Building Bridges in Buffalo

July 05, 2016
Samir Jain

Growing up an hour away from Buffalo, I've considered myself a Buffalonian my whole life. But living in a Buffalo neighborhood this summer, I now know that I was naïve in my assumption that I knew everything about Buffalo and the people that comprise the City of Good Neighbors.

One of the first things that I learned about Buffalo this summer is the rich diversity that resides within the City of Buffalo – refugees and immigrants from Myanmar, Bhutan, Somalia, Dem. Rep. of the Congo, Iraq, Yemen, Syria (and the list of countries go on and on) all live in Buffalo. Unfortunately, neighborhoods in Buffalo are underrepresented in the local government and have seen neglect and disinvestment from the city for many years due to racial, ethnic, and socio-economic lines. This is a recurring story for an area such as the Fruit Belt neighborhood, whose people have historically been displaced by gentrifying forces, and denied a seat at the table.

That is, until now.

With the cohesion between Buffalo’s social leaders there are many opportunities for collaboration, and a perfect example was the Land Trust Not Land Rush event hosted in the Fruit Belt. The Fruit Belt is a historic neighborhood in North Buffalo that is home to a large African-American population and is known for the tight-as-family community. At the Land Trust Not Land Rush Event I witnessed this ‘family’ come together to discuss creating a community land trust out of the 200+ vacant lots to prevent the people who give life to this historic neighborhood from being displaced by the rising costs of living caused by the investment in the area.

Another community effort, Open Buffalo is a community-based social justice organization that has been advocating for the Fruit Belt in negotiating a Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) with the Buffalo-Niagara Medical Campus to fight for the historically marginalized Fruit Belt to have a seat at the table in the future of their neighborhood. In contrast to other neighborhoods who are negotiating with the Buffalo-Niagara Medical Campus and have more political power when negotiating, the Fruit Belt must rely upon the unity of its resources—the people of the neighborhood and the willing organizations of Buffalo—to help its neighborhood.

It is a story of unified, community efforts like that of the Fruit Belt, which echo the true effort and change that will be needed for revitalization in Buffalo—not a shiny, ‘silver-bullet’ development plan that is idealized to sound like it will fix all the city’s issues. In the four weeks with my sponsor organization, ACCESS of WNY, Inc., I’ve learned that coalition building is the strongest tool that Buffalo has. The resources are here, the ideas are here, and the human capital is here. Now the city must work together to develop these bridges and create a thriving city for all.