The New York Times Home and Garden section has just published a long story, by reporter Penelope Green, featuring a growing group of small, neighborhood saving, property developers in Buffalo. The Times labeled them micro developers for the diminutive scale of their house by house renovation efforts in Buffalo’s (mostly west side) troubled neighborhoods. That description is apt but, I like the term “neighborhood saving” as a descriptor better. As The Times notes, these micro developers are in the development game to save these neighborhoods from continued decline as much, if not more so than for the profit. They see great potential in Buffalo and believe that strategic investment in its historic urban fabric will yield tremendous returns in the form of a renewed and once again vibrant city. The added sweetener of profit, if it comes, will allow them to do even more to make Buffalo the place they believe it should and can be.
These youthful and energetic new developers represent the less flashy face of preservation in Buffalo. This is not a new trend. Neighborhood saving has been going on for decades in Buffalo. Early neighborhood saves such as Allentown are now taken for granted as the beautiful historic places they are today. Today’s young urbanists, and preservationists, and those just wanting their street to be a nice place to live may be a bit younger and poorer than past generations. But, their numbers are growing and their work is spreading into previously unthinkable parts of the city.
The complainers tell preservationists to put their money where their mouth is and that is exactly what they have been doing. These are the people doing the dirty hard work that mostly goes unnoticed by the local press and by the sit back and complain crowd. These are the people laying the groundwork for a city that people will want to live in again. Their numbers are small and growing. They are vastly outnumbered by the slum lords and often have to fight a city that has minimal strategic planning and a myopic demolition mentality. Their resources are mostly in the form of muscle and personal time. Each house they save is a house that does not go to the landfill. They see that one less abandoned drug house can save a street. Fifty years of mass urban demolition has not stopped population loss, nor has the crime rate gone down, nor has it saved one neighborhood from decline. Maybe it is time for the city to recognize its micro developers as an alternate to demolition and empty land.
Two of several images which accompany the NY Times story in a slide show.
All images shown here are from the NY Times online story post published November 6 2013.