Jan 21, 2013

Buffalo Can Learn from Rochester’s Monroe Avenue

While on a recent trip to Rochester for some work projects, I had some time to kill between meetings and took a stroll down a few blocks of Monroe Avenue. The street reminded me of a mash up between Hertel Avenue and the possible future of Grant Street. There’s a nice array of different architectural styles, it’s relatively walkable, and a lot of the newer infill is urban-friendly. That means it’s “built to the curb”, has parking to the side or the rear, and prioritizes the pedestrian over the automobile.

Monroe Avenue is a great street for Buffalo to take some cues from as commercial corridors like Connecticut Street, Jefferson & Bailey Avenues, and Grant Street begin to come back. For example, there were several corporate chains that occupied buildings on Monroe, but on a few of them were in new builds. A historic Italian villa style home is now a small Starbucks, Subway has taken up half of a typical early 20th century commercial block, Rent-A-Center occupies an Italianate commercial building with a mid-century storefront remodeling, and Pizza Hut made its home in an old standalone storefront building.

Although the new Rite-Aid wasn’t very architecturally exciting, the parking was at the back, pedestrian access from the sidewalk was great, and the storefront windows are not obscured by shelving or signs. The building maintains the same streetwall that other buildings on the block have and the scale is appropriate given its context. The main mass of the building (right of the entry) even tries to have some historic references with the projecting parapet, simple cornice, and fenestration pattern; they actually tried, which is something Buffalo rarely gets with new builds.

Monroe Avenue is a good example of reusing the existing historic assets and adding new buildings that work at the pedestrian level. Next time you’re in Rochester take a walk down Monroe and if you can’t wait, Google Streetview will have to do. The good stretch of Monroe lasts about nine blocks between the 490 Highway and Meigs Street, northwest of Meigs things start to look more suburban and less pedestrian friendly.

This is the type of thing that the Green Code can offer the people of Buffalo once finalized and implemented. We can finally have commercial corridors that represent walkable and sustainable communities. We’ll have buildings built to the curb to engage pedestrians, parking will be hidden to the back or sides, and existing historic buildings will continue to play host to new uses. The end result is a community we can all be proud of and that effectively mixes historic buildings and new infill to create unique and interesting neighborhoods.

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