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City of Tonawanda Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan

“I’ve lived in Tonawanda my entire life and I have never seen the water the
way I have today… thank you…”

Resident and Project Participant

WATER WATER EVERYWHERE… The City of Tonawanda is surrounded by water and has a
history that is steeped in it, but today it plays a limited role in daily life. Through Urban Renewal
work in the 1960s much of the Erie Canal legacy was removed. Now, Western New York has
been leveraging the heritage of the Erie Canal as part of its revitalization story, and one of the
canal’s most important locations can once again be part of the conversation. As part of the
local waterfront revitalization (LWRP) process, the city will be strengthening the role of water in
everyday community life, and reimaging key areas of the waterfront to once again tell the story
of the Erie Canal.

The LWRP process creates a plan to allow Tonawanda to leverage its water story for business development opportunities both at the water’s edge and into the downtown business area. The plan will address environmental concerns at all waterways, and support the environmental health of the waterways for habitat areas and eco-recreation tourism opportunities. At the heart of the plan is the goal for Tonawanda to once again be a true waterfront community, so the power of the water enhances daily life for residents, proximity to it drives job growth and business development, and the community is the driving force behind the health of its surrounding ecosystems.

Site Analysis Tours were conducted along Two Mile Creek, the Niagara River, Erie Canal, and Ellicott Creek. The tours consisted of walking and boating excursions that allowed participants to see the sites up close and to discuss their conditions and opportunities. Each tour used a facilitation game to get the project team to become collaborative problem solvers.

Upon seeing the untapped potential of Ellicott Creek, the Steering Committee decided a tactical urbanism event would be a good opportunity for the community to see the creek in a new way. The “Crazy Creek Party,” complete with inner tubes and canoes, focused on leveraging both the ecotourism and natural conditions of the creek heading past, as well as identifying potential business development opportunities heading west where the Creek meets the Erie Canal. The family-friendly event had something for every visitor and partygoer and provided a venue for valuable discussions around balancing the health of the environment with commercial interests, and data collection about how often the creek is used by residents and visitors and for what purposes.

This engagement process formed the foundation for a “living document” style plan for the City of Tonawanda to reconnect its community to its waterways. This document paved the way for Tonawanda to pursue funding and plan the use of its existing resources for many years to come. Since the community engagement sessions, Tonawanda has received a special $2.5 million grant to reroute traffic through their downtown from a water edge road and convert the road into a water edge park with a newly created water edge pavilion. Additionally, the State chose to route its new Empire State Trail, now the longest contiguous trail in the state, through this newly created waterfront park.

Partnering with Joy Kuebler, they used her PLAYCE methodology in a playful placemaking approach to engage citizens with the LWRP process. Water is a vital and important part of Tonawanda. While industry uses the water less, the opportunities for recreation and commercial uses that leverage the water and lure and retain citizens are prevalent. Additionally, more than 75 families and individuals took part in the Niawanda Art Walk where Community Conversations took place about how they interacted with the water now and what they would like to see in the future.

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