I don’t think that anyone quite understands the long-term positive effect that Extreme Makeover will have on the West Side (see back story). After speaking to diehard West Side activist Harvey Garrett moments ago, my head is still spinning from what I have seen and learned. The number of volunteers has now surpassed 5000. The average number of volunteers for each Extreme Makeover episode is somewhere between 700 and 800. Thanks to David Stapleton of David Homes who asked why the entire neighborhood could not be part of a massive extension of the effort (and then put his money where his mouth is).
That’s when AmeriCorps stepped up the plate. And countless others who live all over Western New York… and beyond. Harvey told me that a woman from Canada arrived to the scene the other day to observe what was taking place. When she realized that one of the houses was not going to be rehabbed she decided to donate the siding and the roofing – there was a lack of materials, not people. That brought the total number of houses to around thirty. Another guy showed up to rake leaves and when organizers asked him what he liked to do besides raking leaves he told them that he owned a fencing company. It turns out that there’s a great need for new fences. So he took his men off of other jobs and donated the fences and the labor. Check off fences from the list.
One of the houses that is being worked on was on the City’s demo list a while ago. Thanks to Harvey and the West Side Community Collaborative (using housing court) this house is now the premiere house on the block (see bottom photo). The owner purchased it for $1and has been steadily fixing it up. Now he’s got some reinforcements. The volunteers working on the West Side are in constant motion as if thousands of ants that have just discovered a sand dune and need shelter before a storm. There are people on roofs and machines and porches and ladders – a mosaic of blue shirts has enveloped pocket parks, houses and gardens. One such corner pocket park almost missed the boat. The park was owned by a defunct Canadian company (go figure) and over the years it had turned into a drop zone for drug dealers. When activists heard that the park was off the list due to red tape, they called Judge Nowak who pulled some strings and opened the doors for a landscape makeover. That park is now being considered a lynchpin puzzle piece to connect the rehab dots. The red tape has been cut in order for this project to be completed in time. May we hopefully learn some valuable lessons along the way.
120 ReTree trees are being planted. Sidewalks are being replaced. Attractive light standards are going to get installed (hopefully). Graffiti is being removed. Lawns are being hydro seeded. The list goes on and on. Extreme Makeover has provided an opportunity for a city to come together and work miracles. West Siders are not only working on their own houses, they are coming to help their neighbors as much as they can. And the excitement has attracted a small corporate, media and community frenzy. I ran into Councilman Kearns and he told me that with the City’s multi-million dollar surplus, there’s no reason to stop here. He thinks that at least two of these projects could be conducted each year. That money can be leveraged in so many productive ways that the resources would escalate. And why not? With the City’s help and the support of the business and residential community, there is no reason to stop here. It started with Extreme Makeover – it will ultimately act as a reminder of why we choose to live here. A community has spoken and is acting only as a City of Good Neighbors should. Thanks to all who have volunteered on this terrific project. Go Buffalo!