As Buffalo prepares to welcome upwards of 300 Syrian refugees, hoping to do its part to lessen the hardships cast upon a displaced people, this city should be looking at a comprehensive plan to create a new thriving ethnic community on the East Side. Look at what myriad other immigrant and refugee populations have done to reenergize the West Side. Talking to refugee resettlement organizations in the past, I have been told that the reason so few have settled on the East Side is that they want to be close to family members who have already moved to Buffalo.
With so many Syrians heading to Buffalo, relatively speaking, The City has a chance to create a new community of people who would help to mold a part of the city that could use some molding. Another reason that the West Side has been successful in settling refugees is that there are amenities such as shops and markets that have been established by prior settlers. Well, which came first, the chicken or the egg? The City of Buffalo could actually help to establish a Syrian community on the East Side (in tandem with resettlement organizations) by identifying housing and business opportunities. I bet that there would be a number of other grassroots organizations that would help to orchestrate the effort.
There are shopping districts on the East Side that are chock full of inexpensive opportunities. There are urban farms, and there’s the Broadway Market. There are also neighborhoods that could use an injection of life. Just take a look at West Avenue on the West Side – it’s populated by Burmese people who are making a difference and adding vibrancy and diversity to the neighborhood. The same could happen on the East Side.
There are already a small number of immigrants and refugees on the East Side. We, as a city, need to capitalize on these efforts, while creating opportunities for the new Syrian arrivals. An effort of this nature could help to change the way we look at our two very different cities (East and West). As much as this is a tragic time for the Syrian people, Buffalo must look at ways to accommodate the refugees. We must also think of the best ways to move forward, together, as one people.