Sometimes it’s the most unexpected meetups that can bear the richest rewards. Earlier this week I received an email from Ayat Nieves, who wanted to talk about a recent article that I had written about Connecticut Street. So we met up at BreadHive to discuss a project that we both had in mind. After the discussion, I asked him what his interest was in Connecticut Street, and the West Side in general. It was then that he handed me a flyer. “I’m starting a block club on Niagara Street for neighbors living 1/4 mile from the corner of Niagara and Massachusetts,” he told me. “That’s where I live with my family. Recently a car was shot up in our neighborhood, and I decided that enough was enough. I’ve been working on the block club project for about a month, going door to door, hanging flyers on people’s doors. I figure that what affects one person impacts another. I want to get people together to talk about quality of life issues in the neighborhood.”
Ayat got the idea for the block club around the same time that he participated in a Grant Street clean up. He wondered why people would not simply clean up in front of their own businesses, or why someone would litter in the first place. He was born in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, but he’s been living on the West Side of Buffalo for 13 years. He told me that the time had finally come to be proactive about a number of issues, including parking, crime, litter, tags, etc.
It’s no coincidence that Ayat’s profession is real estate – he’s an agent at Red Door realty, and he’s also a property manager. So this urbanist stuff kind of comes naturally to him. While he wants to continue to head down the real estate path, he does want to get away from the property management side of things to concentrate more on expansive neighborhood issues. That’s when I told him that I saw some sort of political career in his future. [Laughing], he told me, “Absolutely not.” But I disagreed, and told him that he would make a good politician for all of the right reasons. In fact, much of what Ayat is setting out to do, he is doing because he cares about people and wants to help them. He wants to hear about their own issues, and how everyone can work together to resolve them. Sounds a bit like a politician… but he’s adamant that’s not the direction that he wants to go. I suppose that’s refreshing to hear, but at the same time, Ayat is the type of young person that we need to represent our interests on a political level. Maybe someday?
If you own a business, or a house, or even if you rent… if you live within a quarter-mile of the intersection of Niagara Street and Massachusetts Avenue, be sure to send Ayat an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. He will add you to his e-blasts, and will notify you when he is up and running with social media pages (coming soon). In your email, let Ayat know what you are most concerned about, and what you would like to see happen in the neighborhood. He will then count you as a member of the Niagara Street Block Club, and you will be part of the team that helps to make a difference on the West Side of the city.
I will be keeping tabs on Ayat, and his block club ambitions. Strong block clubs have been known to change the faces of neighborhoods through community involvement and advocacy. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of another long-lasting grassroots enterprise that will one day be an invaluable resource for a faction of Westsiders who care about their surroundings.