Mapping Buffalo – February 2010

In order for the urban designer to intervene at the neighborhood scale in Buffalo one must first understand the context and setting within which intervention will occur. Buffalo is 136 square kilometers of interlaced ecologies, histories, institutions, people, built artifacts, infrastructure systems, and more. The first studio exercise separates out and diagrams different lines, as urbanist Joan Busquets calls them, to create a framework for an interpretation of the city and the later siting of neighborhood-scale interventions.

In this exercise the studio analyzes and diagrams 20, or X(X) lines. The lines are divided into two broad categories of 10 lines each, roughly related to the fields of architecture (lines 1-10) and planning (lines 11-20).  These lines are separate yet they are closely related and interdependent- thus X(X). The lines are:

  1. Grid patterns. The different surveys of the city.
  2. City Growth and Development. The large-scale trajectory of urban growth.
  3. Infrastructure flows. Rail, road,  water.  Capacities, activity, history.
  4. Waterways. Drainage, hydrology, aquatic ecology.
  5. Landscape. “Natural” networks, habitats, spaces.
  6. Plans. Historic spatial (and otherwise) ideas for the city, built or proposed.
  7. Gestures and Grounds. Key urban buildings and/or megaprojects, built or proposed.
  8. Typological studies. Typical housing forms and their urban relationships.
  9. “Tactical maneuvers”. Low-income housing activity and paradigms.
  10. Alternatives. Reimaginings of the city: experiments, built or unbuilt.
  11. Capacities. Which social powers are active in the city, where they are, what they are doing.
  12. Population flows. Tract-level change since 1970.
  13. Housing fluxes. Growth and loss since 1970 by tract.
  14. Capital inputs. Recent private and publicly funded (housing) development in the city.
  15. Changes in the land. Historical patterns of land use.
  16. Unique things. Historic, visual, social, experiential, artistic, cultural bright spots.
  17. Bad things. Crime, decay, monotony, unhappy moments in the city.
  18. Meaning. Places of collective psychological importance.
  19. Vacancy. Land, housing, patterns, who owns it.
  20. Political influences. Who has power where.

The lines are only the outline for each investigation. The city limits are thought of as the boundary of the mapping ‘territory’. While admittedly arbitrary, the city edge is a surprisingly resilient and static boundary, influencing almost all ‘man-made’ lines and quite a few of the more ‘natural’ ones as well.

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