Restoring Buffalo's Once Great Train Station Starts with an Outdoor Eco-Classroom

The Buffalo Central Terminal, built to accommodate more than 3,000 rail passengers an hour, opened in 1929 and was abandoned 50 years later. The art deco landmark, which includes a 15 story office tower, has sat there for the past three decades, falling further and further into disrepair. But rather than demolish its once great train station, Buffalo has drawn up an ambitious plan to restore it as a central hub of urban activity and sustainable development.

buffalo train terminal restorationDave Pape/Public Domain

The Big Picture

Logically, the terminal is centrally located. It is surrounded by preexisting railway infrastructure, which the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation (CTRC) hopes to modernize and reactivate. Following its master plan, the building itself will be restored, the bus system expanded and a light rail system considered. Eventually, the “entire complex will be reused for commercial, cultural, green industry, and transportation functions.”

Lloyd toured Buffalo earlier this year and was blown away by the amazing architecture as well as the existing, if largely unused, infrastructure. He wrote:

Here is a city with water, railways, electricity, a temperate climate and affordable housing. It has a booming neighbor to the north. It has both infrastructure and architecture that can't be matched.

The Urban Habitat Project

As inspiring as the big picture is, the CTRC has been smart to start small. It just wrapped up Phase I of the master plan: the Urban Habitat Project. Led by local landscaper and ecologist Dave Majewski and designed by Matthew Dore, a “sustainably developed and managed native urban habitat environment” has been created on the grounds of the Central Terminal.

The UHP is a new kind of inner city classroom, inhabited by native plants and animals (mostly birds). Storm water runoff is redirected to the wetlands area of the site; solar panels power those pumps as well as lighting. It's open to the public, and especially meant for schools, churches and community centers to use as a place to study sustainable development and the local ecology.

Majewski said:

It will be a unifying force for the community. I expect the project will bring a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment to this east side community.

A Step in the Right Direction

The second part of Phase I is set for next spring, and will entail adding fencing and more signage as well as building an educational gazebo. The outdoor classroom may seem unrelated to the restoration of the building, but the CTRC sees it as a small but important standard for how the rest of the project will go, calling it: "an example of responsible planning principles to be implemented elsewhere in the Master Plan."

In other words, if they can pull this off, it's a sign that the larger, more complex tasks ahead are manageable as well. The restoration of the Central Terminal is a terrific idea, and a great step towards reviving once great cities like Buffalo. Or, as John wrote back in 2007, turning the Rust Belt into the Life Belt.

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Restoring Buffalo's Once Great Train Station Starts with an Outdoor Eco-Classroom
An ambitious restoration of Buffalo's abandoned Central Terminal has begun with the creation of an urban habitat classroom.