By Caitlin Dewey
In fairness, neighborhoods are flexible: They rarely have official boundaries in the United States. As a result, there is plenty of room for residents to argue about their shifting names and borders.
But as Hemphill-Nichols first told city officials in 2008, the Fruit Belt’s existence is not a matter of debate. One of the city’s oldest and poorest neighborhoods, it has appeared on official city maps for decades, bordered by Michigan and Jefferson avenues and Cherry and North streets.
With the growth of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, residents have become even more protective of those borders. The expanding campus has caused rents to spike in the Fruit Belt, said Henry Taylor, a professor of urban studies and planning at the University at Buffalo, and land speculation and other development have pushed some longtime residents from their homes.
In that context, the sudden dominance of the term “Medical Park” – which has no documented historical or community usage – has become a point of anger and anxiety for many residents, including longtime community organizer Dennice Barr.
“We’re fighting for everything – including our name,” Barr said.
To Annette Lott, a community organizer who grew up in the Fruit Belt, the online misrepresentation of the Fruit Belt was a lot like the Medical Campus itself: It loomed over the Fruit Belt and cast a shadow on everything else.
“The Fruit Belt was the Fruit Belt for years,” Lott said. “Now all of a sudden, you live there in that community and it’s called Medical Park … and what you begin to lose is your identity as a community.”
That an online map could wield so much influence does not surprise Monica Stephens, a geographer at the University at Buffalo who studies online maps and misinformation. In a 2014 study, Stephens showed that two popular mapping sites, Google and OpenStreetMap, omitted businesses and landmarks of interest to women because the bulk of their creators were men. These maps have real power – and they’re not infallible, she said.
Published March 17, 2019