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Lackawanna Brownfield Opportunity Area

“All this is about incrementally building a resilient and sustainable wave that will make future generations look at Lackawanna differently.”

Fred Heinle
Lackawanna Director of Development

LACKAWANNA, NY IS RESPONSIBLE FOR PRODUCING THE STEEL USED THROUGHOUT MOST OF THE EASTERN UNITED STATES. At the time it opened, Bethlehem Steel’s Lackawanna facility was the United States’ second largest steel manufacturer and it continued to support the US and western New York until the 1980s. Lackawanna was created by Bethlehem Steel specifically as a “Steel Town” to house everything from factory buildings, administrative buildings, to a complete neighborhood for its vast labor force. It was carved out of nearby Cheektowaga, and placed directly on Lake Erie’s waterfront.

Like many rust belt communities, decades later, Lackawanna now faces the challenge of containing and cleaning these now contaminated landscapes. But beyond Brownfield cleanup is the greater challenge of restoring citizen trust and confidence, physically rebuilding communities, establishing new industry, and finding ways to create jobs, all while being true to the diversity and values of these communities.

In a “playful planning” approach utilizing Joy Kuebler’s PLAYCE methodology, the community is identifying high priority areas, including returning Ridge Road to its useful state as a thriving Main Street for the Old First Ward neighborhood.

Steering committee meetings and neighborhood tours have focused on eight specific areas within Lackawanna’s Old First Ward including portions of the former Bethlehem Steel factory itself, the former Administrative staff neighborhoods, an adjacent creek corridor, and the Ridge Road corridor.

As part of the public engagement process for the Brownfields Opportunity Area (BOA) the team decided to use a tactical urbanism event to supplement traditional “public meetings” in ways that helped the community better understand the BOA planning process, as well as explore design ideas.

The neighborhood surrounding Ridge Road is filled with modest, yet well cared for private homes sprinkled amongst vacant buildings and lots. The neighborhood is one of the most diverse in Western NY, but also amongst its poorest. Walkability within the neighborhood is high, but upon reaching the “Main Street” area, it is obvious that essential services like grocery stores and restaurants have moved too far away to reach on foot.

The “Revive Ridge” tactical event became an opportunity to explore what restoring basic daily needs could look like, in addition to exploring how building mass, scale, setbacks, and even facades could marry Lackawanna’s past with its future. This festival “fit” out the store fronts with food trucks to act as restaurants, a mobile vegetable market to be the grocery store, local merchants providing goods for “specialty shops” and even a famous local blues band to replicate a long gone, but infamous, blues bar.

Residents and visitors came to experience all Ridge had to offer and to have significant conversations with the team about the positive and negative implications of this type of urban infill in their neighborhood.

This particular project unearthed a great many ideas through the playful placemaking methodologies
and continues to reap benefits from the original engagement process. Years later, sections of
this planning document are coming to life. After the original desired outcome of the project, the waterfront trail, became reality, Lackawanna is now implementing other pieces of the project that came to the forefront during the community conversations, and implementing important community stories through art and artifacts from the steel manufacturing era of the area.

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