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Creating a linear forest-in-the-city to combat urban heat island effect, enhance the urban experience and increase habitat value.

Buffalo, NY, USA

Government Champion

City of Buffalo, New York State Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration

Cost

Initial:
5.58 Million USD

Project Status

Operational since 2013

At a Glance

The Buffalo Niagara Medical Center Streetscape (BNMC) transforms a monotonous and ecologically barren urban environment into a linear forest-in-the-city. A tiered system of vegetation increases permeability while cooling the space, reducing urban heat island while creating urban-adapted habitat niches.

Problem Addressed

The BNMC project sought to improve the street experience within a core segment of its downtown Buffalo Niagara Medical Center — the nine blocks of Ellicott Street —that link together hospital facilities, education spaces, campus residences, and a park. The urban campus was generally lacking exterior open space for visitors: the existing sidewalk running through campus was a single straight, homogenous and exposed edge mostly directly adjacent expansive parking areas and asphalt roadway. This is a common urban condition: a lack of a unique identity and sense of place, ecologically barren, coupled with a heighted heat island effect. The project sought to address these compounding stresses while tapping into an aesthetic and a sense of pace drawn from the regional ecology.

Buffalo Niagra Medical Center in coordination with the City of Buffalo used/is using a linear forest-in-the city to address this/these challenge(s).

Solution(s) Used

The project utilized a 65’ wide city right-of-way, supplemented by a 20’ width of property operated by the campus, to transform an engineered roadway, with little pedestrian value, into a linear forest-in-the-city. While the project was conceived to enhance the human environment, it has already had multiple positive impacts on urban ecological performance. The shrub layer, understory tree planting, and canopy tree planting are composed of a mix of native and urban-adapted species creating valuable urban habitat. The project dramatically reduces local urban heat island effect, as the density of vegetation cools the air and shades the ground. The habitat value of this streetscape segment has rebounded significantly and biodiversity has increased from three species to nearly 30. No longer only a pedestrian sidewalk, but an immersive parklike experience of meandering geometry introducing much needed outdoor public spaces to Buffalo Niagra’s 100 acre Medical Campus.

Outcomes

  1. Created over 2000 linear feet, spanning 6 city blocks, of continuous urban tree canopy and understory.
  2. Used light colored concrete banding to further reduce urban heat island effect.
  3. Increased observed fauna species from 3 to 30.
  4. Increased permeable surface area.

Something Unique

The project design was inspired by upstate New York’s deciduous oak forests. Rather than simply an alle of trees, long angled planting beds maximize additional tree planting area. A layered planting strategy of canopy, understory and ground cover optimizes habitat for foraging and nesting bird species.

Who Should Consider?

Small, Medium and Large Cities seeking to take advantage of streetscape improvements to mitigate urban heat island effect, enhance the urban experience, and increase habitat value.

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