Transforming Buffalo’s DL & W Rail Corridor

Reconstituting an Abandoned Rail Line 


Aerial view: courtesy WNYC


The Rails to Trails program, which gained momentum after the1984 Federal Land Banking Law—supported by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy—has seen over 24,000 miles of trails established where rail lines once existed. Some sites were strictly urban, while others, sometimes over 100 miles in length, were primarily rural, while others combined some of both.


Aerial view of High Bridge State Park: courtesy Village of FarmVille

  The New York High Line is one of the most high profile examples of such a project in a high-density area—almost certainly modeled on Paris’ Promenade Plantée, already realized in 1993. Bridges have played an important role in both city and rural rail beds converted to trails: the Big Four bridge in Louisviile, Kentucky, spanning the Ohio River, is a relatively short, but highly popular destination. And Virginia’s High Bridge Trail State Park structure, stretching for almost half a mile in a rural area, is certainly the main feature of that 31-mile trail. Originating in downtown Bloomington, Indiana, the B-Line trail combines some of both, stretching for 5.1 miles out past the city limits.


B-Line Trail – photo courtesy City of Bloomington


  The City of Buffalo and the Western New York Land Conservancy recognized the DL & W roadbed as a logical site, not only for a future trail, but for a design competition as a source for the 21M project’s masterplan. The competition brief was fortunately not overly specific, and gave competitors some room to explore some innovative solutions. Current park-like project in the works these days are no longer just about vegetation, but placing the focus on the experience of the user, whether biker, jogger, or walker.


Rail bridge: courtesy WNYC

   Although the DL & W Greenway measured only 1.5 miles, because of the topography, neighborhoods, and the Buffalo River as an important element in the background, there were numerous challenges to address. One of the most obvious were the numerous roads and traffic arteries intersecting the trail: how to lessen the impact of these as an impediment to the users. Most entries recognized the necessity to make room for points of interest along the way, whether it was to use a knoll as sledding possibility or designate locations as lookouts. To be viewed in the distance, Buffalo’s famous grain silos on the river have always been one of the city’s major sightseeing attractions.

The Competition

   Administered by Kishore Varanasi, Director of Urban Design and Principal at cbtand Anthony Armstrong, Principal at Make Communities, the expert competition jury consisted of:

  • Charles Davis II, Assistant Professor of Architectural History and Criticism, University at Buffalo
  • Ken Greenberg, Principal of Greenberg Consultants/ author of Walking Home – the life and lessons of a city builder
  • Sara Heidinger, President of the Old First Ward Community Association/ co-owner Undergrounds Coffee House & Roastery
  • Chris Reed, Founding Director of Stoss Landscape Urbanism/ Professor in Practice of Landscape Architecture and Co-Director of the Master of Landscape Architecture in Urban Design Program at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design
  • Robert Shibley, Professor and Dean of the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning/ UB Campus Architect/ Senior Fellow at the UB Regional Institute
  • Janne Sirén, Director of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery
  • Ana Traverso-Krejcarek, Manager of the High Line Network, at Friends of the High Line

  The organizers were intent on including the public, encouraging their input into the process from the beginning and, once the entries were on public display, providing them with an option to vote for a “Community Choice Award.”

  Well advertised, the competition drew almost 100 entries from throughout the world. During the second stage of the adjudication process, the entries where whittled down to a shortlist of 30 finalists. From those, the jury announced their final rankings:


First Place

“All Aboard! Reclaiming Hill & Del” was submitted by MNLA,a NYC-based landscape architecture firm. Their design was created by team members Molly Bourne, Greg Leonard, Katherine Cannella, Ilana Cohen, Katie Drummond, Sonya Gimon, Emily Gordon, Rae Ishee, Johanna Phelps, and Yelena Zolotorevskaya. (Entry #0348)

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Recent Archive Updates






A Paean to its Founders in Weimar

New Bauhaus Museum Commemorates an Anniversary


2012 COMPETITIONS Annual with Weimar Bauhaus Competition WInner Design  Image: ©Heike Hanada

As projected, the Weimar Bauhaus Museum, one of two new Bauhaus museums scheduled to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus in Germany, has opened its doors in Weimar. The new Bauhaus Museum in Dessau, also the product of a competition, is to open in September of this year.

Before my visit to the Weimar museum, opinions about the museum’s design had appeared in various German publications, i.e., Süddeutsche Zeitung, Berliner Tagesspiegel, etc.—one in particular not very flattering. So my arrival in Weimar was filled with much anticipation, especially since we had covered the original competition in some detail in the 2012 COMPETITIONS Annual (above).


Front view of museum from city parcel  Photo: ©Stanley Collyer


What was initially absent from the competition proposal by the project’s author and competition winner, Heike Hanada, was a water feature leading from the street toward the entrance. The basin was not intended simply as an incidental landscape feature, but an integral design feature, focusing the attention from the street toward the museum. Instead one finds paving, the victim of a decision by the client, Klassik Stiftung Weimar, to split the site and stage an additional competition for the new parcel—and not extending an invitation to a member of the winning Hanada team to compete. The resulting design by the winner of the second competiiton, Vogt Landscape Architect of Zürich, completely ignored the Hanada design, instead covering the parcel at the street almost completely with light stone paving and a curious depression. The result? Attention from the street was no longer diverted away from the neighboring Nazi era, Mussolini style neighbor while focusing on the main event, but totally disrupting the harmonious scheme as envisioned by the winning entry. In no way did it suggest an extension of the landscape from the building to the street as an integral design element.

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