After visiting Occupy WNY’s 1370 Michigan Avenue house last week, my brain has been spinning with all of the potential. Chris Phillips and Christina Cooke (lead photo) offered to give me a tour, and while we walked from room to room I kept thinking to myself, “This is not reinventing the wheel here… grassroots Buffalo organizations have been hard at work for years in order to make sure that projects like this are possible.” Just think of the work that PUSH Buffalo has been doing on the West Side, purchasing derelict properties, fixing them up and finding owners hoping to reside in the structures. Grassroots Gardens has been turning vacant lots into productive gardens. Massachusetts Avenue Project has been conducting urban farming while getting fresh produce into the hands of the local residents. Buffalo ReUse and ReUse Action have been deconstructing and reconstructing homes and businesses all over the city. Buffalo Tool Library (a collaborative effort of Buffalo ReUse, PUSH Buffalo and Grassroots Gardens) has been making sure that tools are available for people working on these types of projects. New grassroots groups are springing up all the time, including Buffalo Barn Raisers, dedicated to teaching community members how to get just about any job done through teamwork. Even the refugee populations are getting into the act, by investing time and effort towards stabilizing neighborhoods.
I’m not saying that all of these organizations are going to step in and do the job for Occupy WNY, but I’m sure that they are all willing to pass on the communal knowledge that is worth its weight in gold. What we need to remember is that there are always up and comers (like Occupiers) who are looking to dive into projects in order to promote the city and its people. The Occupy House needs a ton of work, and Chris and Christina are just two of the motivated souls who are willing to take on the tasks, though they admit that the learning curve will be steep. A number of Occupiers spent the past weekend clearing out room after room of garbage. “Things went very well,” Chris told me. “We cleaned up the yard, organized all the garbage for pickup (renting a dumpster in a week or so, painfully massive amounts of garbage), did some more cleaning, measured windows for replacements… spoke with the owner of Buffalo ReUse, and she gracefully pledged her full support of the project, so we will be obtaining many of our needed supplies from them… this is great news for the project, we’re very excited to have her on board. She said she would be willing to do whatever it takes to see a revival of the East Side, and we’re happy to work with her to achieve that goal. We meet with Councilmember Russell, from the University District, on Tuesday to build more bridges with the City. We’re also encouraging all supporters of the idea, and of Occupy, to write to Darius Pridgen, the Councilmember for the 1370 Michigan House, to ask him to grant us the house for free as an act of good faith between the City and its citizens. Many people have already written him, and we hope many more continue to do so. It costs anywhere between $10k-$20k for demolition, and as long as we are doing volunteer service work to raise property values and renovate neglected properties, we would like the City’s support and assistance.”
By contacting Buffalo ReUse, Occupy is already on their way. And with the help of The City (cross your fingers), the group is making steps toward building its arsenal of allies. It just so happens that Buffalo ReUSe has already been busy in previous years sprucing up the neighborhood (see post). During my visit to the Occupy house, Chris and Christina admitted that they are still trying to figure out what the best use for the house will be. I suggested that they visit the Nickel City Cooperative house (‘Ol Wondermoth) located at the corner of Elmwood and North. Either that or its westward neighbor Plankton House on Fargo. Once again, there are examples of successful cooperative living situations in the city that should be examined. Not that structured cooperative living is the only way to go, but it’s at least a viable option.
View from the attic of the Occupy House – three houses in good shape. Building blocks for the street.
At this point, Occupy WNY is not opposed to asking for help and direction. In fact, they welcome it. They feel that they can have a big impact on the East Side, and they feel like the neighborhood is behind them. After all, no one wants a fire hazard house on a street, and if that means that these young go-getters are able to turn around just one house – that’s one house that didn’t end up in a dump. It’s also an inspiring project that will end up getting the proper tools of the trade into the hands of those that apparently have boundless energy and fortitude to get the job done.
The time is now. If you would like to help this real grassroots effort, to ensure that it becomes reality, please call Chris Phillips at 716.316.5415. If you’ve got any extra roofing materials, construction supplies, or you just want to give some guidance, these guys and gals are all ears and are committed to fixing up this house any way that they can.