Buffalo’s Unofficial Logo

Cities often have mascots, nicknames, slogans, and iconic landmarks, and most have an antiquated city seal dating back to their founding, but few have a well executed modern logo that functions as a representation of that city’s “brand.” Buffalo, for the most part, is no exception. However, this mark, which appears on some official city government items (primarily in Buffalo’s parks system), has always caught my attention.

This mysterious geometric tree design is at once simple, literal and complex, and it seems to beautifully encapsulate a great deal about Buffalo on many levels. There is virtually nothing out there that I was able to find on the origin of this logo—who designed it; when; for what purpose—but, as a native Buffalonian, I have always noticed it throughout the years with an equal mix of curiosity and adoration. I think that a strong case could be made for the city adopting this mark at its official logo.

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First impressions of this bold geometric design immediately call to mind the Art Deco movement, which is obviously an important aspect of the city’s identity, given that our beautiful and iconic city hall building is a landmark example of the Art Deco style, as are many other historical buildings downtown. The Art Deco era of the early 20th century was a high watermark for prominence of the early Buffalo—the shipping and manufacturing town which played such an important role in the modernization of the United States throughout the 20th century. Speaking of architecture, the straight lines and exact geometry also seem to be directly inspired by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, especially his tree of life design which is featured prominently in some of his important architectural output in Buffalo.

The tree being comprised of a skewed grid of straight lines could also be a sophisticated symbolic representation of the Olmsted parkway system—the first urban park system to ever be designed and implemented in this country. It connected the city’s parks together through a network of green parkways cutting through and breaking up dense neighborhoods, thus integrating together cityscape and green space. In the same sense, here we see a natural element comprised of a grid of intersecting lines. It’s obvious to see how this logo was chosen to represent the Buffalo department of parks and recreation, but the Olmsted park system has had so much to do with shaping the city itself that it transcends just the idea of parks and parkways and is really part of the greater identity of Buffalo as a whole. Not to mention, the mere fact that one of America’s greatest designers and the pioneer of urban planning and landscape architecture implemented this in Buffalo is certainly a feather in the city’s cap worth remembering.

Speaking of green space, it’s also worth noting that there are no leaves represented on this tree. The rigid lines in this mark have a heavy, almost austere quality, more like a skeleton or a scaffold. Could this structural design also represent the steel industry, which played a major part in Buffalo’s rise to prominence (and later, its near collapse)? The steel that was manufactured in Buffalo helped to form the backbone of a rapidly modernizing America, and despite the complicated connotations that come with that memory, this, too, is an important part of the story of this city and part of what made it great.

Lastly, as a one-time major American city that fell hard from grace and has spent the better part of a century struggling to reinvent and revitalize itself, and a city that has just recently begun to realize the fruits of that struggle, a tree makes a perfect symbol to identify this unique and special place—with strong and deep roots but also ascending upward towards the light of a brighter future; hopeful, resilient and growing.