Author: Sarah Bohn
When Lara Errington reached out to Queen City Realty Group on behalf of Leadership Buffalo’s Rising Leaders, asking for a real estate agent to give a talk on the East Side housing market, and show them some homes in the area, I jumped at the opportunity.
The talk was to be a part of an informative day session called Neighborhoods & Transportation Discovery Day, an event with the goal of introducing participants to Buffalo neighborhoods they may not frequent in their day-to-day lives, while learning about the varying forms of public transportation and how they play a role in topics such as poverty, education, economic development.
If you don’t already know, Leadership Buffalo works to build community awareness and civic engagement, by uniting leaders to take action. Rising Leaders is a separate year-long program designed for individuals from corporations, small businesses, community organizations and non-profits who are up and coming in their careers and prepares them to lead as they mature in their field.
Excited for the day’s activities I arrived at City Hall 8:00 am sharp. There was a lot in store:
- 8:30 – 8:45am – Welcome from Althea Luehrsen, CEO Leadership Buffalo and Joyce Williams, Planning Team Leader
- 8:45 – 9:30am – Q& A/Discussion with Councilman Joel Feroleto: Delaware District
- 9:30 – 3:00pm – Neighborhood visits, meet with community leaders (commute exclusively using public transportation)
- 3:15 – 4:15pm – Panel discussion on Buffalo Public Transportation
- 4:15 – 5:00pm – Group Reflections and Neighborhood Reports
For the day’s first activity we were joined in the Buffalo Common Council Chambers by Council Member Joel Feroleto: Delaware District. He discussed topics including North Buffalo’s vibrant real estate market, property tax reassessment and why he thinks the football stadium should move downtown. On recommending what we ask community leaders during our neighborhood visits, Feroleto advised, “The most important thing for today, is to ask the people in these communities what the biggest issues are to them.”
With that advice in mind we broke off into 6 groups, each previously assigned to a different neighborhood.
- Group 1 – Black Rock & Riverside
- Group 2 – West Side
- Group 3 – East Side (Humbolt & Hamlin)
- Group 4 – South Buffalo & Old First Ward
- Group 5 – Fruit Belt & Jefferson Avenue
- Group 6 – Bailey Green
I tagged along with Laura Errington, a teacher at Charter School for Applied Technologies. She was team leader for Group 3 – East Side (Humboldt & Hamlin) and the mastermind behind the immersive schedule that we were about to embark upon.
- 9:30am – Depart from City Hall
- 10:15-11:00am – Visit Delavan-Grider Community Center
- 11:15-11:45am – Visit Northland Corridor Project
- 12:20-12:45pm – Tour of the Hamlin area
- 1:00-1:30pm – Lunch at EM Tea Coffee Cup Restaurant
- 2:00-2:15pm – Visit Canisius East West Community Garden
- 2:30-3:00pm – Tour the grounds at the historic Lyth Cottage
Our first round of public transit which took about 35 minutes included the subway, a bus ride, and a lot of walking in-between. We arrived at the Delavan-Grider Community Center where we were greeted by Executive Director, Candace Moppins and Buffalo Council Member Ulysees O. Wingo. They spoke with us about what the Center offers to people in the area, and detailed some of the initiatives that are currently taking place. The 88 children bustling all around for The Summer Camp Program were proof enough of the center’s involvement in the community. The camp is an 8 week long program where children ages 3-12 play sports, take classes, go on field trips, and are provided a daily lunch.
With a meager budget of just $200,000 a year, the Center is still able to help over 2,500 people in the community. Wondering what you can do to help? They’re always excepting volunteers who can go share a talent and work with the kids. Donations are invaluable, diapers, school supplies, clothing, they’re especially short on men’s clothes. It was incredible to hear what the center does – how it impacts the children and their families.
Next, a 15 minute walk to the AMAZING Northland Corridor Redevelopment Project (lead image). The renovation is a 3 year project that started the summer of 2017 and includes 700,000 square feet of industrial buildings and 50 acres of vacant land. We were greeted at the site by Peter M. Cammarata, President Buffalo Urban Development Corp. and Duncan Kirkwood, Manager of Out Reach & Recruiting Northland Workforce Training Center. Cammarata took us on an abbreviated tour of the renovation and explained that the Project aims to return these properties to productive use, help to revitalize the surrounding neighborhood, and provide employment opportunities for nearby residents by creating a manufacturing hub on Buffalo’s East Side.
Next Kirkwood stepped in tell to us all about the Northland Workforce Training Center, which will stand as the project’s anchor tenant. The two co-located training facilities: the Advanced Manufacturing Training Center and the Utility of the Future & Clean Energy Training Center, will provide education, training that is industry driven, and employment-focused assets geared towards raising the number of quality local candidates prepared for advanced manufacturing careers. Northland will provide certificate and degree programs as core offerings through its educational partners, SUNY Alfred State College and SUNY Erie Community College.
Fun fact: The legendary Gigi’s, an East Side soul food restaurant that closed after a devastating fire over two years ago, will be reopening in the northeast corner of the massive building, and will be accessible to the public (learn more). The new restaurant will occupy about 3,900 square feet, and serve up to 450 students, employees, and staff of the training center.
After another half hour of public transit we arrived across the street from the Buffalo Mattress Factory Lofts where we met up with one of Explore Buffalo’s founding members, Ann Palmer. Well experienced with group tours, Palmer hurried us along as she told us the story of Victorian horse racing aficionado Cicero Hamlin. The area was once one of the nation’s premier trotting tracks and had festive events from the time Hamlin opened it in 1858 to the end of the century. She pointed out an empty side walk that was once the Scajaquada Creek and explained that by 1903, it was buried in miles of underground tunnels becoming the neighborhood we know today.
At this point, only halfway through our visits, we were already running behind schedule. Errington suggested we quicken the pace by using Reddy BikeShare bikes from a nearby station. As luck would have it, one of our group members Jennifer White, works for the bike sharing company and was able to help us first timers quickly sign up and unlock the bikes. We only rode for about 5 minutes before arriving at our next stop, EM Tea Cup Café, a neighborhood favorite that offers breakfast, specialty sandwiches, and classics like a burger with fries.
We devoured our meals and jumped back on the bikes for another 6 minute ride to the Canisius East West Community Garden where we met up with volunteers Veronica Serwacki, Assistant to Dean of the Arts and Science and Nancy Rouke, Professor in Religious Studies and Theology. They took us around each of the 12 raised beds that are clearly well cared for. Each bed is managed by a different school or community organization. The women explained that all the seeds were initially planted back in March inside the biology mud room at Canisius. From there, participants did all the planting themselves and come at least once a week to weed and water. Additional volunteers from the college ensure that the plants are given plenty of water, provided from the rain barrels on site.
A couple of pictures with some gigantic squash, and we were back on the bikes to our last visit, the historical Lyth Cottage. Homeowner Sarah Schneider Newton personally gave us a history lesson of the house and mini tour of the grounds which include several specialty gardens, compost piles, work stations, and even a chicken coop.
We thanked our host for her time and joined in a quick group huddle, where the group almost unanimously decided that instead of getting back to passenger transportation, it would be easier to ride bikes the last 4 miles of our journey. So off we went, in the heat, at 3pm, riding the extra durable red bikes.
After about 30 minutes and several near death experiences, we arrived at our final destination where members of the panel were already seated and waiting for us. Each of the panel members including, James Morrell, NFTA Metro Deputy Director of Public Transit, Justin Booth, Executive Director GObike Buffalo, and Michael Galligano, CEO Shared Mobility Inc. briefly introduced themselves before we began the Q&A. They discussed the importance of staying ahead with technology, hardships for families riding with small children, the Amherst subway extension, and how frequently the decision makers at NFTA Metro ride public transportation themselves (not a lot).
After the discussion I had a chance to speak one-on-one with James Morrell and asked him how NFTA Metro is planning to keep up with the changing times. He told me about several programs including the Metro Smart Card, a very exciting initiative launching the beginning of next year. If you’re not experienced with the public transportation system in Buffalo, one of it’s biggest downfalls is the current fare collections system. An experienced rider knows you have to bring the exact amount it costs to ride because if you’re only carrying a 20 dollar bill, you’re not getting change back. Once the cards are launched it’ll make riding on public transit faster and more convenient. All you will have to do is register the card, go to the portal to fill it up with cash and simply swipe the card at boarding, the exact fair will be deducted from your card. The public will slowly begin hearing about the project over the next 3 weeks as they begin marketing the education programs.
Before leaving for the day I caught up with Althea Luehrsen, CEO of Leadership Buffalo. She shared with me the importance the organization places on diversity. “We’re made up of people from all walks of life, jobs, backgrounds, and nationalities. We’re building that diversity from within, helping people where they live. We will see success once we break down the barriers of stereotypes. We hope they come out of the program better servant leaders.”
Thinking back on to the day, her words ring true. Throughout the session I was able to share some of my knowledge of Buffalo’s real estate market, but most importantly was what I myself learned. In order for development to be effective, we need to include residents instead of pushing them out. If we’re going to be a successful city, we have to be socially and economically integrated, and right now the East Side needs to catch up to the West Side. It’s clear that development is, in fact, happening on the East Side, and with the right investment and some strategic planning conducted by the City, these areas can significantly grow, while becoming economically and racially integrated neighborhoods.
Thanks again for reaching out, Laura.