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Buffalo Neighborhoods: What Defines Them?

All the talk about neighborhoods (click here for map) prompted me
to write down something that I do a lot of thinking about, the places, names,
spaces, neighborhoods, communities in and around Buffalo. It has been kind of a
hobby for me for years. What defines Buffalo, Kenmore, Tonawanda and Cheektowaga?
Where are the walkable urban areas in the city or region? 

I always thought it
was an interesting contradiction that Kenmore, along Delaware Avenue, was far
more urban and appealing than the city itself, but the city was the ‘urban’
area. I remember doing some searching into our region’s history, until I finally
understood why things are created the way they are. Things do not just happen
randomly but instead often are simply following a pattern and domino effect of
development based on certain rules. Well, maybe more like guidelines.

The place we live in, its history, name,
function, and feel all influence us as individual, our city and our culture. I
often find myself asking questions about boundaries, the ones you can see all
over the city. Some are blatant in your face; others are more subtle, like the
boundaries between neighborhoods.  After
all, I constantly feel the need to correct people when they confuse the
University Heights with Downtown… or Riverside with Black Rock or Allentown
with Downtown. Is North Buffalo all just one big neighborhood or is it a
collection of communities and, if so, what defines them all?

There is certainly a generational aspect to
this question as history changes what people call one place or another, and
boundaries move. A perfect example is the 33/Humboldt Parkway. Once a focal
point for a larger neighborhood, it has now become a multigenerational boundary
between increasingly divergent neighborhoods. Should it be or should we still
consider the now divided neighborhoods one whole? It has been an intriguing
question for years and what are the boundaries as they exist today?

South Buffalo

But first, I should give one more example to
shed light into the thinking that I put behind the graphics. Historically, Black
Rock once was roughly all the lands north of Porter, quasi centered around the
mouth of the Scajaquada Creek. Now I feel that Black Rock really is bounded to
the south by the creek and the 198. Most people south of the Creek today, consider themselves residents of the West Side. Or when problem kids from south
of the creek would cause trouble in Black Rock or Riverside… they were
definitely from the west side, not Black Rock; things change.

North Buffalo

Over the years I have searched for a
neighborhood map for Buffalo, an easy answer to these questions, but none of
them seemed to satisfy what I felt where the communities and cultures in the
city. Some maps lumped everything together into big chunks. Like the East and
West Sides. Others draw too heavily on census tracks, or roads as boundaries, to
make their statistic-gathering life easier. To me those are the wrong metrics
on which to define ourselves. Roads are the connective infrastructure of our
city and never should be thought of as divisive. Sometimes they are reinforced
to the point where they do become boundaries and it makes sense, but it should
not be outright rule. Richmond and Porter Avenues are perfect examples of this; Richmond is certainly of one place, but the streets to the west distinctly
another. The line falls behind the buildings along Richmond.

West Side

All of this led me to create my own map for
Buffalo neighborhoods. I focused on historical residential clusters, natural
boundaries and architectural or stylistic shifts. This means historical,
predominantly industrial areas, like the outer harbor or the exchange street corridor, do not show up as a part of a neighborhood – neither do parks, as they are
connected to all neighborhoods around them. Although maybe it should not be
that way. The only exception to this is the inclusion of
Downtown. I feel it is important to include this as a reference point for the
city, and because of the movement to repopulate it as a new neighborhood.

Downtown Buffalo

I also attempted to balance between what is historically defined a neighborhood and what exists today. Railroads, creeks and quarries
are strong boundaries and often create distinct neighborhoods around them. The East Side is a great example of this, where Babcock, Kaisertown and Lovejoy are all close, but relatively independent communities.

East Side

I also had to stop at some point and
conglomerate some areas together that may be considered independent. The
Hydraulics exemplifies this; without a strong commercial district to bind
everything together, there exist three distinct but very small clusters within
The Hydraulics, so it didn’t make sense to call them each out as individual
neighborhoods. Maybe someone from those areas would see it differently.

Well, what does everyone think? I feel there
is some merit to for this discussion about city neighborhoods, as it breaks down
the barriers and could make tackling problems more manageable. I would love to
hear from people around the city about what community they associate themselves
with and why.

References/Starting Points:



City of Buffalo
Community Map

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  • UnionAMG

    Is it possible to edit the Google Maps so they just have the outlines of the neighborhoods and not the shapes filled in with yellow? I can’t see anything really as to where you divided the different neighborhoods.

  • sbrof

    yeah I was trying to figure a way how to import them with the transparency in place but it appears I am going to have to individually edit each feature in Google maps. It will be done soon.

  • ThatGuy

    Here’s a link to a map from US libraries back from the 50’s. It breaks out the city into 32 different neighborhoods. Some i don’t really agree with, like how small they have Elmwood listed as, but there are a ton i have never even heard of before.

  • LovinLivinintheBuff

    As usual, we can’t click on the first graphic to have it be readable. Drawings, maps and plans are very important, given the predilection of readers to development issues. Why are these graphics always shrunk to the point of uselessness?
    I appreciate the links to Google maps, but the first image is comprehensive and it really would be nice to have a clearer look at it.

  • sbrof

    I hear ya, What you can do is open up all the districts at once. A neat way to see them all at once or to overlay other maps on the districts.
    I would have loved to just everything into one map but Google wouldn’t display them all at once, very odd. Either way here is a link to a larger version of the thumbnail file.

  • thestip

    Sean, just to clarify the NW quadrant, Black Rock is now generally seperated into two neighborhoods along the rail corridor with Black Rock to the west and Grant/Amherst to the east. The Military neighborhood is also now referred to as West Hertel. Thanks!

  • WCPerspective

    Interesting the one Google Map shows “Riverside” as “Old Town.” Seems like a good marketing ploy.

  • ThatGuy

    ahhh and i just saw the links at the bottom. sorry for being repetitive.

  • PaulBuffalo

    No, Old Town is actually the compact Tonawanda neighborhood north of Vulcan Street. I don’t know when it got that name, but the moniker makes no sense. It’s just a residential buffer between the GM plant and Riverside Park that had a few good places for fish fry. The long gone Glo-Mar was memorable for its faded lime green interior. The best thing about this tiny neighborhood was the Town Boys Club. I spent some great years there as a kid.

  • sbrof

    Yeah google pulls in names from how the real estate business breaks up cities into neighborhoods. If you go to websites like Trulia you can click on these to limit your search. It is yet another way that the city has been cut up. It is a bit interesting but after some use you can tell they are created for the convenience of the business more than anything else.

  • sbrof

    Yeah, I went to that Town Boys and Girls club often. Where else could you just go and play some pool for free. Great times. And I agree the ‘old town’ moniker seems very out of place. Really only there to try and distance itself from the city. Hence why I lumped it all together and consider it a part of the Riverside Neighborhood.

  • sbrof

    I am curious if the people in Grant-Amherst really consider themselves in a different neighborhood than Black Rock. I understand the business district aspect of the name but isn’t it just ‘Downtown Black Rock’… as some buildings say.

  • shakeman

    Regionalism in action – your map shows Kaisertown as including portions of Cheektowaga and West Seneca out to I-90. Most city neighborhood descriptions refer to Kaisertown as stopping at the city line, but anyone who’s lived over there can tell you there’s little difference in architecture, demographic, etc. as you cross the city line. Similar case in Riverside – the adjacent Riverview section of Tonawanda is very similar.

  • PaulBuffalo

    Yeah, I agree. For all intents and purposes, it’s part of Riverside. The only time anyone noticed the formal difference was when Tonawanda snow plows went down their streets.

  • Black Rock Lifer

    Grant/Amherst was developed by Polish immigrants that were not welcome in the parishes here in the old neighborhood.
    As for Downtown Black Rock that was and still is Niagara St from Bridge to Hertel, we just let Caseys bar on Amherst borrow the name out of good will.
    I think most people living in Grant/Amherst think of it as Black Rock and the old Assumption School was renamed “Our Lady of Black Rock”

  • r129

    I grew up in the Grant-Amherst area, and still have family members living there, so I think I can offer some insight. We definitely considered ourselves to be part of Black Rock, but at the same time, we didn’t think of people from the other side of the railroad tracks as being in the same neighborhood as us. It would be inaccurate to consider the Grant-Amherst area something other than Black Rock on the map. After all, as Sean pointed out, Casey’s welcomes you to Downtown Black Rock. Actually, I always tell people that I’m from Downtown Black Rock, but I doubt that it’s very common to say that.
    One thing I noticed about the map is that part of Grote, Marion and Amherst Streets between the railroad tracks and Elmwood Ave. is considered “Park Meadow”. I would say that they should be included in Black Rock, especially Grote and Marion. Amherst Street is somewhat questionable, but I’ve personally heard people who live on Amherst Street between Wegmans and Elmwood refer to their neighborhood as Black Rock. I do agree with Woodette and Elmview being included in “Park Meadow”, though.

  • Dan

    Neighborhood names in Buffalo can be … well, confusing, even to locals.
    North Buffalo, South Buffalo, East Side, West Side – all are just larger sections of the city, each comprising several neighborhoods, although they’re mistaken for neighborhoods. Neighborhood names have changed over time; Lovejoy was once Buffalo Heights, University Heights was once Buffalo Plains, and there’s a host of long-forgotten ward numbers, the 1st Ward being the only one that remains. There’s the movement of what is now called “Black Rock” from the states-and-numbers streets of the West Side to the area north of Scajaquada Creek. There’s trends in naming neighborhoods; street intersections in the 1960s and 1970s (Polonia to Broadway-Fillmore, East End to Delavan-Bailey, Kensington to Kensington-Bailey, and so on), the “District” suffix that’s popular in Buffalo today, and the use of diminutive combination names (SoHo, LoDo, etc) that Buffalo eschewed. Unlike so many other areas, in Buffalo neighborhood names are not a constant.
    The names on the classic UB Buffalo neighborhood name map often doesn’t correspond with the names residents use for their neighborhoods. The UB map districts often use priominent streets as a dividing line for neighborhoods, where residents consider them a central feature of the neighborhood instead. For example, in the Kensington neighborhood, Bailey Avenue is used to divide the northern part of the neighborhood into “University District” and “Kensington Heights” Growing up there, “University District” defined a council district, while nobody called the area wast of Bailey “Kensington Heights”; there was Kensington, centered on Bailey Avenue, and University Heights, centered on Main Street, the dividing line between the two being roughly Parkridge Avenue. The DL&W tracks, Parkridge, UB, the Buffalo-Cheektowaga boundary, and the Kensington Expressway – that defined Kensington to most residents. University Heights – that was defined by the DL&W tracks, the Buffalo-Tonawanda boundary along Kenmore, UB, and Parkridge.
    On top of the inaccurate UB map, there’s also the oddball neighborhood names seen on Google Maps. Starin Central? “Old Town?” Military? LaSalle? What was the source of those?
    I’ve got an interesting idea for a thesis project for some enterprising grad student: compare neighborhood names as defined on maps compared to what the residents that live there actually call them. “Not using the terms North Buffalo, South Buffalo, East Side or West Side, what would you call this neighborhood?”

  • r129

    Oh, and does anyone actually refer to that area as Park Meadow? I’ve never heard of that before. I won’t argue with your using it, because that area needs some sort of name, and I don’t have a better one.

  • Dan

    Oh .. I appreciate Sean’s mapping efforts, but it makes some of the same mistakes the UB map used for defining neighborhoods; that is, using major streets as dividing lines between neighborhoods, rather than as the unifying element. From a native of northeast Buffalo:
    * See my previous post about “Kensington” and “University Heights”
    * “Central Park East”: residents called it “Fillmore-Leroy”.
    * Genesee Street is used as a dividing line between “Delavan Bailey” and “Schiller Park”. Actually, Genesee Street was considered the main business district in Schiller Park. The cultural dividing line was roughly Lang Avenue; north, and you were in East End/Delavan-Bailey, while south was Schiller Park.
    * “Kingsley”: historically, it was called “Masten Park”.
    * “Vernor Triange” is part of Parkside. It’s really a sub-neighborhood, much like “University Slope” is part of a greater University Heights, and Treehaven/Judges Row is a sub-neighborhood of Kensington.
    * “North Buffalo” – historically, not the name of a single neighborhod, but a section of the city comprising several neighborhoods. Your “North Buffalo” is really part of “North Park”.
    * “Park Meadow” – I guess it’s the contemporary name for what was platted and marketed as “Nye Park”, the subdivision built on the old Pan American Expo site.
    * “Bennett”: considered part of “Central Park”; socioeconomic transition and changed the association.
    * “Emerson”: just the location of the high school that was once located there. Natives call it St. John Kanty.

  • PaulBuffalo

    Dan, Old Town is a real name used by that (Tonawanda) neighborhood. When they repaved the streets on their section of Tonawanda Street, they added signage that incorporated the name. I just don’t know when they started using the name because as I grew up no one ever referred to the area as Old Town.

  • Black Rock Advocate

    Dan, This is not a matter of a “naming trend”……The area that centers around Niagara and Amherst streets is and has always been Black Rock circa 1802…..When the Erie Canal was build a set of locks located between Hamilton and Austin streets where called the Black Rock locks.

  • queencity

    When I moved into a neighborhood, I received a rather interesting little booklet. It wasnt expensive but it really helped me bond with my neighborhood, neighbors and home.
    What was the booklet? Members of the local community long before I had moved into the neighborhood had sent letters to residents asking for any pictures they had of the homes in the neighborhood and chose the oldest that were sent. Some residents with a library/historical interest found old pictures in public records.
    They compiled a small booklet that they copied and distributed to the neighborhood of the pictures of homes, phone numbers for schools and other local amenities, and any residents who were willing to disclose their telephone number to other neighbors.
    I have to say, looking at those old pictures really made me look at my home in its original glory and saw the home that I could have by removing some of the cheap updates. It gave me ideas to plant shrubs and gardens and trees.
    Yes, it would help name and define boundaries organically as the neighborhood residents define them.
    Yes, there are alot of property owners that dont maintain or improve their home because they only see their home and its value as it is….but seeing your home as it once was…changes that perception significantly.

  • Dagner

    It’s VERNON Triangle, not Vernor, like the soda pop. Named after Vernon Place. And yes, it’s part of Parkside, which is part of North Buffalo.

  • sbrof

    Thanks everyone for the great comments. Always love to hear how people define their neighborhoods. And since I didn’t grow up everywhere… I can only make assumptions on a lot of places and tend to draw the lines where style of the buildings change. That’s why I differentiated University Slope from the heights but they certainly do not feel like the same place.
    Also the Vernon, (must have been drinking some Vernor’s while typing) I never associated with Parkside because going to school at St Marks, we used to walk a lot of the streets to go from house to house. I didn’t live in this area at all but no one ever seemed to acknowledge that side of the tracks, unless you were walking to the Fairfield library, then you crossed the tracks. Plus when you look at Olmsted’s original vision for ‘Parkside’ it doesn’t include the area across the tracks. And since Parkside calls itself an Olmsted designed neighborhood, adding in Vernon always seemed odd. But It was certainly built out around the same time as Parkside and shares a lot of characteristics.
    I also just noticed that Olmsted actually calls Park Meadow Fairfield. I wonder if Fairfield used to extend all the way around the tracks before being cut and perhaps changed names to Linden. Hmm..
    As for Grote – Marion.. I do and will change. I drew the lines along the Railroads and perhaps this is one place that it shouldn’t be. Grote does feel a part of BR because of its connection to Military. Used to go down there a lot growing up and it has a lot more in common with BR than the area east of Elmwood.
    Dan, thanks for your comments, I don’t like using major streets as dividing lines either but without a more intimate knowledge of some of those areas I wouldn’t know where a neighborhood character changes. I certainly don’t plan on telling people where they live but wanted to open this idea up to everyone to comment and try to better understand, aggregate and re-create these maps to better suite the reality of our city Nneighborhoods.

  • sbrof

    Growing up in Central Park ‘East’ \ Fillmore-Leroy most people refer to that neighborhood as just Central Park. Certainly it is different than the other Central Park because of layout, size and style of homes etc. I was just over there last weekend for my Dewey avenue post and talking to one resident he also said his neighborhood ‘Central Park.’ Probably that way because of the Central Park plaza, the Central Park post office branch etc. Except for FLARE \ government related agencies I don’t know anyone to refer to the neighborhood as Leroy-Fillmore.
    Also Bennett always seemed so different. It is somewhere between the architecture of Central Park and the area south across Amherst. Maybe it is a sub neighborhood of one or the other but it seems like it straddles and isolates itself from both.

  • Dan

    You’re the Black Rock expert and advocate, and I appreciate it.
    I think in an earlier post, it was you or someone else who described “Upper Black Rock” (the old Village of Black Rock, centered on Porter Street) and “Lower Black Rock” (the location of today’s contemporary Black Rock neighborhood.
    The rock was located where the Peace Bridge is now: see
    This map shows “Upper Black Rock” as being the area that today is considered the Lower West Side and its component neighborhoods, while “Lower Black Rock” is the Upper West Side:,-0.2673031026,1.3142857143,1.2601431981&cmd=zoomin&wid=600&hei=400&x=300&y=200
    Another old Black Rock map, south of the Scajaquada:
    Sadly, there’s not much online about the old village. I’d lvoe to know more about its history as a freestanding community.

  • Dan

    The area was part of the 1876 FLO plan for Parkside. After the PAE aite was cleared, the site was subdivided and marketed as an upscale subdivision called Nye Park. The part of Delaware Park south of the neighborhood, which is now the golf course and zoo, was called “The Meadow” on old maps.
    The old Parkside heritage remains in the area’s designation as the Parkside West Historic District. So, as a moniker for one small area of the city, we have …
    Park Meadow
    Nye Park
    Parkside West

  • Shoestring Budget
  • Black Rock Lifer

    Dan- You might want to take one of the Black Rock tours, there is one this Saturday. We are presently working to establish a historic district in the Amherst/East St area and plan on doing a history of the neighborhood to bring more attention and hopefully more investment to this truly historic old neighborhood. Black Rock has a long history of independence and pride that still exists today, we never quite gave up the ghosts of the past. Many families have deep roots here and we have a real sense of community. Our neighborhood has taken a beating by forces beyond our control but we are a tough bunch and are not ready to give up the fight.

  • sbrof

    and then Olmsted laid it out as Fairfield but I don’t think that ever took… then again none of the others did either.

  • Shoestring Budget

    Dear Queen City,
    If you think a welcoming booklet is such a good idea, why don’t you write one instead of SHOUTING at everyone else to do it?

  • Dan

    I’d be there in a heartbeat if I wasn’t in Austin.

  • r129

    There used to be a bar next to CVS at the corner of Elmwood and Elmhurst that was called Nye Park. I almost forgot about that place. That’s the only time I’ve seen any of those terms used outside of a map to refer to this area.