This is What Urban Revitalization Looks Like
My work this summer is with the Westminster Economic Development Initiative, or WEDI. This remarkable organization provides business assistance, education, and community development for the West Side of Buffalo. Their most well-known undertaking is their operation of the West Side Bazaar. This is a business incubator in which nearly twenty small businesses, most of them run by refugees and immigrants, share a space where they receive support for WEDI while providing a vibrant atmosphere for the West Side community.
In addition to being WEDI’s most visible project, the West Side Bazaar is also the center of my experience in Buffalo. WEDI is preparing to move the Bazaar to a larger location so that the Bazaar can support more businesses. Against that backdrop, my projects here include researching the impact that the Bazaar has had its current surrounding community, researching the communities that surround possible future locations, and working with business owners who are either preparing for the move or preparing for their own expansions into locations outside of the Bazaar.
Getting to know these business owners in the Bazaar and getting to see their businesses is the highlight of my summer on the High Road. Many of them have extraordinary stories of overcoming challenges to make it to where they are today. They’ve come here from all over the world, and, each in their own way, have built new lives for themselves while contributing uniquely to the revitalization of the West Side.
In the most unfavorable telling of Buffalo’s story, the main theme is abandonment and loss. The heavy industry and half the population have left, and it’s downhill from here, the story goes. But the West Side Bazaar is proving how much of this story is myth. New people are moving in. New businesses are creating jobs. Old assets are valued once more.
Last week, I toured a former industrial plant that might become the new Bazaar. A vacant building filled with old machinery, once symbolic of Rust Belt decay, is now an opportunity for cultural and economic expansion. This is what urban revitalization looks like. This is the Buffalo I’m getting to know.