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Students tackle urban renewal at summer camp

WBFO’s Eileen Buckley reports UB Center for Urban Studies is hosting its 4th annual Summer Academic Camp.

UB Center for Urban Studies is hosting its 4th annual Summer Academic Camp. The camp is designed for middle school students.  WBFO’s Eileen Buckley reports the theme is neighborhood development.

More than ten students are gathering in a classroom on the University at Buffalo’s South campus at the Hayes Hall Annex through mid-August for this Academic Camp. They’re learning about ”Transformation of the Visual Landscape’.

“In many of the east side neighborhoods, the visual landscape is harmful in the sense that it depicts an image of decay, deterioration, neglect and a sense of hopelessness — that is — that you can do nothing about it,” said Dr. Henry Louis Taylor, Jr., Director of UB’s Urban Studies program.

Taylor said this academic program for middle school students is an outgrowth of a program he conducts called ‘The Community is Classroom Project’ at Futures Academy School 37 in Buffalo.

“Many of the kids do poorly, academically, because they see no linkages and connections between the things they learn in the classroom and the realities that unfold in their neighborhoods and communities,” explained Taylor.

Dr. Taylor is currently working with the King Urban Life Center on examining areas around MLK Park on transforming vacant lots and abandoned homes into a new environment.

The students classroom work on design a new streetscape will be incorporated into a larger future plan.

A graphic is placed on a classroom white board. It shows a neighborhood with some homes, streets, street signs and cars. “What do you see on the road?,” students were asked by Camden Miller, UB student in Urban and Regional Planning. She was leading the classroom in this exercise.

“It’s really interesting teaching Urban Planning because you’ve got kids that see all these issues in their neighborhoods and day-to-day-lives and so, when you are able to kind of open their eyes to them, they’re really able to easily learn,” said Miller. “By relating to where they live and relating the city of Buffalo we are really able to get across to them what these issues are.”

“We learning about place making  and how to make communities better,” said Elisa McCarley, student.

This is the second summer McCarley is attending the camp.  She likes the focus on improving a poor neighborhood for those who live there.

“So we’re thinking about adding more stores, more restaurants, more public schools, different architecture in the housing,” explained McCarley.

“What have you learned here so far,?” asked Buckley student Daequon Carmichael.”About social issues,” responded Carmichael.  Carmichael was with McCarley on difficult issues that create a harsh life for low income residents

“About no grocery stories. No fruits. No vegetables,” remarked Carmichael.

Taylor noted he’s working to create ‘critical consciousness’ for students.

“We want people to understand that the people who live in these neighborhoods did not recreate these neighborhoods so that they look like that, but they were done by public policies, choices and decisions that other people make. We think this is hugely important if public policies, choices and decisions made these conditions this way, then it means that public policies, choices and decisions can make them look another way,” stated Taylor.

The Base


A protester demonstrates at a rally against police violence in Minneapolis. / Fibonacci Blue

 

In spite of Bernie Sanders’s primary win in Indiana and favored status in West Virginia, recent voting in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and a handful of other states appears to confirm what has long been anticipated: after a spirited campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, the Vermont senator is falling to earth. One would not want to write off a campaign prematurely—after all, dismissal of Donald Trump by the press and his fellow Republicans paved his road to the GOP nomination—but Sanders himself is retrenching. Staff cuts and campaign statements suggest he is now focused less on the presidency than on dents he can make in the Democratic Party platform at July’s convention.

Thus it is fair, at this stage, to ask what will become of the political fervor Sanders has unleashed. Supporters of his opponent, Hillary Clinton, hope some of that excitement can be funneled toward her general election run, securing a decisive victory and the legislative mandate believed to result. Especially if Trump is on the general election ballot, as seems all but certain, there is no doubt that a significant portion of Sanders backers will vote for Clinton in November.

Yet this lesser-of-many-evils approach only emphasizes the cynical calculus that Sanders’s supporters yearned to escape: the Democrats promise as little as they can get away with and hope the troglodytes parading in the Republican Party are enough to get the base out to the polls.

Bernie Sanders advocates redistributive government, which puts him at odds with the last twenty-five years of Democratic common sense.

But now some activists wonder whether the class anger orbiting Sanders’s campaign can transform the Democratic Party into a tool for movements against economic and racial inequality. An older generation remembers when the Democratic Party brandished its liberal credentials instead of being terrified by them. For these activists, Sanders’s surprising run yields nostalgic visions of “taking back” the party, reviving what they believe was a grassroots politics representing ordinary people.

Like much nostalgia, however, this is naïve. One need look no further than Clinton’s candidacy to appreciate the Democratic top-brass’s aversion to policies and politics centered on social justice. Instead of thanking Sanders for activating new voters and reinvigorating those still sleepy from the underwhelming presidency of Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton accused him of wanting to “shoot” people on Wall Street. Last December, instead of accepting responsibility for the security of its own data, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) smeared Sanders and falsely accused him of breaking into Hillary Clinton’s campaign secrets. Clinton has reluctantly appealed to Sanders’s supporters by referring to herself as progressive and declaring that the middle class needs a raise. But mostly she and the Democratic hierarchy have mocked Sanders for supposedly promising “free this and free that and everything”—a criticism she rejected when it came from Jeb Bush’s lips. Clinton has campaigned relentlessly on the improbability of universal health care and criticized Sanders for suggesting that there be free tuition at public universities and colleges.

This is not just a case of Clinton failing to detect which way the wind is blowing in American politics. As a steward of American capital, it is her responsibility to attack the idea of social entitlement. It was her husband and campaign surrogate who clearly articulated the politics of the “new Democrats,” when he declared that the “era of big government is over.” Sanders advocates redistributive government, which puts him at odds with the last twenty-five years of Democratic common sense. Hillary Clinton is not fundamentally opposed to the use of the government treasury for any and all social entitlements, but her refusal to embrace serious redistributive policies for the benefit of poor people shows that she sees her future job as her husband saw his in the ’90s: to crush, or at least ignore, the proposition that the public should provide for people’s needs.

This does not make Clinton a conservative Democrat; it just makes her a Democrat. Since her husband’s first term, the Democratic Party has successfully molded itself into a small-government, pro-privatization, law-and-order party. As then-Senator Joe Biden put it while celebrating the 1994 Crime Bill:

Let me define the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party is now for 60 new death penalties. That is what is in this bill. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party has 70 enhanced penalties. . . . The liberal wing of the Democratic Party is for 100,000 cops. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party is for 125,000 new state prison cells.

Today the Black Lives Matter movement has compelled the party to walk back some of that rhetoric. But there is little reason to believe this is a genuine retreat rather than an exercise in political expediency. Biden was speaking to a deeper truth about how the party wanted to be known: as tough as the GOP, not socially liberal or especially concerned with the interests of minorities.

This is not just old news. Decmocratic veterans nationwide continue to push a regressive agenda. Consider Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, once a party kingmaker and now one of the most reviled public officials in his city. He earned his ignominy by covering for police criminality and attempting to dismantle public education, a process that included thelargest mass school closure in American history, in 2013. Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles has cracked down on the homeless, confiscating their property, including the “tiny homes” that were doing what the city wouldn’t—house homeless people. In New York City, mayor Bill De Blasio betrayed his supporters in the criminal justice reform movement bypledging to hire 1,300 more police even as crime continued its historic downward trend. In San Franciso, Mayor Ed Lee promoted a “Twitter tax break”—a payroll tax exemption lasting six years and intended to keep tech companies in San Francisco—which cost the city $34 million in 2015 alone. Meanwhile, San Francisco faces a $100 million budget shortfall, and Mayor Lee is calling for across-the-board spending cuts from city agencies. With Democrats scaling back services—excepting, of course, law enforcement—and pushing trickle-down economics, who needs Republicans?

One might protest that Democratic officials have generally been more critical of the latest excesses of campaign finance law than have been their GOP competitors. But these words don’t reflect principle. When it comes to absorbing corporate money and accompanying influence, the Democratic Party takes a back seat to no one. The party’s largest corporate donors embody the greed that courses through the financial and industrial economy: Goldman Sachs, AT&T, Bank of America, JP Morgan, and General Electric hedge their bets by giving almost equally to both parties. Lockheed Martin and Walmart veer toward Republicans but still give millions to Democrats, just in case. In the midst of the primary season, the DNC changed the party’s rules to allow presidential candidates to accept more money from lobbyists and political action committees.

The corrosive influence of money in politics is hardly a revelation, but it is sobering to observe it at work in an organization that claims to champion the welfare of the downtrodden. Take the Congressional Black Caucus, which used to refer to itself as the “conscience of the Congress.” The CBC PAC and its politicians politicians have received some of their largest donations from Walmart, General Motors, and Coca-Cola. Is it any wonder that the caucus has been almost absent in the fight for a higher minimum wage, even as more than half of black workers make less than $15 an hour?

Citizens angered by inequality and injustice should not be stifled by the pressure to organize through the Democratic Party.

Indeed, this campaign season has been a lesson in just how conservative the Democratic Party actually is. Hence Clinton’s unofficial campaign slogan of “no we can’t” and DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s calm admission that unpledged superdelegates “exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists.”

The two-party system itself preserves the Democrats’ conservatism, which suggests that the party is not likely to change before there is a legitimate challenge from its left. Until then, the Democratic leadership can remain confident that its base has nowhere else to go. Thus, even when Democrats push policies that harm their constituents, they can expect little protest from the major liberal organizations. For example, when the Democratic Party promotes so-called education reform policies that are hostile to teachers unions andnegatively affect black students, officials themselves receive almost no resistance from teachers unions or the NAACP.

In fact, the opposite occurrs. While rank-and-file teachers oppose significant aspects of the reform movement, including the Common Core standards and the intensifying regime of standardized testing, their union leadership dutifully lines up to back the Democratic Party. The American Federation of Teachers endorsed Clinton as early as July 2015; the National Education Association followed suit in October, with no debate or discussion among its members. The civil rights establishment is largely silent on education policy, but, when it does get vocal, it tends to support reformers. This is not surprising considering that theNAACP and Urban League have received millions of dollars from the Gates Foundation, which champions charter schools, standardized testing, and privatization. Notably, education reform was the key agenda item of former Obama administration Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The party’s conservatism radiates outward, as its constituency learns to fall in behind its positions.

This makes the party difficult to capture, as the Tea Party had captured the GOP at one point. Yet the appeal of such a strategy is longstanding. The same question returns eternally: How to transform protest rabble into respectable politics? In the late 1960s and early ’70s, the move to integrate the New Left into the Democratic Party was heralded as a sign of maturation for the counterculture. But as the movements in the streets subsided and activists entered the electoral arena, they imbibed party norms and became less militant. In 1984 and ’88, the Rainbow Coalition led by Reverend Jesse Jackson was supposed to get tough with the Democratic Party and demand a seat at the table for black voters. Instead, the party got tough with black and other progressive voters by insisting that they take a back seat to the paty’s conservative wing, represented by Bill Clinton. And let us not forget that it was Al Gore, running against Michael Dukakis for the Democratic Party nomination in 1988, who introduced Willie Horton into the post–Civil Rights lexicon of racial symbolism, helping to derail Dukakis’s campaign and reinforce the era’s demand for crime-control politics and policies.

Given the resilience of party conservatives, their history of both rebuffing challenges from the left and absorbing the challengers themselves, it is hard to imagine a takeover strategy bearing fruit. This brings us back to Sanders and the most unfortunate aspect of his campaign: he is running as a Democrat. As a consequence he will, at some point, be asked to throw his support to Clinton. (Already he has agreed to back her in the likely event that she is nominated.) For Sanders, who has spent his entire political life working with and on behalf of Democrats, this is perhaps no great sacrifice.

However, the intractability of the Democratic Party is not the only argument against moving from protest to polite politics. The assumption that doing so is preferable or important underestimates the critical role protest plays in generating progressive change. When activists recall a Democratic Party that cared about ordinary people, what they really have in mind are the social movements and revolts that forced the party to respond to the needs and demands of those on the streets. There would have been no New Deal without the Hoovervilles, rent riots, sit-down strikes, and Communist Party activism of the 1930s. There would have been no Great Society without Civil Rights protests in the South and rebellions in more than two hundred cities across the country during the 1960s. Even Richard Nixon, who won office appealing to a racist “silent majority,” waited out his first term before he began dismantling Lyndon Johnson’s welfare state, lest he provoke protests.

As the great activist and historian Howard Zinn put it, “What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House, but ‘who is sitting in’—and who is marching outside the White House, pushing for change.” He didn’t mean that elections are irrelevant, but he emphasized what citizens do to shape their world. The anger about inequality and injustice in the United States, which has been given some voice by the Sanders campaign and most certainly by the Black Lives Matter movement, should not be stifled by the pressure to organize through the Democratic Party. It can’t be done. The movement for equality and justice should continue to organize independently and fight for its agenda regardless of what party sits in office.

Center for Urban Studies Director Awarded Excellence in University-Community Engagement Award

The projects range from rebuilding Buffalo’s food system and improving the breast cancer screening rates for inner city women to helping city high school students complete their FAFSA forms and bringing dental care to rural communities.

These community engagement activities, notes Provost Charles Zukoski, “build important relationships and enhance university research and education.”

Six members of the UB community working with community partners to realize these and other significant needs in the community are the first recipients of the Excellence in University-Community Engagement Awards.

The awards, created by the UB Engagement Advisory Committee to recognize members of the UB community who are building partnerships with community entities that enhance research, teaching and service, were presented at a reception on Wednesday at the Jacobs Executive Development Center.

The reception was hosted by Zukoski and Mary Gresham, former vice provost for educational collaboration and engagement who retired at the end of the fall semester after 45 years of service to UB. Gresham chaired the Engagement Advisory Committee.

As a public research university, UB is “dedicated to pursuing transformative research and education that respond to local and global issues, and are directly engaged with our communities,” Zukoski told those attending the reception.

“Through UB 2020, we are committed to building partnerships in an effort to address community needs while providing faculty, staff and students with rewarding new research and learning opportunities.

“The engagement projects we are recognizing today exemplify this,” he said. “In collaboration with community partners, our honorees use research to address direct needs in our community and they enrich our students’ educational experience by inviting them to participate in the engagement activities.”

Each of the award recipients, Zukoski said, “embodies our mission as a public research university — serving the greater public good through your contributions.”

Gresham agreed, noting the efforts of the award winners “have strengthened relationships in the community and advanced UB’s public research mission.”

She introduced the award winners and offered a brief description of their accomplishments.

The Excellence in University-Community Engagement Award winners, their community partners and the title of their projects:

“Community-University Collaboration on Rebuilding Buffalo’s Food System”: Samina Raja, associate professor, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, and community partner Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP).

Raja’s research lab, the UB Food Lab, and MAP have collaborated to rebuild and strengthen the food system in Buffalo, and also work together on events to raise community awareness about the city’s food system. Last year, they partnered to organize a “Just Food, Just Communities” event that included a public lecture on racial and food justice by noted civil rights leader Shirley Sherrod.

“FAFSA Completion Project”: Nathan Daun-Barnett, associate professor, Department of Educational Leadership and Policy, and coordinator of the program in Higher Education Administration, Graduate School of Education, and community partner Say Yes to Education Buffalo.

Completing the FAFSA, a required form for college admission that determines the amount of financial aid available to students and their families, can be daunting. And failure to complete the FAFSA can mean the difference between access to and denial of higher education for a student. The FAFSA Completion Project addressed the problem and implemented a comprehensive strategy — the College Success Center — to help students complete the FAFSA. The project has expanded from one school in Buffalo to 14.

“Mobile Mammography Unit and Underserved Primary Care Practices”: Megan Wilson, community research facilitator, Clinical and Translational Research Center, and community partner Deborah Hemphill, Patient Voices Network.

The goal of the project was to improve breast cancer screening rates for inner city women by using a mobile mammography unit to provide on-site screenings at four urban health practices. Recognizing that many women are fearful of mammograms, the project created “patient ambassadors” who would deliver breast health education and help guide the women on screening days. As of last December, the project had screened more than 2,600 women throughout Buffalo.

“S-Miles to Go”: Stephen Abel, associate professor, Department of Periodontics and Endodontics, and associate dean for student, community and professional initiatives, School of Dental Medicine, and numerous community partners in Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties.

The S-Miles to Go initiative continues the dental school’s long history of addressing the oral health needs of medically underserved communities. This mobile dental unit travels to these communities to provide direct clinical services and health education. Senior dental students serve a rotation with the initiative, gaining valuable experience with rural populations. In some communities, they provide the only access to dental services.

Gresham also recognized senior faculty members Joseph Gardella and Henry Louis Taylor Jr. as recipients of the Excellence in University-Community Engagement Award for Sustained Contributions for having demonstrated “sustained contributions and commitment to university-community engagement throughout their careers.”

Gardella, SUNY Distinguished Professor and John and Frances Larkin Professor of Chemistry, has used his research expertise in chemistry to address community concerns for more than 20 years, Gresham said. In 1995 he was the first UB faculty member to modify a course —Analytical Chemistry of Pollutants — to specifically allow students to experience the subject matter in an applied context.

Most recently, she said, he has developed a formal partnership with the National Science Foundation and the Buffalo Public Schools to introduce STEM education strategies to high-needs schools.

Taylor, professor of urban and regional planning in the School of Architecture and Planning, has focused his research on “strengthening undeveloped neighborhoods by improving schools, engaging residents in neighborhood development, developing entrepreneurs, improving the delivery of health care services, and by designing and planning these communities to support this agenda,” Gresham said.

For example, Taylor’s “Community as Classroom” project, in partnership with Futures Academy, has worked with more than 1,000 children, teaching them how to use their classroom lessons to solve neighborhood development problems.

From Flint to Baltimore: Clean Water, Environmental Racism & Infrastructure In Our Cities

We discuss our cities from Flint to Baltimore, looking at clean water, environmental racism & infrastructureWith: Dr. Lawrence Brown, public health consultant and Assistant Professor of Public Health in the School of Community Health and Policy at Morgan State University; Mijin Cha, consultant and fellow at Cornell University’s Worker Institute and adjunct professor at Fordham Law School; Henry Louis Taylor, Jr., professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Buffalo and Director of the University of Buffalo Center for Urban Studies; and Jacqui Patterson, Director of the Environmental and Climate Justice Program at the NAACP.

Click here to listen to Podcast

 

How Flint, Ferguson and Baltimore are all connected

Flint, Ferguson, New Orleans and Baltimore — cities now inseparable from the national news stories centered there — became calamities for separate reasons. One was a natural disaster (made worse by human error), another awholly man-made crisis. The two others began with police violence, but in disparate settings: the newly impoverished suburbs and the long-distraught inner city. Flint and New Orleans were failures of infrastructure, Baltimore and Ferguson a collapse of human relationships.

“On one level,” says Henry Louis Taylor, “they all look and appear to be very, very different.” But, argues the professor of urban and regional planning at the University at Buffalo, it’s about time we begin to talk about them in the same breath. “These are places that are left behind, forgotten,” he says. “They’re places we’ve gotten very good at shielding from view.”

Together, he argues that these cities — and recent events there — point to the endurance in the United States of structural racism, of minorities disproportionately left vulnerable to the economy or the environment, of communities abandoned by taxpayer dollars, public interest and government oversight.

[Flint’s water crisis reveals government failures at every level]

“Flint is what I call ‘a throwaway city,’ ” Taylor says, to take one example. “It was left by the big industries. It was left on its own, by the state, by taxpayers, by the county.”

And then such places must strike terrible financial bargains — ticketing residents in Ferguson to generate money, downgrading the water supply in Flint to cut costs. The same shortage of funding also affects schools. The quality of schools alters children’s futures. Those children remain in poverty as adults. And their own families live with the environmental costs of decades-old decisions on where to put highways, factories and power plants.

These kinds of places are frequently home to minorities. And they often exist, too, within larger regions that do have resources — but where the neighborshave been quite ingenious in making sure they don’t have to share them.

“Across the board, when we start to probe deep into these forgotten places, we start to see a trend emerge,” Taylor says. “We start to see the different ways in which racism impacts African Americans, and we also see the different ways where it impacts the places where they live.”

[What your first-grade life says about the rest of it]

In the heat of an unfolding news event, it appears as if we’re looking at something else, or something smaller — a problem of EPA leadership, or aging pipes, or bad apples among police officers.

“We’ll see police brutality in Ferguson, and we’ll see police brutality in Baltimore, or Cleveland, but we’re confused about the places,” Taylor says. “Well in Ferguson, you had whites in control. But in Baltimore, you had blacks in control, so maybe that’s not racism, maybe that’s something else. We’re not sure exactly what we’re seeing. Or you see Flint, and people are really confused, because we don’t know what’s going on. Maybe those were just a bunch of bad decisions people made, and it doesn’t have anything to do with race.”

What we should be seeing, he suggests, are links between all of these events and the larger structures that contributed to them.

 

Buffalo’s incomplete, inequitable rebound

Has Buffalo really gotten its mojo back?

That was the question posed by Investigative Post Editor Jim Heaney during a panel discussion Tuesday at Allen Street Hardware attended by an overflow crowd of 80 people.

The panelists were Newell Nussbaumer, editorial director of Buffalo Rising, Rocco Termini, president of Signature Development, and Henry Taylor, professor and founding director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University at Buffalo.

They did agree that the Queen City has made strides, but most of its work still lies ahead, and not everybody is sharing in the recovery. Much of the night’s discussion centered around Buffalo’s struggling East Side and what can be done to ensure it isn’t left behind in the rebound.

Termini said that Buffalo is still in the infancy of regaining its mojo. He said real progress happens when a city is economically sustainable and doesn’t rely on subsidies to incentivize developers.

“Whether it is historic tax credits, whether it is brownfield tax credits, or it’s direct infusion of cash from the state of New York or some other governmental body, I think you get your mojo when you don’t need any of those subsidies,” said Termini.

Termini said Buffalo’s biggest challenge is boosting its low median annual income, pointing out that it is $14,000 less than Rochester’s.

“You really need to have more income in this city to get rents up so that you can start doing things without government subsidies. And I think when you start seeing that happen in Buffalo, then you really have your mojo back,” said Termini.

Nussbaumer has been covering Buffalo’s growth since Buffalo Rising’s launch in 2004. He said Buffalo is seeing more new businesses sprout up than he can cover.

“I gauge how we’re doing, a lot of times, based on how I can keep up with what’s going on. And for the first time ever, I have a really hard time keeping up with what’s going on,” said Nussbaumer. “I can’t cover the stories fast enough.”

Taylor rejected the premise of Buffalo getting its mojo “back,” arguing that Buffalo’s task is to identify the kind of city we want to build and create a new mojo from that vision.

“The template we should be aiming for is a just city. A city anchored around social, racial and economic justice. A city in which we are looking at prosperity and growth not as ends within themselves, but as a means of creating and building a new way of life,” said Taylor.

All three panelists agreed that one of the city’s greatest assets is the number of young people choosing to stay or move back to Buffalo.

“Think about five years ago. It was like, ‘Everybody’s leaving Buffalo, you can’t get any young kids to stay in Buffalo.’ Now, you go to Connecticut Street, you go to 15th Street, you go to Rhode Island, you go to Vermont, you see young kids buying houses,” said Termini.

“They were buying them five years ago for $15,000, $20,000. Now those same houses are $150,000. They’re putting their sweat equity into these houses and they’re building a community of young people.”

The panel also agreed that the East Side is being left out of Buffalo’s resurgence. Taylor said more needs to be done to renovate the East Side without displacing residents.

“In 1970, 9,000 African Americans lived in the Fruit Belt. Today, less than 2,000 live in the Fruit Belt,” he said.

“Since 2000, when the Medical Campus was launched, the population in the Fruit Belt has dropped more than 45 percent. In that same period of time, since 2000, the number of vacancies has increased by 42 percent. I mean, how can the number of vacancies increase in the hottest neighborhood within the framework of the city?”

He said that 88 percent of those vacancies today are not for sale or rent, instead being held for development.

“That’s not your granddaddy’s gentrification. Your granddaddy’s gentrification is where one high-income group comes in and replaces another group. Some of that is starting to occur. But most of that is just erasing the people to make way for other forms of development,” said Taylor.

Nussbaumer said he understands why residents of the East Side would be wary of outside groups developing in their area. He thinks that if the right conversation is struck “sensitively,” they could see the same kind of rehabilitation movement that is occurring on the West Side.

“The East Side is filled with opportunities. If you look at the East Side of Buffalo, it is mind-blowing. You have beautiful buildings and a lot of them are in jeopardy right now, which is so sad,” he said.

“And you’ve got beautiful neighborhoods, beautiful people who are trying to make a go of it, and they want to be welcoming, but they’re afraid that certain areas and certain properties are going to be bought up for the wrong reason.”

Taylor said a movement that works in favor of the East Side must grow organically from within the community.

“You do not want a West Side organization developing the East Side,” said Taylor. “You’ve got to build the capacity on the East Side in order to do that.”

Buffalo’s failing educational system was also seen by the panel as one of the city’s plights.

Termini said that until something can be done to improve the educational system, Buffalo will have no mojo. He said the failing system affects everybody, especially the poor. He called for radical change to Buffalo Public Schools, suggesting to throw away the current system and “start from zero.”

“These kids are not dumb kids, it’s just that they’re kids who have been educated by the Buffalo Public Schools that don’t prepare them for anything except McDonald’s,” Termini said.

“And that’s the big problem in Buffalo, and that’s one of the reasons why our median income is so low. We don’t prepare people for life after school.”

Termini wants to decentralize the schools, assigning four or five schools to each college in Western New York and having those colleges run the schools.

“Then you have an opportunity for all the students in these colleges to be mentors to these kids,” he said.

“And some of these kids really need mentors because there’s really a lack of guidance at home. Until we re-imagine our whole school system, we’re going nowhere, and I think that’s probably our biggest problem right now.”

The panel discussion was part of Investigative Post’s “At Issue” series sponsored by William C. Bernhardi Law Offices, the M&T Bank Foundation, Talking Leaves Books, WGRZ and The Public.

Upcoming events include a luncheon Jan. 13 that will consider conditions on the city’s East Side, a trivia night Jan. 27 featuring Kevin O’Connell of WGRZ, and another happy hour discussion Feb. 10 on a topic yet to be determined. Tickets will go on sale soon.

Those who know Buffalo say the city is getting its mojo back, but still needs a lot of work

A writer, a professor, and a developer walk into a bar. There’s no punch line to follow because that’s actually what happened during a panel discussion on Tuesday night at Allentown Hardware. The main question – is Buffalo getting its mojo back?

Investigative Post editor Jim Heaney moderated the conversation between Buffalo Rising Editor Newell Nussbaumer, University at Buffalo Urban Studies Professor Henry Taylor, and developer Rocco Termini.

Nussbaumer said the city has come a long way from where it was, but hasn’t made a full rebound yet. He said he often gauges how Buffalo is doing on how well he can keep up with what’s going on in town.

“For the first time ever I have a really hard time keeping up with what’s going on,” said Nussbaumer.

Nussbaumer fields constant emails and conversations with people moving back to Buffalo and engaging in new activity.

Termini said the city is in its mojo infancy. He pointed out that every project in Buffalo has a subsidy associated with it, from tax credits for historic properties and brownfields to cash injections from state or local government.

“I think you get your mojo when you don’t need any of those subsidies,” Termini said.

Termini said the real problem is that residents can’t afford to pay market-rate rent with Buffalo’s low median income.

As for Taylor, he took issue with the concept of getting mojo back. He said the mojo of the past should not be a present concern. Instead, Taylor believes residents should focus on the task of creating a new mojo.

“A part of that task is to identify the kind of city that we want to build,” said Taylor. “We don’t know what kind of city we want to build.”

Taylor said the city template should be anchored around social, racial and economic justice. He said prosperity and growth should be looked at as a means of creating a new way of life.

In regards to the best thing Buffalo has going for its resurgence and areas in which it can stand for improvement, all three agreed that the most positive asset is a new wealth of young residents.

“Young people are reenergizing this city,” explained Termini. “They’re coming back. They’re not leaving. And they’re not leaving because they see the possibility of opportunities here, which five years ago, people didn’t see those opportunities.”

Among the items thought to be negative were an underperforming education system, failure to develop the city’s east side, and a lack of vision for accommodating minority and low income residents.

The conversation quickly turned to the question of how to revive Buffalo’s East Side neighborhoods and a key issue.

“Who on the East Side will be the catalyst?” asked Nussbaumer. “Will it be the reverends? Will it be the community? Will it be the block clubs? Will it be the commercial businesses that are over there? Who is going to lead that conversation?”

All three panelists generally agreed that the conversation needs to come from within the east side community, but debated over whether outside help would be appropriate. Taylor said the person or entity hasn’t yet emerged who can take charge of the issue.

Poloncarz appoints members of poverty committee

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz recently announced the appointees of the re-established Welfare Advisory Board, which will function as a Poverty Committee to advise Erie County on how to reduce poverty, according to a release.

Poloncarz called for the establishment of the committee earlier this year as part of his health and human services plan, Initiatives for a Stronger Community.

“Although numerous indicators show that the County as a whole is better off than it was a few short years ago, our community cannot truly be prosperous if a significant portion of our community is unable to take advantage of these opportunities,” Poloncarz said in the release.

Although the poverty committee will be staffed and supported by the Department of Social Services, it will be engaged with all county departments that work with individuals in or at-risk of poverty.

The poverty committee will advise county government on measures to reduce poverty and its causes, including access to employment opportunities, the high cost of safe and secure housing, substance abuse, mental illness, discrimination and disability.

The Erie County Charter directs that the board, which had been inactive for many years, be made up of seven members. Poloncarz introduced the members along with the chairperson of the board, the Rev. Kinzer Pointer.

“Re-establishing this important committee to ask and seek answers to reducing poverty is our responsibility to our fellow citizens,” Rev. Pointer said. “This is vital work in returning the entire region to better days, and I am pleased to join this effort.”

Rev. Pointer, of Buffalo, and a graduate of Canisius College, is the pastor of Agape Fellowship Baptist Church.

The other new appointees are:

Dr. Henry Louis Taylor, the founding director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University at Buffalo. His research focuses on understanding distressed urban neighborhoods, the redevelopment of shrinking cities, and issues of social isolation, racial justice and class facing people of color.

Anna Falicov, who has focused her law practice and activism on representing and advocating for working people. She is the chairwoman of the Coalition for Economic Justice, an organization that works on issues of equitable economic development and workers’ rights.

Dr. Myron Glick, the chief medical officer of Jericho Road Community Health Center. The center provides a culturally sensitive medical home, especially for refugee and low-income community members, facilitating wellness and self-sufficiency by addressing health, education, economic and spiritual barriers.

Rev. Frank Cerny, board chairman of the Rural Outreach Center in East Aurora, which provides a centralized facility where those in need in rural areas of Erie County can receive acute assistance when dealing with sudden traumatic events, along with empowerment and training programs to elevate their status.

Dr. Yvonne Minor-Ragan, president of Buffalo Promise Neighborhood. The organization is a public/ private partnership seeking to improve academic performance at the neighborhood’s three schools while revitalizing the surrounding community.

Marlies Wesolowski, executive director of the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center, a multifaceted human service organization, since 2001. She previously served as Buffalo School Board president.

Erie County Executive forms Poverty Committee

While we hear time and time again about Buffalo’s economic renaissance, there remains many living in poverty, not just in the city but throughout Erie County. A new panel of volunteers is being formed by the Erie County Executive to help address the problem.

County Executive Mark Poloncarz’s panel, named the Poverty Committee, is a re-establishment of what used to be the Welfare Advisory Board. Members of the panel, whose backgrounds include academia, clergy and not-for-profit human service providers, will voluntarily explore ways the county can take on the issue.

According to U.S. Census figures for 2014 shared by Poloncarz, 31 percent of people living in the city are living in poverty. Nearly half of the city’s children, 47 percent, also fall below the poverty line according to Census numbers.

According to the County Executive, the problem actually spans across all ethnicities, demographics and locations throughout Erie County.

“People seem to think that poverty only exists in the City of Buffalo. That is not the case,” said Poloncarz. “The current rate of poverty, as of 2014 for Erie County, held steady at 15 percent.”

The Poverty Committee will work with county agencies that work directly with at-risk citizens. They’ll work primarily with the Department of Social Services.

“The implementation of the Poverty Committee is about working with other groups and organizations. We know there are other community partners who are already engaged in this work,” said Social Services First Deputy Commissioner Marie Cannon.

Chairing the committee will be the Reverend Kinzer Pointer, pastor of Agape Fellowship Baptist Church.

“We’re going to – and we must – use our intellect, and our ability to make sure that we work smart to reduce poverty, to increase opportunities to those living in poverty, and to do that in a way that doesn’t diminish the humanity of any of our fellow citizens in Erie County,” Pointer said.

Also sitting on the Poverty Committee are: Dr. Henry Louis Taylor, founding director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University at Buffalo; Anna Falicov, Esq., chairperson of the Coalition for Economin Justice; Dr. Myron Glick, MD, chief medical officer of Jericho Road Community Health Center; Rev. Frank Cerny, board chair of the Rural Outreach Center in East Aurora; Dr. Yvonne S. Minor-Ragan, president of Buffalo Promise Neighborhood; and Marlies A. Wesolowski, executive director of the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center in Buffalo.

 

Buffalo-area homeowners love their homes, and they’re not going anywhere

Around here, people buy – and stay.

Buffalo-area homeowners are more likely to live longer in the same home than people in the nation’s other large metro areas.

One in five homeowners here has lived in the same home since before 1980, the second-highest percentage in the nation, behind only Pittsburgh, according to a Buffalo News analysis of recent Census Bureau estimates.

And, in some neighborhoods in Buffalo, they hold onto homes a very, very long time.

In the neighborhoods near Canisius College, Erie County Medical Center and the Buffalo Museum of Science, there are more homeowners who moved into their homes in the 1970s or earlier than there are those who have moved in since.

Near ECMC, almost six out of every 10 homeowners have lived in their homes since before 1980, the highest rate in the Buffalo Niagara region.

Near Canisius College, the rate is almost as high.

“I love the house; I really do,” said Marion Mayfield, a retired elementary school principal who bought her house on Hamlin Road, in the Hamlin Park Historic District, with her late mother in 1967. She was 24 at the time.

“I like the 1920s houses, and I’m glad I live in a historic neighborhood. That means people renovating have to maintain the same type of architecture, and use the same type of materials used back then.”

The News analyzed census tract data in Erie and Niagara counties that showed how long – or how briefly – owners of homes in the region have lived in their properties.

Twenty-two percent of Buffalo homeowners moved into their homes in the 1970s or earlier. Only Pittsburgh had a higher percentage, 26 percent.

The average is 14 percent among the 66 metropolitan areas with at least 200,000 owner-occupied homes, according to the census estimates.

The lack of ownership change in these neighborhoods comes, in part, from home prices that are not high enough or have not risen fast enough for homeowners to sell and get enough money to move to higher-priced neighborhoods, said Henry L. Taylor Jr., director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University at Buffalo.

In fact, of the 14 census tracts with the highest concentrations of homeowners who moved into their homes before 1980, a dozen are classified as poverty areas by the Census Bureau because 20 percent or more of their residents live beneath the poverty level. Five of the tracts, with poverty rates above 40 percent, are considered high-poverty areas.

But there is another factor also at work in these neighborhoods where people stay – and stay, Taylor said.

“You have folks there, who are determined to build a strong neighborhood,” he said. “They’re operating under a different set of notions.”

“They stay – not because they are stuck, but they stay because of a commitment to the African-American community, and a determination to keep that part of the city vibrant,” he said.

These neighborhoods are filled with people like Doveanna Palmer, who built strong families and good lives – and they like where they live.

“My kids grew up here,” said Palmer, 76, who moved into her Hedley Place home with her husband, the late Leroy Palmer, in 1965. “We liked it. We enjoyed it. We kept it. And I still have it.”

Her husband, a steelworker, died eight years ago, and she has no intention of leaving her Hamlin Park neighborhood home.

Many of her neighbors over the decades stayed in their handsome homes along the well-kept street for the rest of their lives.

“They stayed until the Good Lord called them home,” Palmer said, “and that’s what I’m planning on doing, too.”

Parts of Buffalo stand out

Among census tracts where homeowners tend to live in their homes longer, a few Buffalo neighborhoods stand out.

The tract having the highest concentration of homeowners who moved in during the 1970s or earlier – 58 percent – is located off Grider Street, the News analysis showed.

The second-highest concentration of pre-1980 homebuyers who still live in their homes is located next to that Grider tract. Half of the homeowners have lived there that long.

Hamlin Park has two of the top-ranked tracts in Erie County for homeowner longevity. Nearly half of the owners have lived in their homes since the 1970s or before.

In a section of Lackawanna near Our Lady of Victory Basilica and Holy Cross cemetery, nearly 45 percent of homeowners have lived in their homes since the 1970s or before.

Owning a home so long can create dilemmas when the time comes to sell, said Julie Dana, owner of the Home Stylist, a home staging and interior decorating business in East Aurora. She works with people selling their homes.

“The longer a person has stayed in a home, the harder it is for them to detach from it,” Dana said. “It’s much harder to let go. For those folks who have lived in the house that long – it’s really difficult.”

Elmwood Village differs

Buffalo also has neighborhoods with the smallest concentrations of people who moved into their homes before Ronald Reagan became president.

In the neighborhood near Women & Children’s Hospital, none of the 277 homeowners moved in before 1980, according to the census figures.

Only an estimated 1 percent of homeowners in neighborhoods between Main Street and Elmwood Avenue from Canisius High School to Allentown moved in before 1980.

In Allentown, only 7 homeowners out of 489 – 1.4 percent – have been there since before 1980, according to the data.

“Again, it’s location,” said Dana, the East Aurora business owner, of areas such as the Bryant, West Ferry and Allentown neighborhoods and their appeal to residents.

“Desirable area,” she said. “The real estate motto: location, location, location.”

A News analysis of home sales in January in the city confirmed that Elmwood Village – one of the city’s premier local shopping and entertainment strips – and the neighboring Delaware District remain popular with homeowners and buyers.

In the Elmwood Village, the average sale prices in the 14222 ZIP code rose 26 percent from 2010 to 2014, according to The News’ research. Last year, 161 homes changed hands at an average price of $282,098.

In 2010, there were 117 sales at an average price of $223,399.

The neighborhood – with restaurants, shops and other businesses attractive for those seeking an urban lifestyle and ease of living – has become so popular that prices in adjacent neighborhoods have risen.

The city’s waterfront section and the West Side neighborhoods of Front Park and Lake View have the highest concentrations of homeowners who moved in since 2010. For every 10 homeowners, one or two have moved in since 2010 in these areas.

In the suburbs, only neighborhoods in Eggertsville and the western parts of West Seneca and Cheektowaga, which are close to the city line, have similar concentrations of homeowners who recently moved in.

Taylor, a resident of a Buffalo neighborhood with more shorter-term owners – and higher turnover in home ownership – likes the area where he lives.

“I enjoy the house that I live in now,” said Taylor, who has lived in various places in the city but has lived on the sought-after Linwood Avenue for the past 12 years. “I love the city. … I love the neighborhood.”

Some areas on the East Side also have lower proportions of long-term homeowners.

In the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood, less than 15 percent of owner-occupied households moved in before 1980.

The Schiller Park area also has less than 15 percent of its homes occupied by longtime homeowners.

Homeowners in Lovejoy and Kaisertown, as well as in South Buffalo, are longer tenured.

South Buffalo has some neighborhoods where up to 31.5 percent of homeowners have been in their houses since 1980 or earlier, though overall in South Buffalo, the proportion of owner-occupied homes that date back to the 1970s or before is about one-quarter of all properties – meaning about 1 of every 4 homeowners in that section of the city has been there that long.

The streets in South Buffalo with the least number of such longer-term homeowners are located behind Mercy Hospital, where just 16.7 percent of homeowners have been in their homes since 1980 or before, the data showed.

Depew’s settled owners

Across Erie County, villages did not have homeowners who had been in their homes longer than homeowners elsewhere in the county.

The village with the highest percentage of long-settled homeowners?

It’s Depew.

Some 29 percent of Depew’s owner-occupied homes were occupied by their current owners in the 1970s or earlier.

Other villages where rates of pre-1980 homeowners exceeded the county average of 22 percent include Angola, at 24 percent; Lancaster, 25 percent; and Akron and Springville, 26 percent.

Jesse C. Nikonowicz, the mayor of Depew and a longtime homeowner in the village, said that he never felt tempted to move.

“I have no desire to,” Nikonowicz said, “and someday, I hope one of my children takes the house and lives in the house.”

“I’m sure that’s why many people stay here,” Nikonowicz said. “It’s that kind of community.”

Villages with a lower proportion of long-tenured homeowners than the county average – which amounts to a little more than one in five homes owned since 1979 or earlier – include Williamsville, with 18 percent such longer-term owners. In East Aurora, just 15.6 percent of the homes fit that category, and the Village of Orchard Park has 16 percent.

A few other villages were just around the countywide average. In Kenmore, 21 percent of homeowners have been there since before 1980; in the Village of Hamburg, 21 percent; in Blasdell, 21.5 percent; and in the Village of Alden, 22 percent.

Clarence, Amherst

Some areas in the Northtowns have seen growth and change in recent decades, and the homeowner demographics in those areas reflect that trend.

Parts of Amherst, as well as much of the towns of Clarence, Newstead and Lancaster, have fewer long-tenured homeowners than other towns in the second- and third-ring suburbs.

Several Northtowns areas have fewer than 15 percent of homeowners who moved in before 1980.

In Amherst, the areas south of the University at Buffalo’s North Campus – and Maple Road – have the highest concentration of long-term homeowners in the town. In those areas, near the Youngmann Highway, one tract has 31 percent of homeowners who moved in before 1980; another has 32 percent such residents.

Erie County overall

Across Erie County, almost twice as many homes have owners living in them as homes that are occupied by renters.

Out of the 380,152 households in the county, 248,379 are owner-occupied, according to the census figures.

Of those owners, 22 percent have been living in their homes since 1979 or earlier. Ten percent of owners bought during the 1970s. And, slightly more – 12 percent – bought in 1969 or before.

The biggest single decade for home purchasing was the early 2000s. Just over one-third of homeowners in the county – 34.6 percent – moved into their residences between 2000 and 2009.

Only 6 percent of owners of homes in the county have moved in since 2010.

That’s like Depew.

“A majority of the people near where I’m at have been there a great length of time,” said Nikonowicz, the Depew mayor. He bought the village house his parents built in the 1950s and raised his four children there.

“Just recently we’re seeing some pass on,” he said.

“A lot of them lived there most of their lives. It was a very close-knit neighborhood,” said Nikonowicz, who has owned the home, which has only ever been occupied by the Nikonowiczs, for the past 25 years.

“Everybody knew everybody.”

News staff reporter Mark Sommer contributed to this story. email: cvogel@buffnews.com