BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Center for Urban Studies, a research and
community development unit in the University at Buffalo School of
Architecture and Planning, has joined itself to a massive effort: a
proposal by the City of Buffalo and the Buffalo Municipal Housing
Authority to restructure, redevelop and rehabilitate downtown
Buffalo's seriously declining Commodore Perry neighborhood and turn
it into the vibrant, sustainable community it once was.
The effort is part of the BMHA Perry Choice Neighborhood
Initiative, or BMHA-PCN, now in its assessment/strategic planning
stage, funded by a $250,000 planning grant awarded by the
Department of Housing and Urban Development's Choice Neighborhood
The grants went to 17 proposals nationwide out of a pool of 119
The strategic plan is being produced by Henry Louis Taylor, PhD,
professor of urban and regional planning and director of the Center
for Urban Studies. It will be submitted by the BMHA to HUD to
compete for a $30 million implementation grant.
"If the BMHA receives the implementation grant," Taylor says,
"the $30 million will be used to leverage $200 million or more from
local businesses, foundations and other resources, with which to
accomplish our aims."
Those aims include an ambitious overhaul of what was a
once-thriving, multi-ethnic, multi-racial neighborhood that in some
respects -- but not all -- has been in decline for more than a
The Perry Choice neighborhood is bounded by South Park on the
south, Smith Street to the east, Sycamore to the north and Michigan
Avenue to the west. Historically, working class African-American
Buffalonians shared this industrial-residential community with a
mix of Poles, Italians, Germans, Canadians, British, Irish,
Russians, Austrians, Hungarians, Swedish, Czechs and Romanians who
worked in area grain mills, on the docks and for the dozens of
manufacturing that continue to flourish there. Today, most
residents are African American, and most are poor.
Taylor says the project will require the demolition or
rehabilitation of about 414 boarded-up, neglected and/or decrepit
public housing units and their replacement with safe, new, clean
affordable housing. But it goes far beyond that.
"If we expect positive outcomes, then the only approach to take
is one that comprehensively attacks social, physical and
educational deficiencies," he says. "We can't just replace some
housing, physically beef up school buildings and say, 'There. We're
done.' It hasn't worked in the past and it won't work now.
"We have to eradicate the decay," he says, "and build a
cradle-to-college-and/or-career mini-educational pipeline that will
feed students into associated schools. We also need to launch a
LEED-based neighborhood development strategy that emphasizes smart
growth, green housing and design, walkability, access to
transportation and proximity to jobs and services, particularly to
jobs (and training for jobs) in the multitude of manufacturing and
health care institutions in the community. We are devising a plan
to provide for all of this."
Taylor calls this set of wrap-around services to support
education, health, social and physical regeneration outcomes for
all residents a tall order.
"Our proposal would establish a healthier community through
community agriculture programs and better grocery markets featuring
fresh produce, and even includes a plan for in-neighborhood
transportation to and from those stores, which are difficult to
reach on foot, particularly for the elderly and disabled," he
Taylor acknowledges that the plan is exceptionally ambitious and
comprehensive, "but essential if we are to overcome the decades of
poor planning, poverty and neglect that have decimated so much of
this community," he says.
What angers him is the assumption that people who are poor or
who live in decaying neighborhoods or in public housing don't care
about where they live and don't care about their children or about
getting a better job.
"That is absolutely not true," he says.
"These parents care deeply about their kids' welfare, but many
are living below the poverty line and most are grossly unsupported
in their efforts to assist their kids' educations. If there is no
place -- or room -- at home in their tiny apartments in which their
kids can study, no accessible libraries, no healthy sources of
food, poor transportation, high levels of gang activity, a built
environment that is grim and falling apart -- what can we expect of
these families or the children they are raising?
"They need jobs. They need decent housing, safe streets and
libraries. They need their community back. It is a big, big job,
but that is precisely our aim here."
To aid in the effort, the BMHA-PCN will, at its outset,
establish a strong research and evaluation component. The goal is
to devise a system of data gathering and analysis, develop a set of
metrics for evaluating the project and create a system of formative
and summary evaluations that will drive the initiative and measure
outcomes, transforming the initiative into an evidence-based
With this documentation, Taylor expects the Perry redevelopment
efforts to catalyze the renewal of two other neighborhoods anchored
by two other BMHA housing projects: the Kowal Apartments on
Sobieski Street near the Broadway Market and Woodson Gardens in the
Fruit Belt. Both neighborhoods are slated for renewed, restored
and/or brand new housing programs.
The Perry Choice Neighborhood Planning Initiative website is at