Paget’s film celebrates Buffalo’s urban design, debuts tonight - INTERVIEW
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • October 01, 2013 @ 8:06am
Filmmaker John Paget admits that referring to Buffalo as “America’s Best Designed City” is a bold title—and one that’s probably no longer true—but that shouldn’t take away from Frederick Law Olmsted’s audacious declaration in 1876 of Buffalo as “the best planned city, as to its streets, public places, and grounds, in the United States, if not in the world.”
In a 12-minute film that will debut at 7 tonight at Larkin Square, 726 Exchange St., Buffalo, Paget’s “Buffalo: America’s Best Designed City” will detail the Nickel City’s exceptional urban design and how a well-thought out past has situated Buffalo beautifully for the future.
The film is free to enjoy on Larkin’s projection screen and will run near the end of the penultimate Food Truck Tuesdays at Larkin, which is scheduled from 5 to 8 p.m.
If you can’t make the event, the short film will be available here at 7:30 tonight.
Judging from the trailer above, it’s evident that Paget’s newest creation—which boasts interviews with local luminaries like developers Howard Zemsky and Rocco Termini, young stalwart city planner Chris Hawley and preservationist Tim Tielman—is a departure in tenor from the more nostalgic “Buffalo For Real” and “This Place Matters,” as the trailer is littered with vibrant colors and uptempo music.
While the original concept was Paget’s own, he attracted sponsors in Visit Buffalo Niagara—the local convention and visitors bureau—and Larkin Square, a rejuvenated area that regularly welcomes food truck gatherings, a free concert series and distinguished speakers.
Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, the Campaign for Greater Buffalo, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, Houghton College, the John R. Oishei Foundation and Block Club all played a role as well.
The roots of tonight’s film debut are two-fold, Paget passed along. First, the video will serve as a precursor to the Congress for the New Urbanism, a national gathering that will be held in Buffalo from June 4 to June 7, 2014. Some of America’s most staunch advocated for mixed use, walkable and well-designed communities will gather in the land where Olmsted, Wright and Richardson are hallowed names.
In our minds, at least, the typical Buffalonian would define the city as a relic—a formerly well-designed urban area that’s decayed to the point that it badly needs a fresh update, a metropolis that flourished during the industrial boom that’s witnessed economic decline ever since. Paget’s on a mission to prove that this common mindset is not necessarily the case.
“Buffalo has a great urban fabric of walkability and parkways ripe to be discovered by the next generation,” Paget said in a phone interview last week. “The city’s urban design puts Buffalo in position to grow in the 21st century.”
Importantly, though, Paget doesn’t turn a blind eye to the blights that tarnished Buffalo’s illustrious Olmsted-given title.
“There were mistakes that compromised [Buffalo’s progress],” he said, “and the film shows the grit and truth of the mistakes and names them.” Is Paget referring to the Kensington, the Scajaquada or the Skyway? You’ll know tonight.
“These mistakes are not unique to Buffalo—highways winding through cities are common—and [these problems] are reversible without the need for new technology or an expensive building project,” said Paget, upbeat yet thoughtful.
Since current issues are reversible and a workable template hides underneath—Paget is particularly pumped about the revitalization of Humboldt Parkway—perhaps Buffalo’s path from forgotten Rust Belt city to new urbanism pioneers isn’t that circuitous. The film’s author would certainly resonate with the previous sentence.
In the eight years he’s resided here, Paget has gladly chosen Buffalo as his adopted city—sorry, Olympia, Wash.—and, in true Buffalo fashion, has championed the underdog throughout his film career.
He’s shown how Route 66 wasn’t actually an uninhabitable wasteland, celebrated rather than ridiculed the Elvis impersonators, fostered redemptive moments for five Alcatraz prisoners and painted Buffalo as a city that should be revered rather than mocked.
“Buffalo is really the ultimate underdog city,” Paget said of his new passion. “It gets kicked around by the national media, and even Buffalonians seemed to put themselves down. I’m starting to see something different now.”
(Photos included are courtesy of screenshots from Paget’s trailer for “Buffalo: America’s Best Designed City.”)