BUFFALO, N.Y. – They are called PULL projects –
multiyear Pop-Up Living Laboratories – whose aim is to
promote economic stabilization, neighborhood revitalization, crime
reduction and a prosperous business district in the Heights
neighborhood surrounding the University at Buffalo South Campus.
PULL projects are designed and implemented by students enrolled
in UB’s Undergraduate Academies, working in close
collaboration with the proactive University Heights Collaborative,
led by its president, Mickey Vertino; the University Heights Tool
Library, founded and directed by UB alum Darren Cotton; and UB alum
Aaron Krolikowski, who helps lead the PULL initiative.
The Undergraduate Academies are inclusive and diverse
residential communities of students enrolled in one of five
interdependent programs or academies: Civic Engagement,
Entrepreneurship, Research Exploration, Sustainability and Global
Barbara Bono, associate professor of English, heads the Civic
Engagement Academy, whose students are united by their interest in
becoming informed, active and skilled citizens committed to serving
the public good. Several of her students are involved with the
Heights projects, which offer them concrete ways in which they can
employ their skills.
Cotton says, “PULL is helping to redefine the relationship
between the university and the surrounding neighborhoods by
leveraging students as a community asset and channeling their
knowledge, skills and excitement into low-cost, high-impact
projects throughout the Heights.”
PULL projects were introduced at the beginning of the spring
2013 semester, and involve students from one or more academies
working up to four hours a week over the course of the semester to
design a plan aimed at solving a community problem and then,
working closely with community stakeholders, to implement it.
The projects are in the process of completion, although none are
finished yet. Once the PULL projects are in place, students will be
required to produce a five-page briefing report and a paper in
which they discuss their personal observations and reflections
associated with the project.
One project requires the three partners to design, administer
and analyze surveys that assess community needs and gaps among
businesses along the Main Street commercial corridor from Hertel
Avenue to Kenmore Avenue. (The Bailey Avenue commercial corridor
from Winspear Avenue to Kensington Avenue will be the subject of a
future survey.) The data will be used to assemble a neighborhood
revitalization proposal for the New York State Division of Homes
and Community Renewal (DHCR) requesting a $500,000 grant for
building renovation and streetscape improvements.
Another project – this one conducted by members of the UB
Undergraduate Consulting Club, whose members are interested in
management consulting – will prepare a generic business plan
for use by businesses in the district, a project that will require
consultation with owners of similar businesses in the area and the
close assistance of the University Heights Tool Library staff.
Another project will develop a comprehensive neighborhood
branding strategy aimed at improving the internal and external
perception of the Heights neighborhood.
Undergraduate Academy students also are developing a strategic
plan for the use of seven underutilized “triangle
parks” located along and around the Main Street Commercial
Corridor. They point out that these little parks help unify a
neighborhood, so there is a need to effectively use the land.
Finally, the PULL project called “The Abutments: Public
Engagement as Art” is helping the Heights community transform
a vacated railway line into a collection of informally used public
spaces. The line runs along dead end streets running off the west
side of Main Street from Minnesota Street to Kenmore
Cotton says, “The UHC Rails to Trails Committee is
dedicated to turning the old rail line into a multi-use
recreational trail that would connect Main Street and Kenmore
“Two large and imposing graffiti-covered bridge abutments
frame a gateway to this parkland and hold massive potential for
community building,” he says.
PULL students are conducting and analyzing surveys of 50 nearby
residents for their ideas on the use of the land and researching
innovative types of publicly engaged art. They will then make a
formal proposal for specific uses of the abutments and adjacent
The UB Undergraduate Academies are inclusive and diverse
residential communities of students enrolled in one of five
interdependent programs. Students in each program share residential
and working space and, with faculty members, community agencies,
and city and regional leaders, develop a real-world experience and
perspectives in their areas of interest.
“Our mission is to use student interests to allow them to
devise and execute projects to assist their community
partners,” Bono says. “In turn, the students and the
Heights neighborhood receive ample assistance and guidance from
Mickey Vitrino, Darren Cotton, Aaron Krolikowski and other
PULL projects that have been proposed for future consideration
- The “Preparation of PULL Space,” a labor-intensive
“peeling back” of layers of structural modifications on
an empty storefront on West Northrup Street adjacent to the Tool
Library, which then could be used as a small business
- A proposal that would look at ways to transform an
underutilized community-events board at the intersection of Main
Street and Winspear Avenue into a community asset.
- “Buffalo Trax Graffiti,” a project to help empower
the community to get rid of graffiti and keep it gone through the
use of new technology. Students would help residents use a
GPS-enabled smart phone app to collect data related to incidences
of graffiti throughout the neighborhood. Using data
collection and analysis tools, the UH Tool Library would develop a
comprehensive graffiti removal report and work with stakeholders to
develop an action plan.
- A Business Association Reactivization Project, aimed at
reestablishing the now-defunct Heights Business Association. This
effort, encouraged by the influx of six new businesses, is aimed at
promoting community/business cohesion in a way that will support
economic development and reduce crime.
For information on the UB Undergraduate Academies: http://academies.buffalo.edu/;
the academies are also on Facebook.
For information on the University Heights Collaborative: www.ourheights.org; the UHC
also is on Facebook.
For information on the University Heights Tool Library: www.thetoollibrary.org;
the Tool Library also is on Facebook and Twitter.