UB alumnus Darren Cotton, founder of the University Heights Tool
Library, is working with UB students and faculty on projects to
improve quality of life in University Heights.
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 University Heights neighborhood
surrounding the UB 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 alumnus Darren Cotton; and UB
alumnus 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.
“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,” Cotton says.
PULL projects, introduced at the beginning of the spring 2013
semester, 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.
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 Avenue to Kenmore Avenue.
“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 Avenue,” Cotton says.
“Two large and imposing graffiti-covered bridge abutments
frame a gateway to this parkland and hold massive potential for
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 then will make a
formal proposal for specific uses of the abutments and adjacent
Students in each of the Undergraduate Academies 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 particular areas of
“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
- A Business Association Reactivization Project, aimed at
re-establishing 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.