4/08/2007

Yo, I be the neighbor...

Artvoice ran a great piece last week - The City Bountiful - about Queen City Farm. And as fixBuffalo readers know, I've been drawing attention to this site on East Utica for over a year.

Read this "Dear Artvoice" letter the other night...
ASK THE NEIGHBORS

As a long-time resident of the East Side, I can say my reaction to Rod McCallum’s project was mixed (“The City Bountiful,” Artvoice v6n13). In a nutshell the problem is that every aspect of the project is exciting and progressive, but I fear that this is just going to be the first wave of the “progressive” middle-class types who come from West Side Buffalo, North Buffalo, Amherst, Clarence, Tonawanda, etc. who don’t live here now but will very soon and who actually will succeed in getting a lot of great things done, while the long-time residents who live here now will get pushed out as you all buy up the houses we can’t afford to keep up with. I don’t think Mr. McCallum is a sinister person or has sinister motives but gentrification is a reality. One big criticism I have, for instance, is how the first news of this happening is in the Artvoice and not the Challenger! It was encouraging that you mentioned how the spot in question is right around the corner from the African-American Cultural Center but it would be nice to know if he plans to have any community information meetings at the center about what he’s doing—or, even better, at the brand new library on Jefferson.

Many current residents on the East Side would like to see a project like this actually come to the East Side and invest in it to make it a reality. Hopefully Mr. McCallum will look for some people from the neighborhood to invest in this worthwhile project.

George Winfield

Buffalo
Dear George,

The City's near East side needs innovation. The first news of this "happening" occurred on my little Masten neighborhood blog - fixBuffalo. I encouraged Artvoice reporters to bring this exciting news to a wider audience. Many of the new and exciting developments, on both sides of Main Street are first organized on-line as it's an amazingly efficient way to communicate. The Challenger, as far as I understand, does not have an on-line presence.

You've addressed and danced around a couple issues that need to be addressed. First, gentrification. Can't happen here. By definition gentrification occurs when there is a housing shortage. Last time I walked down East Utica, I identified three houses on the new farm block that were vacant and owned by the City. Around the corner on Glenwood, twice as many. In Buffalo, we have a housing surplus! Your fear that people are going to be somehow "bought out" of their house I believe is unfounded. Rod and the people I've met associated with the farm project are more interested in homesteading existing vacant houses that are owned by the City. Stabilizing the neighborhood in such incremental ways adds value all the way around. This is a good thing.

I've lived here - on Woodlawn Avenue - three short blocks away from the farm site for almost 11 years and was chair of the social studies dept. at Turner/Carroll High School until it closed. There, I encouraged my students to investigate the neighborhood and on several occasions Geoff Kelly from Artvoice led reporting sessions with my students.

I'm sending this letter to you via email to Artvoice and will hope that you have an opportunity to read it. Rod reads this blog and will try to reach you as well. He works at the King Urban Life Center on Genesee Street and will most probably add the Merriweather Library to a list of sites for community informational meetings. Your participation and involvement will be most welcome, I'm sure.

Best,

David
__________________________________________________________________________
ArtspaceBAVPATour d'Neglect - 2007Woodlawn Row Housesfaqmy flickr
the creativity exchangeCEOs for Cities

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think there is a lot envy, jealousy and, and raw insecurity on the part of folks like Mr. Winfield. He is afraid "someone else" will be successful in cleaning up the problems which the "current residents" and those who pretend to lead them, have failed to even address.

have done nothing to stem the tide of decay and deterioration on the East Side.

The Black community "leaders"'have done little to stem the tide of decay and deterioration on the East Side. They consist mostly of politically connected religious leaders and bureaucrats; their only solution seems to be propping up shoddily-built, HUD-funded newbuild crap houses in areas where there is a massive surplus of housing. These vinyl-clad, suburbanesque abominations are bound to go through several cycles of foreclosures before becoming flipper-bait homes and crackshacks like so much of the older housing stock in these neighborhoods.

Mr. McCallum's plan is indeed something appropriate for a shrinking neighborhood. It's a progressive solution which WILL help the "current residents" much more than haphazardly plopping plastic houses on vacant lots with no rhyme or reason.

MJ said...

It irks me when those still there are blamed for not confronting the problems. Everyone who moved out of these areas in the past 50 years also did not want to confront the issues and just chose to move out. And now we condemn those still there who just want to follow those who came before them and run when/if they get a chance?

Elsewhere in David's blog, he mentions the book "Power Failure". Give it a read. Its surprising how involved black leadership was and the projects they stood for in the 60's and 70's when these areas started their slide, only to be stymied by the powers that were. It's a shame they couldn't have accomplished more when there was more to save and work from. I guess they finally gave up too, and why not, everyone else did.

George's fears may be unfounded. But it is nice to see he is now aware and interested. Hopefully he will now know where to look to find out about these happenings a little sooner in their development. With all the NIMBYs we have in Erie County, we're dissing based on this guy who appears to want it to actually succeed?

Best of luck to this project and the neighborhood around it. The East Side needs more fighters.

Roy said...

Fix Buffalo's response to George was precise and useful, and I'd like to add some comments.

As an Urban Planning outsider, I can identify with what George is saying. As Fix Buffalo put it to me, "You have to know the rules to the game." Many of the people left in the neighborhoods we are looking at and living in have little clue how to navigate the government and financial systems. They/we have seen a contunuous flow of poor decisions with bad results for their/our neighborhoods and the city at large. The end result is a community that is suspicious of any project they aren't part of. Don't gloss over the power of your education and knowledge. Fix Buffalo's informative and inviting response was right on the money. An organic small-money revival will be most stable, in my opinion.

A point on gentrification: While it is true that the overall housing surplus precludes meeting the academic definition of gentrification, there remain other considerations. People often feel a sense of loyalty and comfort in the neighborhood they grew up in. "Housing" may be a fungible asset, but community and a sense of place are not. I have lived on Coe Place for four years, making me the new guy and the white guy. Most of my neighbors have expressed some variant on the fear that they will be displaced. Most of them have lived here most of their lives. The protective sense of community is palpable, and nobody wants to lose it.

Emphasizing failures of the Black community "leaders" is largely useless. In my experience they are no more self serving and incompetent than the white ones, on average. I have also found that criticism across America's color line is likely to go unheard in either direction, stimulating defensiveness instead of dialoge. Finding and supporting real leadership is the key. It may not look like what we expected.

Thanks for the excellent information and dialoge, Fix Buffalo.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous,

You absolutely took the words out of my mouth. I can't say it any better than you did. Bravo to you!

People should remember that the East Side was, since its origins in the 1840s, until its ruin in the 1950s, the home of German immigrants and German Americans. It was a most beautiful neighborhood, most industrious and thriving, and it contributed to the prosperity of nearby Downtown, which died as the Germans were Driven Out (they didn't "just move") in blockbusting schemes motivated by hatred of Germans after the two world wars.

David is of course right. The very idea of "gentrification" in an area devoid of even an adequate number of inhabitants and falling to ruin, with only cracker-box crap being put up to house "poor people" by the Center for Urban Studies guru at UB, is totally impossible.

Anonymous said...

The comments made by FixBuffalo in response to George Winfield's letter-- no matter whom you agree with-- are completely undermined by the downright condescending title of the post. Mr. Winfield did not have to mention race specifically in his letter for anyone who has ever lived in Buffalo, or studied gentrification for that matter, to know that this issue has racial implications. To therefore insinuate "becoming one with the people" by conforming to racial speech stereotypes is absurd, especially considering the fact that Mr. Winfield's letter was an extremely eloquent contribution.

In my opinion, FixBuffalo's post title has effectively ended the important dialogue begun by Mr. Winfield in his letter.

fix buffalo said...

Anon...

Huh? Gentrification in Buffalo? Show me where...

There is no condescension in this piece. You're creating an issue where there is none. This project has been inclusive and broad based from square one. Period.

Focus on something real and stop chasing shadows.

Anonymous said...

David,

I think what the previous anon was trying get across was that you had a gramatical error in the title of your post. Might want to check on that.

That's all, have a good one.

denny said...

When I saw "yo, I be.." my thought was: what an insult! Then I wondered if Imus is writing titles for you.

fix buffalo said...

denny...

huh?

Anonymous said...

I think people are just wondering why you chose to title your post how you did...Any response?

fix buffalo said...

Anon...

What is it about my post's title that causes you to lose sleep?

Anonymous said...

YO I BE

Is that how you normally write and speak?

If not, then for what purpose did you switch up your slang???

fix buffalo said...

Anon 12:22...

If you want to de-construct my writing, please...go right ahead.

When I write "vinyl solution" please make sure to include thinly veiled references to my anti-semitic views, too.

Perhaps you're smarter and better understand what motivates than I do.

So it goes...