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Sean Kirst: In a big-league dream, a hint at mending expressway wounds?

1 23 0
09.06.2021

Fans enjoy the near-perfect weather for a game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Houston Astros at Sahlen Field in Buffalo.

Paul Goldberger, a Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural writer, finished a book a couple of years ago called "Ballpark: Baseball in the American City.” Forgive me if I simplify a larger point that will resonate with anyone who loves baseball and cities, but you might say pages 192 to 197 serve as a hinge for the entire work:

They cover the 1989 opening of Toronto’s SkyDome – now the Rogers Centre – which completes a self-explanatory Goldberger chapter called the “Era of Concrete Doughnuts,” and they roll into Goldberger's chapter about a new, uplifting wave of baseball design by praising a little ballpark he describes as “simple, unpretentious, unroofed and woven into the fabric of the city that surrounded it.”

That was our Sahlen Field, Pilot Field at the time. Goldberger, by phone the other day, called it “absolutely the beginning” of a national movement toward intimate downtown ballparks that hit a crescendo with such efforts as the Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore.

The Skyway, as seen from Seneca One tower.

I was thinking of his point on Sunday, both when I joined my youngest son, now 26, for a glorious afternoon spent watching the Toronto Blue Jays and Houston Astros at Sahlen Field – and again on Monday, when Rep. Brian Higgins and state Sen. Tim Kennedy announced they were distancing themselves from a state study on removing the Skyway.

If the two subjects seem wildly different, they are not. Before the game, I walked beneath the Skyway at Canalside with my kid, who has worked as a planner and has a passion for cities. We spoke of a generational moment of potentially big-ticket federal support for mending historic damage caused by urban highways – and of the debate in Buffalo about whether to focus on the Skyway or to prioritize the through-the-gut harm caused by the Kensington and Scajaquada expressways.

In the minority were readers who support demolishing the bridge, while others advocate keeping a piece of it as a recreational "CloudWalk."

Monday’s announcement might point toward an answer. To start anew on studying the Skyway could instantly elevate Routes 198 and 33, identified only last month in a report by the Congress for the New Urbanism as two of the 15 worst “Freeways without futures” in the nation – highways that “for too long have served as a barrier between neighborhoods and polluted nearby communities, more often than not communities home to Black and brown Americans.”

If we are at a juncture where we are ready to finally confront such civic scars, the daunting question is how to find a remedy for ill-planned........

© The Buffalo News


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