Shock and Awe...Koons Avenue

Two years ago I began investigating a few houses owned by the City of Buffalo. Randomly choose 319 Koons off the list provided by the Division of Real Estate on the 9th floor of City Hall. Wrote about it here - Tumbling Down the Rabbit Hole, April 2005. It was the second time that I was "critical" of the City's failure to embrace market based techniques to sell it's ever increasingly longer list of real property. You know, using for-sale signs and dedicating a few web pages of the City's site to pix and descriptions.

I visited 319 Koons three times in 2005 - April, May & July - and found this City owned house wide open. I expressed my concern to John Hannon, Director of the Division of Real Estate as 319 Koons is only half a block away from the newly renovated City school, Harvey Austin on Sycamore. I returned in 2006 and found the door wide open, still.
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Proximity of Harvey Austin School to 300 block of Koons Avenue - Google Map!

Sunday afternoon I visited 319 Koons Avenue - delayed by the decay and destruction on Walden Avenue, see What if... - and was totally shocked and awed by what I discovered.

One block away from the newly remodeled Harvey Austin school on Koons Avenue between Walden and McKibben there are 31 houses. 15 of these houses are partially boarded and wide open, including 319 Koons Avenue.
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I spent a couple hours here on Sunday afternoon. One neighbor that I talked to couldn't wait to get out and pointed to the partially burned house next door that was first torched two years ago. The Koons Avenue Shock & Awe slide show has more details and shows all the open doors and a few first floor windows. Every house that I poked around in showed evidence of having been stripped and used for all sorts of felonious activities. Last year, people lived here...today half the houses on the block were vacant. Many of the obviously vacant houses were boarded. The yellowish one - first pic in the third row - just had a broken porch window ( remember what Rev. Stenhouse learned at 121 Woodlawn, right here). Well you know the drill about broken windows, it's a down hill slide.
The same neighbor told me that many of the houses that looked occupied were indeed vacant. A quick look at missing gas meters confirmed this.

I was certainly not expecting what we might now call wholesale abandonment on Koons Avenue this afternoon. This is desolation. I didn't have the heart to walk the rest of Koons to Genesee Street. I'll do a proper inventory of this block soon.
Regular fixBuffalo readers will recall that Michele Johnson - East side Housing Activist - introduced me to Koons Avenue in January of '05. She was calling attention to the decaying house owned by Hamilton and Lydia Woods of Redwood City, CA at 242 Koons Avenue, right here. That house was demolished at tax payers expense. Will try to find out this week if the bill has been paid. Last time I checked 6 months ago a bill hadn't been sent.

Remember Mayor Masiello's and Tim Wanamaker's Livable Communities Initiative (July 2004) that called for monthly monitoring of property around the City's new schools? Guess that was a waste of time and paper.

While things may appear to be improving or staying the course in some of Buffalo's neighborhoods - Elmwood, Hertal and Allentown - the hollowing out of Buffalo's East side is in full swing. Changes to a block like this really concern me. I've seen more than my share of abandonment and vacancy - this is different. Brace yourself...it's only going to get worse. Lots worse. The neighbor I spoke to couldn't wait to leave...

City of Buffalo property records (3/25/07): Koons Avenue 300 - 357
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b said...

Little typo in your last paragraph ("Hertal").

Wouldn't that block of Koons seem perfect for first attempt at a pilot project for landbanking, a.k.a smart shrinkage, kind of thing?

- Very few, if any, residents wanting to stay.

- Very little, if any, likelihood of blockwide rehab.

- Icing on cake: As shown in your Google Map link, Koons is adjacent to open land of a cemetery so emptying that block it would not even create a "missing tooth" effect.

Obviously, funding would need to come from NYS (or is there some national non-profit org that might fund that I wonder?)

One thing such a pilot project could help determine is whether demolition costs could be much less expensively per-house when a block is done as one big work order. Would also be very useful for testing out procedures for property aquisition, etc. for this sort of concept.

Otherwise, how much time and money will be needed over the next 50 years to try keeping all those houses as boarded up as possible (which as you've shown is most often not very boarded up)?

If not this block, then which?
If not now, when?

WestCoastPerspective said...

What council district is the street in? Eye opening post David.

fix buffalo said...

Agree...the surrounding streets appear to be in similar shape - same hollowing out - especially along the Titus, Goodyear, Miller blocks between Empire and Sycamore...

There are actually two cemeteries...Concordia sometimes shows up on the map and then there's Beth Jacob...a totally desecrated Jewish Cemetery, just to the north of Concordia...

In October 2006 I visited Beth Jacob and compared it to an interesting Cemetery in Toronto -right here... I didn't have the heart to re-visit yesterday afternoon.

fix buffalo said...

West Coast...

It's in the Fillmore District...

Anonymous said...

How can Buffalo residents sit around and casually discuss this mess of a street and not hold elected officials accountable for its being wide open and continued decline? If people that live in that city accept that their elected officials do nothing, than u deserve it. Surrounding streets the same? No wonder. The mayor needs to be thrown out of his office. Get someone with a vision.

b said...

Along lines of what Anon wrote, it'd be great to hear some elected official, at least one, put forth a specific workable practical near-term plan to at least demolish one whole hopelessly decayed block of one hopelessly decayed street.

Then next step would be to seek funding from the state to pay for it.

There's a ton of bemoaning that goes on about decayed unboarded houses, with ongoing shock, surprise, despair, awe, movies, DVDs, steaming video, photos, etc.

Although all that has an important purpose, it's also true that at some point the endless publicizing, planning, and studying become the enemy. "Analysis paralysis."

Bulldozers, demolition crews, and political courage to accept and embrace shrinkage are what's needed. Sad in some ways, but true.

For all the awareness raising, focus is lacking.

Starting small is the only way to start seeing action. Koons Ave. would be a great place to start.

Unfortunately executives such as mayors quite often don't stick their necks out and take political risks. However, they will sometimes hop on a bandwagon after lower level officials have gotten out in front.

Is there any elected official at any level who'd be the first to go on record supporting in principle a project to empty Koons Ave, buy the few houses still owned by people, demolish the whole block and then land bank it?

The problem with awareness raising is it often does not speak directly enough about what needs to be done: begging NY state to start sending millions of dollars for mass demolitions of whole blocks.

Until or unless politicians and community leaders become comfortatble talking frankly in those terms, it will stay like it is.

There's just way way too many vacant houses to keep them all boarded up. Yes, even the vacant houses near schools. Way way too many for anyone to keep boarded up.

Anonymous said...

This deteriorazizion did not just start happening last week. The problem has been ignored and accepted for so long that it is now outa control. Buffalonians act as tho they just woke up and noticed it. Hello! True u cannot erase past mistakes but whats the gameplan we hear from Bozo? The whole city will be bulldozed into a vacant lot so long as that clown stays in office. Who voted that moron in? You wanted him you got him. Mayor Doolittle gives himself an A for his efforts.

b said...

Yeah, Bozo has no gameplan for this, just continuation of status quo, a relative few demolitions per year. I saw some complaints from him a few weeks ago that NYS paperwork was holding up a small bunch of demolitions City Hall had planned. Basically his approach is peeing in the ocean for all the impact it makes.

So he's a big problem, but I maintain a bigger problem is absolutely no elected official, politcal leader, or even community leader (I'd settle for anyone as a start!) proposes to ask NY state for a big increase in the demolition budget, and keep asking, and lobby, ask some more, lobby some more, etc., etc. etc. Someone needs to convice the WNY legislative delegation to put such an increase very high on their wish list, with willingness to do without some other state spending in return.

That's what it will take - to get at least a few elected officials to start talking in very clear terms about quadrupling or quintupling the number of demolitions per year for a sustained period - at least a five years, probably longer.

That would at least slow the decay compared to what it will otherwise be. As things are now it just spreads and spreads, house to house, block to block.

People might find it unpleasant to focus so much on demolishing - they might feel it's too negative, but they are wrong. They need to get past the unpleasantness and realize it's a much bigger negative to not demolish blocks such as that in the slideshow.

At some point Bozo (or the next mayor) might jump on a bandwagon if others have taken the risks and made a big "cause" out of it, but it's obvious the top-level bigshots aren't willing to get out in front on the issue.

One house in that Koons slideshow was home of a good friend of mine when growing up. His family left Koons about 10 or 15 years ago.

So I have some familiarity and believe me - that street won't recover in our lifetimes. Given its current condition there's just no economic reason for that street to exist in a 200,000 population Buffalo. But at least it shouldn't be left forever as a row of dangerous disgusting eyesores that schoolkids and others in that area should have to see every day, and fire fighters should have to risk harm dealing with inevitably, etc.

Trying to think of some creative feel good use for that street and others like it will in all likelihood just cloud the issue and indefinitely delay the needed steps. Little urban farms and such can be nice feel good distrations, but realistically those are not a significant part of a serious strategy.

Anonymous said...

Great response! You should run for mayor. They need to recall and impeach Mayor Doolittle and his crew of city hall morons. What a mess. So So sad and disgusting this is what the children see as their Buffalo future. The driving force to do well in school and succeed would be to get out of the place. In almost any job if you cannot perform you are out. Buffalonians must be pleased with the "job" the Mayor does. At least Koons is located next to cemetary. Good choice.

b said...

hey thanks Anon, hmmmm well "Mayor b" does have a nice ring to it.

David, I would appoint you Commissioner of Agriculture.
(kidding, kidding... you could be Czar of Midtown or something like that... and for sure I'd have you totally revamp the city web site for some real usability, interactivity, mapping, etc.) I wonder who else is running.