Getting Smarter about Decline

I attended the public release of Blueprint Buffalo - Regional Strategies and Local Tools for Reclaiming Vacant Properties Thursday afternoon at the Larkin Building. The report contains a critical assessment of existing institutional and public policy initiatives. The study examines strategies used in other weak market cities that experience the abandonment and vacancy that is becoming increasingly more common place in post-industrial cities like our own.

Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC-Buffalo) and The National Vacant Properties Campaign have collaborated and presented a compelling set of documents that need to be critically read, examined and absorbed by the elected, anointed and community leaders in Buffalo and across the region. Both reports from the folks at LISC are available here:
The Blueprint Buffalo uses James Q. Wilson's work as a point of departure.

...if the first broken window in a building is not repaired, then people who like breaking windows will assume that no one cares about the building and more windows will be broken. Soon the building will have no windows...read the rest, 2/13/06 Wide Open...Only in the 'Hood.
DSCN2677 DSCN2675 DSCN2676

Two houses on Woodlawn Avenue, opposite the new Performing Arts High School seem to illustrate Wilson's critique. Buffalo Fiscal Stability Board member and treasurer, Rev. Richard Stenhouse's organization owns the property on the right. The City of Buffalo, the one on the left. Pictures are from February 2006.

I first learned about the National Vacant Properties Campaign, in February 2005 shortly after I started blogging - right here. The Buffalo News first mentioned the emerging work presented this afternoon in October 2005, that I'd previously archived, right here. I followed that up with this post.

I've been fortunate to have had numerous discussions with Michael Clarke (LISC-Buffalo) during the past year and recently developed an on-line correspondence with Lisa Schamess, the project's writer/editor.

We have to get smarter at handling decline, fast. I've mentioned the emergency medical strategy of triage numerous times while thinking and writing about vacancy, most recently here - Heartbreak in the 'Hood. We can't save everything. We have to become smarter and more strategic in how we handle housing and land use in Buffalo. A comprehensive inventory would be a good first step towards getting our hands around the issue.

Thinking about the City as person - borrowing from the ancients who knew a thing about politics and the soul somewhere in Greece - if the patient is bleeding to death, doesn't make much sense treating an in grown toe-nail, does it? One of my conversations with Lisa recently included a humbling exchange between the personal and larger political (community wide) issues. Bottom line - that was echoed today - it's very easy to deny that abandonment and vacancy is happening. Dealing with these issues on an individual basis is hard, on a collective basis, perhaps impossible. Yet if we don't get smarter - like cutting our losses and begin land-banking - who will? It'll be more difficult next month and next year.

update...Blueprint Buffalo bibliography, hyper-linked - right here...


Anonymous said...

Im sorry I dont share your excitement about this "expose" I have been talking about strategic land banking,flipping,economic development etc.. for almost 5 yrs and wrote out a plan last year which I emailed to about 50 people. What was the cost of this expose? Im just tired of hearing about all the problems we have and possible solutions but when do we utilize these solutions?

Unknown said...

Hi, I am assuming and hoping I get to share the virtual dais with Michele Johnson here? If so, Michele, I wanted to let you know that this set of reports very much pays homage to and builds on the kind of work you have been doing.

It's got to be frustrating to put in the time, have the ideas, send them out, and feel nothing happened, then see a large unveiling of still another "big" report that might or might not result in action. But you know, I think this recent "expose"--your word, we'd more call it a humble compilation--is actually because of things like "Flipped" and your other work to reveal and draw urgent attention to the conditions in Beau Fleuve.

So email me? I am sort of retiring to my usual corner as a writer/observer of things generally now, but have fallen in love with your city and want to know more.

lisa s

I think you would be pleasantly surprised at the economy of the report's costs. I cannot speak to all the project costs, but I am at liberty to share with you what my writing fee was for the entire project (off line). I also know that the individuals on the team donated their time to a large extent, because I worked with them day in and day out--weekends, holidays, nights and way-early mornings.

fixBuffalo said...

Lisa & Michele,

Just looped you two in on e-mail with others. This will be a long slow hard slog...

Anonymous said...

That blue house did not look bad at all, at least in your shot from Feb. I'm half happy you don't have a "now" photo up.

I'm always in amazment that the city finds it better to let these rot until they need demo instead of giving them away for $1/tax abatements/etc with conditions of restoration.

Anonymous said...

spend a little money now securing or better yet renovationg these houses. It will cost a lot less than demolition and building a new plastic house in the future.

fixBuffalo said...


blue house is now wrecked. missing all the new windows (first broken window, photo in post - and now boarded) me thinks lots of $$ went into this one.


Spot on, again!

fixBuffalo said...


I very much appreciate your comments.

"Blue Print Buffalo" in policy brief and action plan format certainly could be added to the growing library of reports that simply get shelved. My thinking is different on this one...somewhere between agnoticism and action...way away from the apathy that is characterized by most.

LISC, locally is well positioned with their current leadership to keep these issues on the front burner and a number of elected and appointed in the spotlight as we continue to move forward managing decline.

That said, I do what I can to attract private investment to the City's near East Side - and continue to reach out to individuals and groups of every stripe to do likewise.

Shifting how we think and manage decline - vacancy and abandonment - will require comprehensive and strategic planning. Triage is necessary and your moth-balling ideas carry considerable merit, especially when stitched together with additional valuable pieces of the urban fabric, like schools.

If you're around on Saturday's at 11am for a neighborhood tour...let me know.



Anonymous said...

Great post David...

fixBuffalo said...

thanks Chris...spread the word.