In 2015, the member states of the United Nations (UN) celebrated the organization’s 70th anniversary by adopting The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This universally accepted plan produced a blueprint towards a more prosperous and peaceful global future. In the agenda, the UN outlined 17 goals known as the Sustainable Development Goals (commonly called the SDGs). Today, the world is making massive strides towards these goals. Among them is goal 11, “to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.” It is here we see Ralph Wilson Park as a vital part of Buffalo’s work towards achieving its own sustainable development.
The United Nations predicts that by 2050, two out of every three people on earth will live in an urban area. Cities are increasingly important spaces that require deliberate and coordinated efforts to expand for such a future. Given Buffalo’s recent attention as a climate haven, this city will likely experience consistent growth as well. But how can our growing urban settlement achieve Sustainable Development Goal #11? How can it mold itself into an inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable home for a growing urban population? Within the global SDGs, targets break down each goal. Let’s focus in for a moment on two such targets for city-focused goal number 11:
Target 11.4, to “strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage”
As well as:
Target 11.7, to “...provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities”
The long-term vitality of cities is linked to the actions we do today. Protecting places of heritage and building resilient and inclusive green spaces move us towards a better future. So it is without a doubt that the reimagining of Ralph Wilson Park in downtown Buffalo allows this city to make huge strides towards these targets. The park alone is a place of important heritage. It also serves as a gateway to another piece of significant natural heritage, Lake Erie. Likewise, the redesign of the park is strongly focused on inclusive, universal access. The outcome of its rebirth will be a green space accessible to all, right in the heart of Buffalo’s urban center. The park will be exactly the type of public space championed globally by the UN as the way forward for human settlements seeking exceptional futures.
Planning With Long-Term Perspective
Sometimes, there is great value in looking beyond what is right in front of us. To build something with the capacity to endure requires thoughtful planning, as well as teams of people with long-term perspectives. It requires hard decisions, like removing a current tree line to make way for a landscape that will protect an important shoreline and native habitats for hundreds of years. It requires access limitations now, for construction that will ensure safety and universal access long into the future. This park is not just a local asset. It also contributes to developing a sustainable city driven by global goals. As a treasure to the communities next to it, the city surrounding it, and the region neighboring it, Ralph Wilson Park plays a role in building a better future.
This article is part of the conservancy’s Heritage Engagement Project. Read more about our heritage approach, what’s in a name, and our plans to connect the community to the history and science of our park.