UB Community Initiative Works to Visually Brand and Market the University Heights District

Studio in environmental design assists its South Campus neighborhood

Release Date: October 6, 2003 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning and a consortium of commercial and community leaders are working to identify, analyze and ultimately help resolve issues of concern to Buffalo's University Heights neighborhood in which UB's South (Main Street) Campus is located.

A working group of 45 undergraduate seniors enrolled in the "Neighbor-to-Neighbor Studio in Environmental Design" in the school's Department of Urban and Regional Planning has been working with the consortium since this summer.

The studio is directed by Danis Gehl, director of the University Community Initiative and a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at UB, and Alex Bitterman, a project director in the UB IDEA Center and an expert in marketing communication. Both are adjunct faculty members in the school.

Gehl says that ongoing discussions and presentations identified specific issues the studio will analyze and study. The work produced by the studio will provide solid empirical data that can be used by different neighborhood constituencies to plan activities and programs that will assist the community itself and attract outside interest.

"There were many possible issues that could have been addressed in the studio research -- housing, shopping, crime and transportation patterns for a start," says Gehl. "With the assistance and agreement of the coalition, however, these have been whittled down to a few manageable projects."

One studio group is assessing the economic impact of UB's South Campus on the surrounding business area. Another is examining ways in which the neighborhood can craft and communicate its current identity to those in and out of the neighborhood.

Other groups are studying the relationship between UB and University Heights and how the two can communicate more effectively and use one another as resources.

The UB South Campus, once the university's only campus, is sited on 154 park-like acres in the middle of the University Heights neighborhood, and has served as a major neighborhood focus for nearly a century.

Its 52 buildings house dormitories, most of the university's health-related graduate schools, many free or low-cost medical clinics, programs to assist children, families and those with disabilities, a major medical library, and the School of Architecture and Planning. Free public exhibits, film and lecture series often are held on campus. The neighborhood itself comprises a large residential area, with community centers, a theater, hospital, many small cafes and restaurants, a popular independent bookstore and other businesses.

Gehl notes that significant changes have occurred in this realm since most UB undergraduate housing moved to the university's North (Amherst) Campus.

"It's amazing to see how differently the neighborhood relates to the university now," she says.

"Thirty-five years ago, when you walked down Main Street in University Heights, hundreds of students would be walking, talking, laying on the lawns, playing music and games, demonstrating, walking dogs, and there were lots of activities on campus that attracted neighborhood residents. It was very different place, both visually and socially, than it is today," Gehl recalls.

Gehl says that many people think that neighborhood economic and social problems are linked to the fact that so many university functions moved to the North Campus and fewer and fewer undergraduates live in University Heights, but she doesn't entirely agree.

"To some extent that's true." she says, "but a general economic downturn in Buffalo has wrought social and identity issues that have had an even bigger impact on the neighborhood.

"Remember that University Heights was once sort of a 'college town' with all that implies -- lots of young people, much public social and political activity, several book stores and other service-related businesses, houses full of students and faculty members, but it no longer feels like a college town to those who live or visit there.

"We can't turn back the clock," Gehl says, "but we can assist University Heights as it tries to develop and communicate a visual 'brand' that will give a stronger sense of its own identity and help neutralize or contradict negative impressions the public may hold about the area. After all, UB, however it's changed, is still a neighbor.

"There are hundreds of university business and research initiatives, social programs, clinics and class projects that could assist residents, businesses and not-for-profits in the University Heights neighborhood," Gehl says, "but many people don't even know about them.

"Our intention is to connect those in the university interested in public service with community groups who need those resources and can work with them on and off campus," she says. Gehl notes that it works both ways -- the University Heights neighborhood serves as a laboratory for a variety of inventive university teaching programs, like the studio itself, and UB's programs in business management, education, social work, medicine, nursing, and arts and sciences could benefit from being more involved in the neighborhood.

"The students are looking at ways by which UB can speak more effectively to the South Campus neighborhood about its plans for construction and building rehabilitation, social and arts events and the availability of its physical resources like sports facilities for use by the public," says Gehl, who adds that a better integration of the two entities can enhance their relationship.

One move in this direction is an off-campus studio field office dedicated to this project at 3268 Main St., a commercial strip across the street from Hayes Hall, which houses the School of Architecture and Planning.

Right now, graphic representations of the neighborhood's ethnic, racial and cultural diversity are displayed on the walls and in the windows of the office, but as the time goes on, these will be replaced with graphic presentations about the developing project.

"We wanted to let our neighbors know that we have a studio that focused on our neighborhood," Gehl says, "and that it is open to anyone who want to drop in. The field office soon will have regular hours posted to encourage impromptu visits by neighbors and passers-by to talk about what's going on."

The studio will end in December, with a public presentation of the completed studies to be held on a date to be announced.

Those represented by the 15-member University Heights Community Liaison Group are area residents, English Gardener, Ltd.; Neighbor to Neighbor; UCI Community Advisory Group; St. Joseph University Church, Winspear Ave. Block Club; University District/Heights Problem Property Task Force; Gloria Parks Community Center; Homespace; Stockbridge Block Club; O'Connell, Lucas and Chelf; VOICE Buffalo; Kensington-Bailey Neighborhood Housing Services; City of Buffalo Office of Strategic Planning, and the Buffalo Common Council.

Those interested in the project can contact Gehl at 829-3099 or dgehl@buffalo.edu.

Media Contact Information

Patricia Donovan has retired from University Communications. To contact UB's media relations staff, call 716-645-6969 or visit our list of current university media contacts. Sorry for the inconvenience.