14 to 38 acres and to accommodate a Duty Free shop, visitor's center and extensive network of new ramps and roadways, the plan calls for the demolition of more than 90 homes, including at least 9 National Register eligible properties; the elimination of streets; the clear cutting of trees; and, the permanent alteration of scenic lake views. Hundreds of residents would be displaced, several businesses would be relocated and dozens of historic buildings would be adversely affected through the loss of context and profound visual alterations.
In 2007, the Department of Homeland Security suspended negotiations on a Shared Border Management agreement with Canada, which would have allowed for most of the plaza expansion to occur with far less impact on the Canadian side of the bridge. Instead, the current plan was presented as the sole alternative even though other options exist for configuring and locating the added span and border entry plaza in less sensitive areas, including in the nearby International Railroad Corridor or in other industrial sections of the river. Despite mounting criticism that PBA has not met their legal obligation to consider other viable solutions, it is poised to begin using its eminent domain capabilities this year.
The immediacy of the threat has brought preservation organizations together in a renewed coalition. The Preservation League is joining with the Campaign for Greater Buffalo, Preservation Coalition of Erie County, Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier, and members of the community in calling for a full evaluation of direct, indirect and cumulative impacts to the historic properties and landscapes of the neighborhoods. They continue to execute an extensive education and advocacy campaign that challenges and responds to the threat.