By Douglas Gibbons:
The following diagram (see below) illustrates a pattern of growth and decline that is commonplace within America’s Rust Belt Cities. Overly dependent upon outdated and monopolized industries, the city of Buffalo now features an excess of structural and infrastructural waste. Unused housing stock, coupled with an excess of roads and highways, now comprise an urban shell of yesterday’s economic might.
Buffalo’s current infrastructural makeup has devolved due to a dire series of socio-economic consequences. Urban dwelling has failed to compete with suburban growth, whose townships increased greatly in size from 1950 to 1970. This trend was catalyzed by an increased demand for housing following World War II, and catalyzed by changes directed by federal housing policies. These regulations (the National Housing Act, in particular) reduced risks to lenders and caused interest rates to drop significantly, as these incentives promoted single-family housing development in peripheral residential neighbourhoods.
As an area in which labour is cheap and materials are limited, perhaps yesterday’s structures provide an opportunity for tomorrow’s progression. The greatest potential for continued structural utilization therefore rests within the reuse of unused buildings and land (unlike the demise of 639 High Street, but much like Aaron Bartley’s land use aspirations spelled out in a recent Huffington Post article).
*Lead image: Painting Sara M. Zak – Preservation-Ready Sites painting of 630 High Street from 2009
A growing number of grassroots communities are fully entrenched within the process of recycling building materials. Buffalo ReUse, a local social enterprise group, uses building deconstruction to systematically dismantle dilapidated structures. All salvageable materials are sold, and range from doors and ceramic sinks to joists and beams. While residential deconstruction constitutes a large component of their work, the group’s overall initiative is better described as “re-building through dismantlement” (Architect Dennis Maher).
(Is The City working with Buffalo ReUse to ‘quarry’ building materials at 630 High Street that would otherwise end up in a landfill?)
Such initiatives confront contemporary society with its fears of wasting and decline, two terms often frowned upon by Westernized society. While a sense of purity and permanence often pervades our communities, municipalities must learn to brace for the uncertainties and temporality of economic development. Author Michael Southworth writes, “We live today, and not even so recently as the 19th Century. Effervescent or glacial, everything changes. Life is growth and decline, transformation and elimination. We might learn to take pleasure in that to maintain our continuity.”
^Click to enlarge