I’m forever grateful to a Rochester friend for key insights into gentrification a dozen years ago. At the time, I was working on a vision plan for her neighborhood, around the Susan B. Anthony House, just west of Nick Tahou’s of Garbage Plate fame. This intense, gray-haired woman had a fierce commitment to improving her neighborhood, once plagued by disinvestment and blight, without gentrifying it. Barbara Hoffman was also a Buffalo gal, Polonia raised, whose first job was at a Broadway-Fillmore department store.
If you were involved in the short-lived Buffalo Neighborhood Alliance, and attended the Rochester field trip, you met Barbara.
The Susan B. Anthony Neighborhood was Rochester’s first National Register Historic District, in part because of Barbara’s efforts to preserve it. She saved a stretch of West Main Street storefront buildings from the wrecking ball, including some of rare Queen-Anne style, and also renovated the mansion of a former Rochester mayor. She helped the Landmark Society get lovely but vacant houses into the hands of middle-class homeowners who could afford to fix them up.
One day she sat me down over coffee and gave me what I call “the talk” about gentrification – one I’m sure she’d given to others before and has since. Perhaps she felt I needed to hear it because she knew I was from the Neighborhood of the Arts, where the ARTWalk project I worked on had the unintended – by me, at least – consequence of launching property values into orbit and forever altering the composition of the neighborhood.
Barbara’s determination to see her neighborhood improve without gentrification wasn’t just her talk, but also her walk. She kept rents reasonable, so people could stay around family and friends living nearby, and not lose the networks and social capital they depended on to make life work. She used the storefronts as a kind of small business incubator – realizing Jane Jacobs’ vision for small urban storefronts without actually having read Jane Jacobs. Folks in the neighborhood – substantially minority – could open small businesses providing goods and services that other folks in the neighborhood needed. Those businesses would often employ family and friends of the owners, giving people a step into the labor market. Kids in the neighborhood might get their first job in a store in their neighborhood, just as she had.
Ever since, I’ve kept my eyes open to the issue of gentrification, and kept my eye out for other good discussions about it, but have found them to be surprisingly few and far between. That is why I was so glad to learn about the Anti-Gentrification Summit this month, hosted by Open Buffalo, CEJ, PUSH Buffalo, Citizen Action, and PPG. It will be an all-day discussion on Saturday, October 14, at the Matt Urban Hope Center facility on Paderewski, near the Central Terminal.
In a statement, the organizers said,
Buffalo is not unique in its struggle against gentrification. This grapple for space intensifies racism, classism, and sexism: values clash, and the wealthy displace the vulnerable.
Gentrification directly impacts each and everyone of us. Join the conversation about gentrification at a public teach-in at the Matt Urban Hope Center on October 14th.
Topics will include:
- School-to-prison pipeline
- Racial Dynamics
- Developing a City-Wide Community Benefit Agreement
Fighting gentrification requires more of us to understand gentrification – its roots, its forms, and solutions. So since learning my lesson from my Rochester friend Barbara, I am always and everywhere looking to educate myself more on this issue, and looking to have good conversations about it.
When it comes to gentrification, we all need to have “the talk.”
Buffalo Anti-Gentrification Summit
Saturday, October 14 at 9:00 AM – 4:30 PM
Hope Services, 385 Paderewski Dr, Buffalo, New York 14212
Hosted by Open Buffalo, CEJ, PUSH Buffalo, Citizen Action, PPG
Breakfast and lunch will be provided. So do RSVP, won’t you?