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Dispatches From Salt Lake: Duany Speaks on Buffalo


Andres Duany—the architect, author, and anti-sprawl evangelist—had plenty to say about Buffalo at the 21st Congress for the New Urbanism, which concluded in Salt Lake City on Saturday.

“Buffalo is fantastic,” said Duany. “I mean, Paris, move over. It’s like a cool Paris.”

Buffalo was a hot topic at the Salt Lake City conference, since next year Buffalo will host the 22nd Congress, starting June 4, 2014. Buffalo, in fact, is attracting more attention lately after a few decades of being best known, in Duany’s terms, as “the world’s most complete collection of silver bullets that didn’t work.”

“Buffalo is full of lessons,” said Duany. “It’s lean and green. It’s all about the 21st century, the century of limits.”

Duany is pushing urbanists to shift away from the big, expensive projects that preoccupied much of the early years of his anti-sprawl movement, towards what he is calling “lean urbanism.”

Lean urbanism is his approach to attacking climate change in an environment of economic constraints, with a focus on improvements that are small-scale, incremental, and successional.

“These lean cities that are smart, because you don’t have money to waste, are the future,” he said. “You’re actually pioneering, basically operating in a future of limits. You got there first. Everybody will get there. Do you realize that Phoenix is going to be just as broke as you? So they’ll be coming up and say, ‘Hey, you got broke first and you pulled out. Show us how you got out.’”

Rust Belt cities have learned to live with less for so long, in his view, that the have an idea here of how to press forward in lean times.

“There’s nothing about ‘lean’ that doesn’t have good connotations,” Duany said, urging Buffalo to embrace its Rust Belt image. “By the way, that’s cool. It’s extremely interesting.”

In a future of fiscal limits and climate change inevitability, he views Great Lakes cities like Buffalo, Cleveland, Toledo, and Detroit to be well-positioned. Buffalo is, from Duany’s perspective, an “exemplar of a constellation of cities that can be salvaged.”

The Great Lakes contains 5,439 cubic miles of fresh water, or about 21 percent of the world’s surface fresh water. Authenticity and heritage, walkable neighborhoods and transit, universities and medical centers, parks and recreational assets, and abundant fresh water are all potential assets.

“Buffalo is the kind of city that I would like to spend my climate change years,” Duany said. “If I had to survive climate change, I’d choose Buffalo.”

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