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Photos: St. Annes - Poster Child of the Effects of Sprawl

Nothing illustrates better the effects of Buffalo’s suburban sprawl than these two aerial images of the now threatened St. Ann’s Church & Shrine at Broadway and Emslie streets. In the bottom image, dating to the early 1950s, a dense, compact neighborhood surrounds the church. Stores, homes, and factories exist cheek-by-jowl. Everything is within walking distance from where folks live: retail, school, work, worship. It’s an image of an economically vibrant, sustainable neighborhood.

The top image, taken recently by photographer James Cavanaugh (, is the same perspective. A Broadway/Emslie neighborhood is robbed of people, commerce, and hope. The I-190 and Kensington expressways were built a half century ago to solve the “congestion” problem on Broadway and other radials leading from downtown. As the present-day image illustrates, this strategy succeeded. Along with the traffic congestion, the congestion of money, congestion of commerce, and congestion of people were also “solved.”

The Diocese of Buffalo is now facing the familiar challenges of sprawl without growth, its worship halls, schools, and other facilities serving a dwindling and dispersed regional population. The realities of sprawl should not require the destruction of one the city’s great works of architecture—the church and shrine devoted to St. Ann, built by the hands of our immigrant grandfathers from 1878 to 1886—but sprawl makes the insane, sane.

Will Buffalo let sprawl win? Or will the Broadway/Emslie neighborhood be allowed to keep at least one symbol of hope that is left?

Paul McDonnell, chair of the City’s Preservation Board and president of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo has completed the landmark nomination application. There’s a public hearing this Thursday, September 19 at 3pm in room 901 City Hall where the public will have the opportunity to show their support for landmarking St. Ann’s.

- by David Torke,

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