Henry-Louis Taylor Jr., PhD, outside in the Black East Side.

Henry-Louis Taylor Jr., PhD, has sparked a collaborative effort with his report of a planning and development framework for changing the Black East Side.

Neighborhood Revival Talk Attracts Enthusiastic Crowd

More Than 400 Engage at Jacobs School to Discuss How to Change City’s Black East Side

Release Date: March 7, 2024

“We are drawing a line in the sand and moving forward in a very different way. ”
Henry-Louis Taylor Jr. , PhD
Director of UB’s Center for Urban Studies and professor of urban and regional planning in the School of Architecture and Planning

BUFFALO, N.Y. – It was one of the largest public meetings the medical school has ever hosted. It was also among the most animated. Speakers’ talks were punctuated by spontaneous applause, enthusiastic affirmations and at least one standing ovation.

On Feb. 26, more than 400 people, including Buffalo and East Side residents, members of the UB community and local leaders, filled the M&T Auditorium in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences to capacity to launch a grassroots movement creating a bold, new vision for the Black East Side. The presentation can be seen at this link.

Moderated by Rev. George F. Nicholas, convener of the Buffalo Center for Health Equity and pastor of Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church, the meeting focused on the East Side Neighborhood Transformation Project, a new approach to neighborhood development geared toward radically transforming neighborhoods on the Black East Side.

“We have to create a community where each of us, regardless of address or ethnicity, has an equal opportunity to live a long, prosperous and healthy life,” said Nicholas.

The decision to hold the meeting at the Jacobs School was deliberate, as health outcomes are the key metric of the project’s success.

Allison Brashear, MD, MBA, vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School, made opening remarks, calling the symposium “a beacon of hope.” She noted that through its anti-racist curriculum and other offerings, the Jacobs School educates future physicians with a strong understanding of the influence of the social determinants of health.

Historical Collaboration About to Take Place

Pastor James Giles, president and CEO of Back to Basics Ministries Inc., referred to Buffalo’s history of one-off efforts, none of which have ever substantively changed things for the city’s marginalized populations. But, he said, now the community is “on the brink of a historical collaboration.”

That collaboration was sparked by “How We Change the Black East Side: A Neighborhood Planning and Development Framework,” a report released last December by Henry-Louis Taylor Jr., PhD, director of UB’s Center for Urban Studies and professor of urban and regional planning in the School of Architecture and Planning.

The product of intense collaborations and discussions with community members, activists and academics, the report provides a framework for a project that will create positive health outcomes on the Black East Side by improving social, economic and physical conditions in a pilot neighborhood.

“We can’t change Black Buffalo without radically transforming the places where they live,” Taylor said.

He described the “neighborly community,” a neighborhood model for Black Buffalo that sharply contrasts with the prevailing white neighborhood model, which is based on homogeneity and exclusion. Instead, he said, Black neighborhood development must be based on unity, community control, shared ownership, co-operative economics, community wealth accumulation, and inclusion and belonging.

At the same time, the transformation of the neighborhood will attract the attention of developers, whose goals may directly conflict with the goals and culture of the neighborhood. So it will be critical to monitor market forces, he added.

Goals of the pilot project are fixing the existing housing stock and eliminating rent gouging; transforming the educational system so that children are reading at, or above, grade level; and addressing the structural unemployment throughout the East Side.

The pilot neighborhood that is chosen must rank high on the hardship index, a measure that Taylor created for East Side neighborhoods based on levels of income, education and employment, poverty rate, the threat of gentrification and the percentage of residents paying 40% or more of their income on rent.

Five Finalist Neighborhoods Considered

The five finalist neighborhoods are outlined in orange on the map.

The five finalist neighborhoods being considered are the census tracts (CT) CT 42 in Kensington-Bailey, CT 34 in Delavan-Grider, CT 35.01 in MLK Park, CT 33.02 in Masten Park and CT 166 in Broadway-Fillmore. (See map) Noting that “everybody has an idea for the best neighborhood,” Taylor said organizers have developed a process for selecting it.

The Center for Urban Studies has trained 11 community members as field workers. Wearing trademark green jackets, they are going door to door in these neighborhoods surveying residents, a process that should take about six months, while UB students study physical conditions in the neighborhoods. Once the data are rigorously assessed, the initial pilot neighborhood will be announced.

During the follow-up panel, Athena Mutua, JD, Floyd H. & Hilda L. Hurst Professor and Faculty Scholar in the School of Law, said she was excited because it’s a fresh approach. For 40 years, both political parties have followed neoliberal policies based on the idea that unregulated markets are the panacea.

‘It’s Neighborhoods That Connect Us’

“The neoliberal approach has taught us what doesn’t work,” she said, adding, “This vision recognizes that it’s neighborhoods that connect us.”

Timothy F. Murphy, MD, SUNY Distinguished Professor of medicine and director of UB’s Community Health Equity Research Institute, talked about the need to apply research methods to the project to ensure it’s data-driven. He added that while a pilot project advances in one neighborhood, there needs to be careful evaluation of outcomes in this and other neighborhoods, to better evaluate the advances. And since the goals are long-term, intermediate measures must be established to indicate progress is being made.

Michael Lamb, PhD, an environmental psychologist and director of education in the Department of Surgery, stressed the important role the physical environment plays as a factor in the mental health of residents.

Noting that one of Taylor’s key indicators for selecting a pilot neighborhood is the level of optimism in the neighborhood, he said the project will become a way to “joyfully dismantle neighborhood inequality.”

A community’s level of engagement is also key, according to University District Council Member Rasheed N.C. Wyatt. “We want everybody to own the project,” he said. “We need to have a demonstration model, we need to test it, quantify it, improve it and replicate it throughout the East Side.”

Taylor concluded: “We say enough! We are drawing a line in the sand and moving forward in a very different way.”

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