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Competition: DL&W Corridor, Buffalo

The Western New York Land Conservancy has launched an international ideas contest to rethink a disused 2.4km stretch of railway in the upstate city of Buffalo (Deadline: 15 February)

The competition is open to designers, architects, landscape architects, urban planners, and artists, and seeks ‘visionary’ proposals to transform the abandoned DL&W Corridor into a new $21 million multi-use urban nature trail and greenway. 

The call for concepts aims to identify ‘creative ideas and practical solutions’ for the overgrown former rail line which crosses three historic neighbourhoods and connects Buffalo’s downtown with its post-industrial waterfront.

DL&W Corridor, Buffalo

DL&W Corridor, Buffalo

DL&W Corridor, Buffalo

According to the brief, the competition ‘is the next step in reimagining the DL&W corridor, following the work of community leaders, residents, planners, and advocates who have championed the potential of this site for years. The new nature trail and greenway will be an inspiring community gathering place alive with the history and voice of the surrounding neighbourhoods.

‘More than just a trail, the reimagined rail corridor will be a vibrant, safe, and welcoming space for people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds to connect with each other, with nature, and with the waterfront, throughout the year. The nature trail and greenway will be the focal point of a revitalised community and a restored ecosystem.’

The Western New York Land Conservancy focuses on protecting and promoting natural landscapes across the state of New York – including the Great Lakes, Niagara Falls, and Appalachian Mountains.

The DL&W corridor – named after the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad Company – formerly connected Buffalo to Hoboken in New Jersey but has been disused since the mid-19th century. Today the remains of the line include a 2.4km embankment linking the Canalside district with the Buffalo River.

DL&W Corridor, Buffalo

DL&W Corridor, Buffalo

Source: Image by James Hoggard

DL&W Corridor, Buffalo

The contest aims to advance plans to transform the 16ha infrastructural remnant, which features two surviving bridges and offers stunning views across the city’s former industrial waterfront. Proposals should boost ecological features along the rail line and incorporate a pedestrian and cycle route.

Judges include Ken Greenberg of Greenberg Consultants; Chris Reed of Stoss Landscape Urbanism; Janne Sirén, director of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery; and Ana Traverso-Krejcarek, manager of the High Line Network.

The overall winner, to be announced in March, will receive a $7,500 prize while a second prize $3,000 and third prize of $1,000 will also be awarded along with a $3,000 community choice prize.

How to apply


The deadline for applications is 5pm local time (EST) on 15 February

Contact details

Western New York Land Conservancy
P.O. Box 471
East Aurora
NY 14052

Tel: (716) 687-1225

Visit the competition website for more information

Q&A with Nancy Smith

The executive director of the Western New York Land Conservancy discusses her ambitions for the competition

Nancy Smith

Nancy Smith

Nancy Smith

Why are your holding a competition to rethink the DL&W rail corridor in Buffalo?

Re-envisioning this corridor has been a recurring theme in Buffalo planning documents and proposals for the last two decades. With downtown and the waterfront undergoing unprecedented revitalization, the timing for creating a nature trail and greenway is finally right. The Western New York Land Conservancy engaged the community extensively to develop a vision plan. Generating a broad range of design ideas that enact these community-based principles is critical to accomplishing such an ambitious project. Buffalo produces a vast array of talent and possesses many little-known assets. This design competition is one way that we’re re-introducing Buffalo to the design world, and, simultaneously, inviting new perspectives and ideas to build on our international significance, from our industrial and architectural heritage, to our major border crossing with Toronto, our internationally Important Birding Area, and our location on the largest source of fresh water on the globe.

What is your vision for the future of the 1.5-mile former rail line?

The project site starts at the southern end of downtown, travelling through three distinct neighbourhoods, before terminating in a Natural Habitat Park and the Buffalo River. The Land Conservancy approached this project wanting to connect local communities and improve habitat for native species. Through the visioning process, the community brought forward similar aspirations. Together we established six guiding principles:

1) Respect the character and history of local communities and increase the quality of life for residents

2) Embrace and enhance nature that thrives along the corridor

3) Provide different kinds of recreational uses and programming year round

4) Create connections to existing assets while planning for future projects, needs and growth

5) Design with long-term use, maintenance and safety in mind

6) Serve as a catalyst for additional investment and opportunity

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

We see this as an exciting opportunity to raise the bar for designers – connecting signature infrastructure reuse projects and natural habitats. We welcome design teams of all career stages and organization sizes. We have seen interest from established firms to college students and everything in between, and have already attracted registrants from 19 countries as well as 13 states, provinces and territories in the US and Canada.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

Ideally, we will commission predesign and schematic designs in the second half of 2019 and progress into design development heading into 2020. In addition to investment already happening near the corridor, there is an increasing regional commitment to trail and greenway development from community, governmental, philanthropic and corporate sectors. Though we are focused on the main 1.5-mile corridor for this phase, so much of this project is about connections and continuity. Future phases will likely involve connecting spurs to other neighbourhoods, nearby regional assets and the waterfront.

Are there any other recent transport infrastructure conversion projects you have been impressed by?

We continued to be impressed by all of the partner projects in the High Line Network for being responsive to local communities and residents’ voices. The intentional process for advancing equity in the 11th Street Bridge Park in Washington, D.C., (OMA+OLIN, in development), for instance, is one we continue to learn from. The Dequindre Cut in Detroit (Smith Group JJR, Phase I: 2009; Phase II: 2016) shows that from the seeds of connecting a handful of communities, a new vision for linking neighbourhoods across the entire city can emerge. The Bentway in Toronto (PUBLIC WORK, Greenberg Consultants, Inc., Phase 1: 2018, ongoing) gives us inspiration for planning for four season use – their skateway is a great example embracing a cold weather climate in public spaces. 

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