18th Street Park


The 18th Street Park & Totem Fence Project is an effort to bring the families and residents of Buffalo’s West Side together to make a permanent piece of art reflecting their diversity, energy, and the promise of the area. The Park is located on the corner of 18th and Rhode Island Streets, adjacent to the Urban Roots Community Garden Center, a new cooperatively-owned business. The Park is envisioned as a unity project, directly connecting the neighborhood and the Garden Center, but also connecting UB with the community, and unifying the block with a sustainable landscaping program. The project began in 2006 when Cynnie Gaasch and Harvey Garrett of the West Side Community Collaborative (WSCC) / Greening Collaborative asked the Small Built Works Program to consider re-designing the badly neglected pocket Park. At that time, over 55% of the Park was hardscaped in concrete and the street furniture (benches, barbeque pit) had literally rotted away. It had long been a hang-out space for teenagers and drug dealers. Over the years, neighbors banded together to clean up the Park, remove roken-down components, and provide basic maintenance. The current project developed as a substantial public-private partnership with many contributing community entities including Making Fishers of Men & Women Youth Group, Five Points Bakery, Pilgrim St. Luke’s, West Side Empowered Blocks, Peace of the City, Urban Roots Community Garden Center, the 18th Street Come-N-Unity Block Club, as well as  Councilman Bonifacio & Councilman Rivera’s offices, and the Mayor’s Office of Citizen Services.

Small Built Works students facilitated a multi-year visioning and design process and identified the following design goals: 1) make the Park green and sustainable; 2) make places for numerous small groups to gather; 3) make the design express the diversity of the neighborhood; 4) make the installed components as durable as possible and the plantings as ‘maintenance free’ as possible; and, 5) build a permeable barrier (wall or fence) between the Park and Garden Center. In addition to the overall design, UB students were specifically asked to provide an appropriate setting for 6.5”x 6.5” terra cotta tiles, hand made by local children and residents in the studio of artisan Nancy Gabriel. Three design criteria were established for the fence: a) provide good security for the Garden Center; but also, b) that it be as visually transparent as possible; and, c) provide an appropriate substrate for the hand made tiles. The new fence replaces an existing stockade/chain link fence that was falling over and regularly getting tagged.

The primary design concept is a linear east-west ‘scrape’ of concrete planks, alternating with 5-inch gaps. This strategy produced a Fence that is very hard to climb, but has a visual transparency of 35% open area. Perceptually, the Fence creates a full-scale flicker film for passersby. Literally, two center-pivot gates (that are totems themselves) allow the whole block to be thrown-open, permitting free east-west movement between the two green environments. An important concept of the Totem Fence & Park was that there actually is no ‘barrier’ between the Park and Garden Center because the fence is literally part of the design of the Park. The linear, site-cast paving planks emanate directly from the Totems. The percentage of concrete flatwork has been reduced to 15%, all of it permeable so that no rainwater run-off from the site will reach the City’s combination sewers. Working with Dave Majewski, the landscaping calls for all native plantings that will not need watering or maintenance after the first couple years. The design also includes organically composted soil and edible berry bushes.

Each plank in the fence was considered a singular piece of art, a ‘Totem’, and just as the neighborhood children were given a finite amount of clay to form into a tile, UB students were given finite quantities of concrete and steel to fashion. Each Totem incorporated a limited palette of materials: a) exposed aggregate concrete in three plan configurations ranging in height from 6.5-foot to 8-foot tall; b) one or more hand made tiles; and, c) a piece of plate steel 3/8 inch thick by 1-foot by 4-foot. Twelve reusable 10-foot plate-steel forms, and 85 rebar cages for inside the totems, were fabricated in the UB Shop and used to pre-cast 85 half-ton Totems at Great Lakes Concrete. The choice of exposed aggregate purposefully allowed the Totems to be further fashioned in the field; for example, if one of the pieces was chipped, the imperfection could be hammered out. The hand-hammered surfaces turned out to be even more plastic than the formed areas. This is also a maintenance strategy in the event of future tagging or other vandalism. The permanence of the construction signals that this neighborhood is substantial, and will enjoy a long-lasting piece of collaboratively-produced public art.

Since 2007, three tile-making sessions produced over 200 tiles, each representing a unique personal voice of the community. There are also open spaces in the Totem surfaces that could be tiled in the future, so the Park remains a living, evolving composition. Special thanks go to tile artisan Nancy Gabriel, Alp Steel, Great Lakes Concrete, Tim Nelson of Lamparelli Construction, and Dave Majewski of Premium Services for their substantial in-kind donations. Additional supporters of the project include the Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo & WNY, Grass Roots Gardens of Buffalo, Blair Woods & Patti Jablonski-Dopkin of Urban Roots Community Garden Center, Wade Georgi and Georgi Construction, Mike Pratt structural & civil engineer, Mark Kohler of Mark’s Dump Truck Service, Dick Yencer at the UB Shop, Eva Franch Gilabert, Stergios Zissis, Jeff Wing, Matt Salzer, Gernatt Asphalt Products, Rigidized Metals of Buffalo, Buffalo ReUse, The Garden Walk, I & E Lighting, Seneca Copy Center, and Five Points Bakery. Governmental sponsors include NYSCA, Councilman David Rivera, Councilman Nick Bonifacio, and Oswaldo Mestre, Director, Division of Citizen Services, Office of the Mayor.

Beginning in 2007, contributing students include K. Petrinec, M. Dimmer, S. Gohringer, A. Hibsch, B. Montross, R. Przybysz, B. Seifert, M. Shorey, J. Clark, J. DiPerna, P. Fesyuk, J. Gardner, M. Gladtchenko, K. Gubareff, T. Harding, M. Hart, D. Jeffrey, L. Johnson, J. Kaufman, P. Krull, E. Laemmel, M. Moscato, C. O’Geen, S. Petrie, B. Podleski, A. Petrinec, J. Putre, R. Rosenberg, C. Scherer, J. Shand, A. Steffen, G. Swank, S. Van Leer, B. Walsh, J. Wojtanik, S. Baliva, A. Feit, E. Feuster, D. Hutcheson, T. Kievit, K. Kim, J. Leonard, S. Movalli, K. Nelson, A. Perkins, M. Pichardo, M. Sama, J. Siragusa, K. Tran, J. Wassell, S. Wellington, J. West, E. Wrisley, R. Xu, D. Yong Way, J. Abisch, D. Barry, M. Bendert, M. Bohan, C. Hanel, H. Joseph, C. King, J. Piwowarski, T. Schaub, P. Scheuerlein, A. Schiffmacher, S. Selin, J. Ward, K. Yuen, S. Zissis, W. Georgi, M. Bain, J. Bogle, A. Casselman, P. Connolly, E. Fuester, S. Greenman, D. Landon, J. Plyler, P. Ryan, M. Salzer, D. Santangelo, R. Stora, J. Wing, R. Xu, B. Hadley, B. Podleski, M. Zheng, J. Bostock, R. VanCuren, J. DiPerna, M. Lim, D. Pena, A. Speranza, and A. Kearney.