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UB Students Study and Plan the Future of one section of Niagara Street | Part 3

Following is a plan, designed by four SUNY Buffalo students, whose project was to analyze the current conditions of a Niagara Street neighborhood, and then come up with a number of solutions to revitalize the corridor stretch. The students who participated in this undertaking are Conor Flynn, Anastasia Stumpf, Elahe Hosseini and Kristen Flick. The report will be broken down into a series of informational articles, starting with an introduction to the concept behind the initiative. Before we get started, I asked the four students as series of questions, and I will post one before each part of the series… also see part 1 and Part 2.

What we hope comes of it…

“Having no formal training in urban planning, and seeing that only one of us is from this area (Alden), while the rest of us are from elsewhere (Batavia, Rochester, Westchester), we do not suppose that this is a perfect plan. We further don’t suppose that any other plans for the area are “wrong.” All we offer are ideas, hopefully well-grounded in basic principles of urban planning and community development. We like Buffalo, and hopes this starts a conversation. We would like to live here, if economic conditions would permit. We would like to see the city and region do well. Unfortunately, if wishes were horses, all beggars would ride.

“Perhaps most importantly, publicizing things like this will help people to remember that the University and the cluster of higher education institutions are quite possibly the best asset this community has. We would like to see more collaborative work between students, community leaders, community members, and private industry. There is a constant and steady flow of students through the halls of SUNY Buffalo, Canisius, Buff State, etc. Students are the region’s greatest export: we import young minds, add value, and export them. Often times we hear about how we have to “keep our students here.” Perhaps the conversation should be changed to export them at an even greater rate, in order to keep the cycle flowing.” – Conor Flynn

Proposed Development Changes

To achieve an Upper-Niagara community that is successful both now and in the future, any proposed development plans must follow a two-pronged approach.

First, a successful plan must focus on those already living and working in Upper-Niagara to provide the amenities and services needed by the existing population. Proposals that push out existing community members, or fail to gain the support of community members, might foster temporary, superficial improvements, but will not achieve long-term success. Proposed changes aimed at improving the lives of those already in the Upper-Niagara neighborhood will consider existing relationships between residents, business members, and other community members. In an effort to understand the dynamics of the Upper-Niagara community and the needs and wants of its members, we sent a survey to local business owners and stakeholders. Based on these survey responses, as well as our analysis of the community’s demographics and crime statistics, we suggest several changes we hope will improve life for those already in Upper-Niagara.

Second, a successful plan must consider the people it hopes to attract to the community in the future. In addition to providing for the people already in the community, proposed changes must attract people outside the community to enter the neighborhood, either by moving to the area or by visiting the community for shopping, dining, or entertainment. Proposals must attract these future community members to create a neighborhood with a diversity of uses.

Our proposal for the Upper-Niagara neighborhood includes changes that fall into four categories: security and safety improvements; surface and cosmetic changes; zoning changes; and new industries and amenities. The changes in each category correspond to either one or both aspects of the two-pronged approach, improving life for those already in Upper-Niagara and attracting outsiders to come to Upper-Niagara in the future. Our suggestions draw from Jane Jacobs and other urban planners’ observations and recommendations, our own observations during a neighborhood walkabout, and the survey responses we received from Upper-Niagara stakeholders.

What do local property owners think could be improved?

Survey responses indicate that local stakeholders have several, similar concerns about the neighborhood. In fact, recurring responses centered around: better housing conditions; better traffic control and pedestrian safety; and better infrastructure.

For example, Patti Jablonski-Dopkin, General Manager of Upper-Niagara’s Urban Roots, said that the city “needs to address the housing situation and hold slumlords accountable.”*50 Jablonski-Dopkin also cited a need for improved infrastructure, specifically better sidewalks.*51

Alex Jordan, Account Manager at Resurgence Brewing Company, echoed Jablonski- Dopkin’s concerns about slumlords, and also mentioned a need for improved traffic flow on Niagara Street.*52

Matt Hartrich, Vice President of Schneider Development, was concerned about the public streetscape and infrastructure. Hartrich suggested creating a “more pedestrian friendly [environment] along Niagara Street to connect the surrounding residential neighborhoods with the Niagara Street commercial corridor.”*53

Moreover, the survey responses included suggestions to make Upper-Niagara more visually attractive for visitors. While cosmetic suggestions seemed common, the principal improvement suggested had more to do with improving the area’s perceived image. Jordan aptly noted: “[I]t seems that most people not from the area are still under the preconception that the crime/terror/and violence are still that of what they were years ago. It . . . needs to be made clear to the people of the north and south towns who fear to venture this way [that the area has changed].”*54

Based on this, and other responses, we suggest safety and aesthetic improvements to attract outsiders to visit Upper-Niagara, as well as several improvements and additions to enhance the lives of those living and working in Upper-Niagara.

Security and Safety Improvements

First, we suggest several changes to improve the perception of safety and security in Upper-Niagara. As the earlier crime discussion indicates,*55 Upper-Niagara is a safe neighborhood, but, unless people perceive the neighborhood as safe, they will not visit. During a speech in Detroit,*56 Andrés Duany, architect and New Urbanism urban planner, explained the importance of neighborhoods “feeling” safe. Because people are risk-averse, they need visual assurance an area is safe; they must perceive the area is low-crime.*57 Without this “civic decorum,” people will not feel comfortable in the neighborhood, and, thus, will not visit.*58 With a few changes and additions, Upper-Niagara can acquire a perception of safety to match its actual safety.

– Street Lights

Increasing the number of street lights is one way to increase the perceived safety of the neighborhood. Lights should be added in multiple locations throughout the neighborhood, including on Niagara Street, along the sidewalks, in parking lots, and in alleyways. With more lights in each of those areas, all corners of the neighborhood will be brighter. People will be able to walk out of the bar, through the parking lot, down the alley, along the sidewalk, and to their vehicles parked on Niagara Street without worrying about potential dangers lurking in the shadows. More and better lighting will encourage people to visit and walk around Upper- Niagara after daylight, and will increase the amount of “eyes on the street,” which will further improve the perception of safety in the neighborhood. Ideally, the new street lights should be a model that provides “whiter” and cleaner light than the sodium-based glow of the streetlights at present. The choice of non-standard streetlamps that reflect the neighborhood’s industrial-artsy character will make Upper-Niagara more aesthetically pleasing at the same time it increases the perception of safety.

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These streetlights, located in the St.-Henri neighborhood of Montreal, are an example of lights that could increase the safety of Upper-Niagara while contributing to its artsy-industrial character.*59

– Police Cameras

Another change that will increase the perception of safety in Upper-Niagara is the addition of police cameras. These cameras should be located in plain sight and be numerous enough so that a camera is visible at each point in the neighborhood. Not only will these cameras reassure residents and visitors that the neighborhood is safe, but they will actually work to reduce and prevent crime by adding “eyes on the street” and generally acting as deterrents to criminal activity.

– Blue Light System

Finally, addition of a blue light system will make Upper-Niagara feel safer. Blue light systems, like those prevalent on college campuses, provide another visual reminder of surveillance. As with the police cameras suggested above, a blue light would be visible from every point in the neighborhood, in order to reassure pedestrians that, if a crime were to occur or were they to feel unsafe, help would be within reach. We suggest installing blue light posts on the sidewalks along Niagara Street and in the parking lots of local businesses. To defray costs, private security guards already employed by local business could monitor and staff the blue light system in a neighborhood watch style association. Private securities’ willingness to participate would need to be assessed, but they likely would be willing to help because the businesses they serve would benefit from an increased number patrons that would result from an increased perception of safety. Use of a system, like the blue light system with which many people are familiar, has the unique ability to instantly increase the perception of safety because people already know its benefits and effectiveness.

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These photographs depict the blue light systems present on two local university campuses: Buffalo State, at left, and SUNY Geneseo, at right. Upper-Niagara could establish a similar system, staffed and monitored by private security already employed by local businesses.*60

Ultimately, the addition of streetlights, police cameras, and a blue light system will ensure that there always are “eyes on the street” in Upper-Niagara and serve as constant visual reminders of the neighborhood’s safety. These safety and security improvements will foster Duany’s “civic decorum” and will encourage people from outside the neighborhood to visit Upper-Niagara.

 – Surface and Cosmetic Changes

A combination of small, aesthetic changes will make Upper-Niagara a more visually pleasing environment and hopefully will attract visitors from outside the neighborhood. Aesthetically pleasing elements already exist in pockets of Upper-Niagara, and those already- present elements should inspire additional improvements.

Walking around the neighborhood, we noticed Upper-Niagara has a distinctly artsy- industrial character. The industrial element comes from the industries present in the neighborhood, both currently and historically, and the warehouse-like architecture of their buildings.*61 The artsy element comes from other services and organizations present in the neighborhood. Sugar City, an arts collective and art gallery,*62 fosters the community’s artistic character and attracts artists and art connoisseurs to Upper-Niagara. Further, Buffalo Alternative Therapies’ building, with its graphic mural painted on the exterior brick facing Niagara Street, contributes to the artsy appearance of the neighborhood.*63

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This structure, located between two warehouse buildings on Niagara Street, with its steel beams, brick, and concrete, is an example of the industrial character that already exists in Upper- Niagara.

The overall inspiration behind the aesthetic vision for Upper-Niagara can be traced to one building: Community Beer Works. After viewing the neighborhood, we noticed the exterior of Community Beer Works embodies the artsy-industrial vibe the Upper-Niagara exudes now, and the character we hope to build on for the future. Community Beer Works’ brick facade, warehouse-like structure, and large, street-facing garage door add to its industrial appearance. The garage door’s lime-green color, the cobalt blue front door, the striped awning, and the tubing-enclosed planters in the parking lot give Community Beer Works an artsy appearance as well. Use of similar pops of bright color and recycling of industrial materials on other buildings and properties in Upper-Niagara will solidify its unique character and make the neighborhood an attractive and interesting area people from outside the community want to visit.

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At left is the exterior of Community Beer Works. Note the architecture and bright colors. At right are planters in the parking lot adjoining Community Beer Works. Note the industrial materials. These elements depict Upper-Niagara’s artsy-industrial character.

– Landscaping & Outdoor Furniture

Landscaping and addition of outdoor furniture would make Upper-Niagara a more desirable location to visit, while also increasing the perception of safety in the neighborhood. First, the property surrounding each of the buildings on Niagara Street should be cleaned up. Properties where landscaping already exists should be manicured: leaves and weeds should be removed, grass should be trimmed, and bushes and shrubs should be trimmed. These small changes will give show the properties are well-maintained and that their owners care about the properties and the neighborhood, which gives the neighborhood an increased impression of safety. In open areas on properties where no landscaping currently exists, addition of planters or other landscaping elements will spruce up the neighborhood. Additions may be small, like the flower pots outside the doors of Buffalo Alternative Therapies, and may be placed in any open space, like the planters in Community Beer Works’ parking lot. Landscaping and plants need not be present in every open space on every property, but there should be some landscaping visible from all vantage points in the neighborhood.

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At left is an example of well-maintained landscaping, as seen on the Community Beer Works property. At right is an example of planters that can be added to properties currently lacking landscaping, a small and simple addition.

Another change that would improve the aesthetic appearance of the neighborhood, while increasing the perception of safety, is the addition of benches. These benches should be placed along the sidewalks of Niagara Street. As with landscaping, there should be a bench visible from every vantage point in the neighborhood. A possible reference point is one bench per block on each side of Niagara Street. One such bench currently exists on the west side of Niagara Street between Northwest Community Mental Health Center and Resurgence Brewing Company. The design of this bench, seen below, can be a model for other benches. In addition to making the neighborhood visually appealing, benches will make Upper-Niagara safer by increasing the amount of “eyes on the street.” As Jane Jacobs noted, “eyes on the street” are most effective when they result from incidental contact.*64 Existence of benches hopefully would increase the pedestrian traffic and people present in the neighborhood for leisure and socialization. These people will come into incidental contact with each other while going about their business on Niagara Street, and thus will be more willing to protect the neighborhood and the people in it from any crime or illicit activity that may occur.

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This bench currently exists in the neighborhood. Similar benches should be added in every block, on each side of Niagara Street to make Upper-Niagara visually appealing and increase the “eyes on the street.”

– Art and Painted Utility Boxes

The addition of painted utility boxes and other local art would improve the Upper- Niagara’s aesthetic while also bringing other benefits to the neighborhood. First and foremost, works of art sprinkled throughout Upper-Niagara will add to the visual appeal of the neighborhood, while also solidifying its artsy-industrial character. Examples of possible locations for the art include: utility boxes, garbage cans, and the exterior of buildings. The decorated utility boxes and garbage cans in the Elmwood Village of Buffalo can serve as a model for Upper-Niagara. The mural painted on the exterior brick of Buffalo Alternative Therapies provides a model for murals that other property and business owners hopefully will follow in the future.

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At left is a painted utility box located at the corner of Elmwood Avenue and West Ferry Street in the Elmwood Village. Similar art could increase the aesthetic of Upper-Niagara. At left is a close-up of the mural on the exterior of Buffalo Alternative Therapies, located on Niagara Street in Upper-Niagara.

Neighborhood art will provide benefits to Upper-Niagara beyond purely aesthetic, especially if created by local artists. Soliciting local artists to create art for the neighborhood will foster a sense of community and investment in the community because individual community members will have contributed to Upper-Niagara’s renaissance. Sugar City, the neighborhood’s arts collective, is a potential source of local artists. Another possible source is middle or high school students from one of the schools in the neighborhood. Involving the local schools comes with the added benefit of involving the younger generation in Upper-Niagara’s redevelopment, and instilling in them a sense of pride in their community.

Studies have shown that art benefits a community in several ways. According to research conducted by the Social Impact of the Arts Project at the University of Pennsylvania, in collaboration with the Reinvestment Fund and City of Philadelphia, “investment in the arts and cultural resources…support[s] job growth, stimulat[es] commerce, and sustain[s] neighborhoods by stabilizing property values.”*65 Additional research by the Project also revealed that where there is art in a community, there are also lower recorded levels of social stress as well as reported incidents of racial and ethnic harassment.*66

– Property Maintenance and Cleanup

Finally, Upper-Niagara’s aesthetic appearance would improve with cleaner and better maintained properties in the neighborhood. As mentioned above, there are several well-kept and aesthetically pleasing properties in Upper-Niagara, but there also are several unkempt and deteriorating properties, which sully the overall appearance of the neighborhood and contribute to outsiders’ perception of the neighborhood as unsafe. Improvements to these problem properties need not be expensive or extensive; in many cases, updates may be as simple as trimming grass, replacing chipping exterior paint, and removing junked cars from view on Niagara Street. With these improvements, the neighborhood will appear safer and prettier, and others will be more willing to invest in neighboring properties.

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These properties, located on Niagara Street, are examples of properties that would benefit from updating and general maintenance.

Ideally, owners of these properties and other unmaintained properties in Upper-Niagara would make the improvements suggested above on their own or when asked. Realistically, however, these property owners must be incentivized to make these improvements. The most feasible incentive is code enforcement. Enforcement of code violations would have the aesthetic benefit of ridding the neighborhood of trash, weeds, and abandoned vehicles; the financial benefit of increasing property values; and the safety benefit of decreases in crime and safety hazards like leaky roofs and broken plumbing.*67 Because some community members can be expected to resist code enforcement efforts, it is important to have a strategy before commencing enforcement efforts.

One potential strategy is a “police-code-community partnership,” which, as its name suggests, would combine efforts of the Buffalo Police Department, code enforcers, and Upper- Niagara community members to capitalize on the competitive advantages of each.*68 First, members of this partnership would work together to identify problems and problem properties.*69 The partnership would allow for efficient code enforcement, with community members familiar with the neighborhood and its properties identifying the problems, leaving code enforcers and police to investigate complaints and sanction violators.*70 Second, code enforcers and police would conduct joint investigations to leverage each agency’s respective strengths.*71 The police’s arrest power and code enforcers’ ability to impose administrative and civil sanctions on delinquent property owners provide a potent combination that would encourage code compliance, hopefully soon after commencement.*72

This informal partnership also could be developed into a formal, long-term partnership.*73 Because forming such a formal partnership is a “big hurdle,”*74 and because the code violations in Upper-Niagara appear minor, the informal partnership likely will be sufficient to incentivize property cleanup in the neighborhood.*75 Even a light code enforcement effort would send the message to neighborhood property owners that the city is paying attention to Upper-Niagara, and they then will think twice about the costs of sanctions for code violations before failing to maintain their properties. Eventually, once all properties in the area are up to code and visually appealing, the internal enforcement mechanism of reputation in the community will maintain the improvements initially achieved by the partnership.

Each of these aesthetic improvements, while small individually, will combine to make Upper-Niagara an attractive and safe neighborhood that people want to visit.

 – New Amenities

As with the aesthetic changes discussed above, we also propose a number of new amenities meant to enhance the lives of current community members, as well as to attract new residents to the area. Given the amount of under-used space in the area, our goal was to come up with amenities that would not only make Upper-Niagara a convenient and desirable place to live, but that would also help to foster a sense of community. While we do hope that added amenities will attract new businesses, residents and visitors to the area, we also hope that many of these ideas will address the underlying needs of the pre-existing community.

1) Indoor Community Garden

Presently, Upper-Niagara is a community submerged in poverty. Like many communities of poverty, it suffers from too few “eyes on the street”, reputational dysfunction, community-wide low educational achievement, and lack of access to healthy and fresh foods. Furthermore, because so little of its space is efficiently utilized, it also lacks spaces for the community to gather and establish relationships with one another.

One of the most obviously underutilized sites in the neighborhood is the brownfield site located at 1318 Niagara Street, which in actuality is a vacant lot surrounded by a chain link fence. Given the challenges the community currently faces, we felt that this site might best be used as the location of an indoor-outdoor community garden. Although there are numerous community gardens throughout Buffalo, the Upper-Niagara garden would uniquely provide both outdoor and indoor garden beds to allow for year-round cultivation.

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A community garden located at 269 Dearborn Street, Buffalo. Our proposal similarly hopes to clean up a vacant city space, however we propose the addition of indoor gardening space to allow year round growth.*76

Our decision to establish a community garden was informed by the results of various studies. Based on our research, we discovered that many of the noted benefits of such gardens directly address the challenges that Upper-Niagara’s community currently faces. Not only do community gardens provide access to affordable, fresh produce, they are also noted to increase property values and attract new small businesses to an area.*77 Community gardens provide further value to a neighborhood by creating jobs and educational opportunities that are beneficial for young students, recent immigrants, and the homeless.*78 Notably, in neighborhoods that house large numbers of recent non-English speaking immigrants, community gardens are incredibly useful places for cultural exchange.*79

One of the reasons that gardens make a neighborhood more attractive to small businesses and residents alike is that they are fairly effective in reducing the amount of crime in a neighborhood. Not only do they place more “eyes on the street,” but they generally enhance the quality of life and pride that community members experience in the neighborhood. Because the gardens function as community space, they encourage residents to form bonds with one another and share community-wide concerns, including the occurrence or fear of crime.*80

There are numerous non-profit and for-profit community gardening groups in Buffalo, including Grass Roots Gardens and Urban Roots. There are also a number of organizations that work toward re-purposing former brownfield sites. Although any plans for this specific site would be on hold until the DEC has completed its investigation, we would encourage a developer to form a partnership with at least one of these gardening groups.

2) Upper-Niagara Bicycle Path

The addition of a bicycle path to Upper-Niagara would bring many benefits to the neighborhood. The path model we suggest includes narrowing Niagara Street to traffic from four lanes to two lanes and adding bicycle lanes on each side of Niagara Street. Instead of the customary bicycle lane model, where the traffic pattern is: traffic lane; bicycle; parked vehicle; pedestrian, we suggest a model with a traffic pattern of: traffic lane; parked vehicle; bicycle; pedestrian. Our proposed model, illustrated below, insulates bicyclists from vehicular traffic with a wall of parked vehicles. This makes bicycle travel safer for bicyclists and less annoying for motorists. We further suggest lining the bicycle lanes with cobblestone. The cobblestone addition will serve the dual purposes of slowing vehicular traffic and enhancing Upper-Niagara’s aesthetic appearance.

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This bicycle path, located in Copenhagen, Denmark, represents the bicyclist-friendly model we suggest for Upper-Niagara.*81

The Upper-Niagara Bicycle Path and associated traffic flow changes would not only add an amenity to the neighborhood, but could be used to connect Upper-Niagara with nearby neighborhoods such as Grant/Ferry or Elmwood Village. With the path, bicyclists would be able to traverse the area on their bicycles, either for exercise, pass through the neighborhood when moving from one destination to another, or for traveling to destinations within the neighborhood.

The path and the related street narrowing will solve some of the traffic and safety issues discussed earlier, including the tendency for speeding on the street. With fewer lanes of traffic, motorists will be forced to slow down, and vehicles likely will travel at speeds closer to the speed limit. The decreased speed of traffic on Niagara Street will make Upper-Niagara a more attractive pedestrian environment, and hopefully will increase the volume of pedestrians in the neighborhood. More pedestrian traffic in the area will, in turn, increase the number of “eyes on the street” in Upper-Niagara, thereby increasing the actual and perceived safety in the neighborhood.

In addition to making the neighborhood more pedestrian and visitor friendly in appearance, functionality, safety, we believe that the creation of a bike path will be important in attracting small businesses to Upper-Niagara. In neighborhoods where bike paths have been created, increases in bicycle traffic correlate to an increase in customers and visitors to an area.*82 In fact, studies show that visiting bicyclists do spend money- in Ohio, the average cyclist will spend approximately $18 along her bike route; in California a cyclist will spend nearly $34.*83 Further, a study conducted in Leadville, Colorado, noted a 19% increase in sales tax revenue after the city constructed a new bikeway. *84 Similar studies in Wisconsin showed a significant increase in property value after the opening of bike paths.*85

The obvious hiccup here is Buffalo’s infamous winters. This does not mean, however, that small businesses cannot enjoy the benefits of increased bicycling traffic during Buffalo’s warmer months.

3) An Upper-Niagara Grocery Store

Inner-city communities, particularly communities of poverty and color, are notoriously deprived of access to affordable and quality groceries.*86 Currently, Upper-Niagara appears to be one such underserved community. The creation of a grocery store in the neighborhood would solve not only this problem, but would also be a convenience for future residents, and provide economic and safety advantages to the neighborhood as well.

At the most basic level, the addition of a grocery store to Upper-Niagara would make the neighborhood more livable, enhancing the overall walkability of the area and providing a convenience for residents new and old. Economically, the addition of a grocery store also makes sense. Not only will this create jobs for people living in and around Upper-Niagara, but it will also capture money that is currently being spent outside of the community and further increase the neighborhood’s sales-tax revenue.*87

Notably, similar to the various other amenities we have suggested, because a grocery store will generate increased foot traffic, it will also be beneficial in terms of safety and in terms of attracting other small businesses to the area.

4) Retail, Restaurants & Coffee Shops

Encouraging retail businesses to open their doors in Upper-Niagara will also provide important economic and safety benefits for the community. While incentivizing the opening of small business motivates many of the improvements we suggest, it is also worth mentioning that the strongest incentive for small business owners to establish their businesses in Upper-Niagara is the fact that retailers who open in “disinvested communities” tend to benefit from limited competition and an available work force.*88

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The benefits of retail, however, are not limited strictly to business owners. Instead, there are several positives for residents as well. Not only will the establishment of shops and restaurants place more eyes on the street and increase the overall safety of the neighborhood, but they will also create job opportunities, increase sales tax revenue and property values, and help to create a neighborhood identity that residents, new and old, can take pride in.*89

Our goal in drawing business into the area is to encourage the opening of local, small businesses. This decision falls in line with theories of civic economics, which argue that by encouraging residents and visitors to shop local, the entire community will be benefitted because the local business owner will reinvestment profits in the neighborhood at a much higher rate.*90 Even more simply, however, we believe that encouraging the establishment of Buffalo business will help create a cohesive neighborhood identity for Upper-Niagara.

5) Other Services Vital to a Functioning Neighborhood

During our walk-around of Upper-Niagara, we discussed the kinds of conveniences that we believed would generally make the neighborhood more livable. Much of what we discussed centered around increasing the functionality of the neighborhood by establishing banks, pharmacies, and gas stations, as well as making the area a more attractive place to visit or live, such as movie theatres, bars, restaurants etc.

6) Lofts & Mixed Rent Apartments

Since there is currently very little desirable housing on Upper-Niagara itself, we also suggest the refurbishing of existing, past-industrial space to provide apartments for anticipated, and current, community members. Because there is so much underutilized and abandoned former warehouse space, we believe that Upper-Niagara would become an incredibly desirable neighborhood if there were more housing available on the Niagara Street itself.

While refurbished loft housing is often criticized as too expensive, we suggest the building of a generous number of apartments, available at varying price points. The idea would be to have diverse pricing, with higher priced lofts allowing for the discounting of lower priced units.

7) Zoning Changes

In addition to the safety and aesthetic changes suggested above, rezoning of Niagara Street would improve Upper-Niagara for those already present in the neighborhood and for those who will come in the future. Most of the buildings on Niagara Street are warehouse-like, a lingering effect of Upper-Niagara’s industrial past.*91 As one would guess by driving down Niagara Street, the western side of this portion of Niagara Street is zoned light industrial.*92 The buildings along this stretch of Niagara Street, if occupied at all, certainly are not occupied at night. Outside of working hours, the buildings are dark, highlighted only by the lights of Resurgence Brewing Company, which is not open very late. The lack of after-working-hours pedestrian traffic, or human presence generally, is problematic because, without people, there are no “eyes on the street.” Lack of “eyes on the street” contributes to the perception of Upper- Niagara’s lack of safety.

Zoning may provide a solution to the lack of “eyes on the street” that result from an all- industrial neighborhood. Perhaps the best solution is to rezone the western side of Niagara Street to some form of mixed use. Mixed-use zoning would allow a variety of businesses and establishments to move to Upper-Niagara, and there then would be some businesses that will open earlier than, or close later than, the industrial businesses currently there in the neighborhood. The diversity of uses, both in type and in time-of-day, that would result from mixed-use zoning would create “eyes on the street” at all hours of the day, each day of the week, and the overall perception of Upper-Niagara would be safer.

F) Anticipated Roadblocks – Reputation is Everything

The current perception of the West Side is that it is unsafe, both from crime and from the adverse health effects of pollution. Although we discuss suggestions for improving the perception of crime-related safety above, our project will also face tremendous environmental challenges. Environmental contamination has long presented significant obstacles to the use and growth of West Side neighborhoods, particularly Upper-Niagara.*93 Our project must address four substantial pollutant-related challenges caused by high levels of (1) air pollution, (2) water pollution, (3) soil contamination, and (4) lead contamination.*94

While the geographic location and industrial character of the neighborhood contributed to the much celebrated cultural and socioeconomic diversity in the area, these attributes have also made pollution an ever-present specter.*95 From the beginning, the industries along Niagara Street dumped various toxic pollutants into neighboring bodies of water.*96 Without any governmental oversight, the disposal practices of local industry rendered the West Side’s water resources entirely unfishable and undrinkable as early as the 1900s.*97 Even the Erie Canal felt the environmental impact of the neighborhood’s many factories, and was filled in between Buffalo and Tonawanda by the 1930s.98

Today, the effects of past and present pollution continue to plague West Side residents and serve as a serious disincentive to neighborhood development.*99 One of the most problematic forms of pollution currently impacting Upper-Niagara is air toxicity. Unfortunately, because the proximity of the I-190 and the Peace Bridge, high levels of vehicle exhaust has been show to have a disproportionately adverse impact on West Side residents.*100 In fact, the New York Department of Health has determined that the West Side’s high levels of air pollution places residents an increased risk for developing serious pulmonary diseases, including lung cancer.*101

Water resources in the neighborhood also pose significant health problems for residents and visitors. Not only was the area’s water historically polluted by unregulated former West Side industries, but they continue to be contaminated by the city’s inadequate sewer system.*102 Sadly, the Niagara River frequently suffers from incredibly high levels of bacteria due to sewer and stormwater overflow, causing people who consume fish from the river to suffer serious health problems. *103

Soil and lead contamination also pose serious problems to Upper-Niagara development projects. Nearly all of the current soil contamination issues are a result of prior improper disposal and unregulated industrial pollution.*104 As discussed above, Niagara Street is home to several Brownfield sites, one of which sits directly at the center or our proposed project. This particular site was contaminated by leaking underground storage tanks and oil drums, and continues to be investigated and remediated by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.*105 Efficient use of that particular parcel will depend on how quickly the site can be remediated, as well as what incentives can be developed to encourage investment in developing this parcel.

The overwhelming presence of lead in the older homes and buildings of the West Side also poses substantial challenges on Upper-Niagara. Although lead paint was banned more than 30 years ago, lead paint remediation has been an arduous process throughout the entire city, and perhaps most difficult on the notoriously impoverished West Side.*106 As many of our survey responses indicated, the refusal of slumlords to bring rental properties up to code is a persisting problem on the West Side. Beyond mere aesthetic problems, many of these older homes contain serious lead hazards that can have significant health consequences on younger children.

Because of the neighborhood’s reputation for pollution-related health problems, attracting new residents and investors to the area will require remediation to the area’s soil, water, air, buildings, and reputation.


50 Survey Response of Patti Jablonski-Dopkin, Appendix A: Survey Responses, infra. 51 See id.

52 See Survey Response of Alex Jordan, Appendix A: Survey Responses, infra.

53 Survey Response of Matt Hartrich, Appendix A: Survey Responses, infra.
54 Survey Response of Alex Jordan, Appendix A: Survey Responses, infra.
55 See supra Part VI.
56 See http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2013/10/23/duany-from-detroit.html. 57 See id.

58 See id.

59 See here

60 Left, see http://police.buffalostate.edu/blue-light-phones; right, see http://thelamron.com/2014/04/17/campus- safety-evaluated-upon-assault-report/.
61 See, for example, the exterior of the Northwest Community Mental Health Center, supra Part IV.
62 See supra Part IV.

63 See supra Part IV.

64 See Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 64-66 (1961) (describing the plight of a woman, who purposely made the acquaintance of everyone in her apartment building, none of whom came to her son’s aid when he became stuck in a building elevator).

65 Brian Schleter, Measuring the social, economic benefits of art and culture, PENN CURRENT (Oct. 13, 2011). Available at http://www.upenn.edu/pennnews/current/2011-10-13/features/measuring-social-economic-benefits-art- and-culture.
66 Id.

67 See MetLife Foundation, “Leveraging Code Enforcement for Neighborhood Safety: Insights for Community Developers,” at 1-2, http://www.lisc.org/docs/publications/Leveraging%20Code%20Enforcement_LISC-CSI.pdf. 68 Id. at 2.
69 See id. at 4.
70 See id. at 4-5.
71 See id. at 5-6.
72 See id. at 3.
73 See id. at 7.
74 Id.

75 It should be noted that we did not perform a formal investigation into code violations in Upper-Niagara. Potential code violations mentioned in this paper come solely from observation on a walk through the neighborhood. Before a code enforcement effort is undertaken or a partnership formed, formal investigation into the local codes and ordinances and existing violations must occur.

76 See http://www.grassrootsgardens.org/black-rock-and-riverside-gardens.html
77 Multiple Benefits of Community Gardening, GARDENING MATTERS (2012); available at http://www.gardeningmatters.org/sites/default/files/Multiple%20Benefits_2012.pdf
78 Id.
79 Id.

80 Id.
81 See http://www.streetsblog.org/2006/10/04/notes-on-bicycling-in-copenhagen/.

82 Economic Benefits of Bicycling in Urban Environments, Marin County Bicycle Network, available at www.marinbike.org
83 See id.
84 See id.

85 See id.
86 Rebecca Flournoy, Healthy Foods, Strong Communities, NHI (2006)(available at http://www.nhi.org/online/issues/147/healthyfoods.html)
87 See id.

88 Id.
89 Rick Jacobus, What Difference Can a Few Stores Make? Retail and neighborhood revitalization, The Center for Community Innovation UC Berkeley (June 2010).

90 Shopping Local Benefits the Neighborhood: Here Are the Numbers That Prove it (available at http://www.fastcoexist.com/1680970/shopping-local-benefits-the-neighborhood-here-are-the-numbers-that-prove- it).
91 See Part IV, supra.

93 SUNY Buffalo Law School Healthy Home’s Practicum, A Neighborhood’s Continuing Evolution: Walking Tour of Buffalo, NY’s West Side, at page 4. Available at http://www.law.buffalo.edu/content/dam/law/restricted- assets/pdf/cle/130426-Materials.pdfSee id. at 4.
94 See id.

95 See id. at 3. 96 See id.
97 See id.
98 See id.

99 See id. at 4. 100 See id.
101 See id.
102 See id.

103 See id. 104 See id. 105 See id. 106 See id.

 

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