Emerging Patterns...

While I have no professional training in urban planning, design or public policy - I see what I see. The patterns that slowly emerge have a way of changing the language I use to describe what's happening in my neighborhood. What I sense sort of soaks into my consciousness and changes the way I see and how I respond to others.
First started using the language - shrinking city - when I started thinking harder about issues of abandonment and vacancy in my own neighborhood and slowly warmed up to a study sponsored in part by LISC - Buffalo, see October 2005 post - 23,000 and Still Counting. Almost a year later and after many meet-ups with Michael Clarke, Ex. Director of LISC - Buffalo, I was invited to attend the unveiling of a report Blue Print Buffalo a few months ago. See - Getting Smarter about Decline.

One of the on-line sources used is shaping Blue Print Buffalo is the work of a bunch of europeans dealing with similar issues - Shrinking Cities (Love the German term - schrumpfen Städte, sort of smurf like). The work is opening in Detroit tomorrow evening - road trip anyone? - at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit - here's the link.
Shrinking Cities, a project by Germany's Federal Cultural Foundation, the Kulturstiftung des Bundes, explores a form of urban development that has become a global phenomenon. Starting in 2002, local teams were commissioned in Detroit (USA), Manchester/Liverpool (Britain), Ivanovo (Russia), and Halle/Leipzig (Germany) to investigate and document processes of urban shrinking. In more than fifty exhibition contributions, artists, architects, filmmakers, journalists, culture experts, and sociologists reveal and illuminate the changing realities of these cities.
Vacancy junkies - guess I'm one, remember being able to identify Detroit's vacant structures during the Blue Print Buffalo unveiling - understand Detroit is pretty much the poster child in North America for schrumpfen. Wrote about a film documenting this- Detroit Ruin of a City. See especially, Ruins of Modernity - links to professional conferences and additional information about the film. Just found this youtube video - a ten minute short - Tour of Detroit's Ghetto.

Back in 2004 when I started opening my eyes to the systemic abandonment and vacancy in my own neighborhood, I linked to an observation by a French Sociologist, Loïc Wacquant as he observed what's happening at the other end of Lake Erie, in Detroit.
Why are you building new structures, spending millions of dollars building new sports structures and entertainment centers, when you have the historic heritage of the city's right here abandoned across the street. To a European it's totally incomprehensible. Wacquant is nearly speechless as he gazes at vacant houses with sagging porches and trails of stained brick leading from the walls to the weed-choked lawns.
Wrote recently about Vergara's spin on this phenomenon in his The New American Ghetto. Here, Vergara weaves together various dystopian themes commonly associated with movies such as Metropolis (1927), Blade Runner (1981) and Brazil (1985) - which I've yet to see.

So what's this post about...had conversations today with two well published and very gifted observers of abandonment and vacancy issues here in Buffalo. They both agreed, reason why places like 1325 Michigan and 97 Dodge are sliding down hill fast has nothing to with race. It's a class issue. I mean who wants to really see and experience the subsidization of poverty? From a distance sure. But not next door.

Anyways, if I don't go to Detroit this weekend, I'll be getting my hands on a copy of Brazil.
Artspace ArchiveAnnals of NeglectBAVPAWhere is Perrysburg?Broken Promises...
Writing the CityWoodlawn Row Housesfaqmy flickr


MJ said...

To me it boils down to lack of leadership. Both on a government level and on a personal level.

Our society is set up where cheap travel and cheap "isolated" green fields (class separation). Consumers, like most buisnesses today, want the quickest and safest return on investment. You can see the shockwave of vacancy/decline/peak value/new build as you extend out from the core. The governement does nothing about it since they want to be re-elected so they have to keep the masses happy by allowing them to be "free" to choose this self destructive path of development that weakens the area as a whole.

I always equate it to raising children. Parents tell them not to waste thier food, to take care of and appreciate thier toys, pitch in around the house to make it better for everyone. We just have to look outside the door then to see this not extend off the immediate property. The way infrastucture and history are wasted is maddening. The way everyone acts like they have no part in it is even more so.

I spent 75-95 growing up on the east side. Walking/biking to parks, resident owned stores, friends' houses, little league practices, exploring everywhere with my friends etc. I now see my sisters (12, 14, 16) growing up in the burbs. Having to be driven everywhere or risking travleing across 5 lane roads and massive parking lots, seemingly bored out of thier skulls. Its a shame. These Billy Joel lyrics always come to mind:

"I see these children with their boredom and their vacant stares
God help us all if we're to blame for their unanswered prayers
They roll the sidewalks up at night, this place goes underground
Thanks to the condo kings there's cable now in Zombietown"

"There ain't much work out here in our consumer power base
No major industry, just miles and miles of parking space"

I used to drive to Detroit often for my last job (Madison Heights actually) but would always detour into the city to explore a little of what I noticed off the interstates. Thinking Buffalo's abandonment was alarming, I was floored at how bad Detroit was. I wish I had a camera in those days. The amount of majestic buildings being allowed to rot and fall down while more and more cheap crap gets built mile and miles out was insane. Just like the Wacquant quote states above.

Like children need parents to lay down the law, we pretty much need a benevolent dictator to get us back on track, which will never happen. We are left with the few who have a deep seeded respect for our history, and the desire to perserve what is left of it. If enough of these form a foundation, other followers will eventually come as we see in other parts of the city which were left for dead but are making a slow come back.

Hardly anyone understands my desire to renovate something old on the east side. So label me as one of the crazies, but I will forever remain restless and unsatisfyed until I have acomplished perserving a small piece of Buffalo's history and hopefully being an anchor for something more.

If you are going to this Sat. and are serious about a road trip I'd be interested in splitting gas/etc. Let me know.

gabe said...

I think strategies on how to handle shrinking cities should become a part of any modern urban planning curriculum.

b said...

...reason why places like 1325 Michigan and 97 Dodge are sliding down hill fast has nothing to with race. It's a class issue. I mean who wants to really see and experience the subsidization of poverty?

I agree class factors are a more precise explanation than race, but IMO but I think it's the Bill Cosby type issues that make so many people not want to live or invest there, more so than economic class by itself.

My observation is people I know of all races deeply seriously hate the outward behaviors associated with the East Side. Violent crime is the worst, but also even non violent issues of "gansta" culture, street drug dealing, thefts, teenage single moms cranking out multiple kids and not keeping them under control, all that.

Just a makes for a very unappealing environment and snowballs into other factors such as no grocery stores, having to buy expensive security systems, and so on. Also leads to lots of daily intangibles such as worry and fear. Most people just naturally are wired to try avoiding as much as possible those kinds of things in their lives.

Reality of Buffalo shrinking population and jobs to other parts of U.S. complicates this, but I think it's somewhat separate. Even if somehow those trends reverse in our lifetimes (not holding breath), it's still not given that most parts of the East Side would participate much in a turnaround as long as so many people there live their lives in ways that others find so objectionable.

Yes I'm using "so many people" loosely and perhaps unfairly - and also I don't mean to lump the whole East Side into one description. Very hard to estimate percentages and I'm not even saying it's a majority of East Siders are doing these things - I'd guess it's well less than a majority but currently way more than enough to allow the East Side be compete with other places that people can choose to invest and live with much fewer risks... even though the buildings have tremenous potential.

Hope none of that sounds offensive - just an outside perpective.

MJ said...

The Buffalo News had an article today comparing Amherst and Lancaster housing values. Which I feel has a lot to do with this. People are more worried about quick "returns on investment" then strong neighborhoods and metropolitan area where we all would gain.

In a stagnant metropolitan area such as ours the destructive nature of it is almost overwhelming. Though no one seems willing to put a curb on this "growth" which is more akin to "stretch". We can only stretch development so far before rips appear, then holes, and then totally neglected areas.

Cheektowaga has pretty much developed all thier green space. Amherst is getting close. And now because of our lack of planning Amherst is at the point of stalling in investment returns. Cheektowaga is already starting to see the lack of investment and vacating on the older east side of town.

Its now the "Lancasters'" turn to be the golden child for nothing more than being on the edge of development and having a bunch of cheap green space. But they all act like they are rocket scientists for pulling it off. But they are nothing more than being in the spot that Cheektowaga and Amherst were in once upon a time.

The populace is running around unchecked like a big corporation betting everything on the next quarter's returns instead of long term growth and stability. Then act shocked when they are filing for bankruptcy protection.

We are all willing to trash these companies for not working in our interests, for running off to greener pastures and not caring. If we were to look closely in the mirror, we would see that we are no different than they are.

And as we can see by the city and county's control boards, we are headed for bankruptcy too. There is blame for this in gov't. But it also falls on everyone living in the county. Not just for who they elect, but also the actions they take in thier daily lives.

We can point to everything that is wrong with the east side, but what else would we expect when we suck the money and the life out of it? We don't care, why should anyone else? Even those that do live there? And guess what, as everything there is left vacant and bulldozed, these problems will be moving out to the first ring burbs and already has causing more people to move further out.

and so it goes...and so it goes...

MJ said...

I meant "west side" of town on the border of the east side of Buffalo.


b said...

MJ: We can point to everything that is wrong with the east side, but what else would we expect when we suck the money and the life out of it?

I just can't accept that the deepest human problems there are totally or even mostly the fault of external forces such as sprawl issues.

Sprawl certainly hurts many areas of the city, but the East Side's problems are so much deeper and logically should to be attributed in large part to some of the people who live there. Not all, of course, but enough to make things so bad.

Even if Cheektowaga and Amherst were outlawed and torn down, many people would sooner leave this area entirely than move into such a crime-ridden disfunctional area. Many people of all races have moved away from the East Side for perfectly legitimate reasons, and those people who moved away are not perpetrators of some injustice. People only have one life to live and they have no moral obligation to stay living in an area they find bad or scary or whatever.

To answer your rhetorical question...
what could we expect?

We could expect people to live law abiding lives and hold an honest job even if it's low paying. When you add in the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, housing assistance, energy assistance, and the miriad of other social programs there's no reason people should need to commit violent crimes to live decently. Not extravagently, but decently and be the kind of neighbors many people would want.

We could expect people to not join (or support in any way) street gangs who terrorize their innocent neighbors.

We could expect parents and guardians of teenage girls, or the girls themsleves, to ensure they get the free birth control that our taxes pay for.

In reality, I realize the issues are combinations of the external factors you bring up and the internal factors I do, but seems to me quite often it's presented that the East Side is totally the victim of outside forces, without also noting many of the big problems that make people not want to live (or invest) there are self-inflicted and those are more feasible for real solutions. Stopping sprawl is a very far fetched solution so just pointing at that won't change anything.

Your point of "blaming everyone" is pretty lame too. I've never lived over there, so never moved away; never owned property over there so never let it run down or abandoned it. I have had relatives and also friends over there of both races who moved away but I wasn't the one who suggested it (admit I didn't try talking them out of it - the crime had gotten really bad on their streets).

I'm sympathetic and wish the area the best, but it's crazy and counter productive for you to blame me for anything that's wrong over there.