1.4 Community

A wide range of community issues, including race, ethnicity and diversity, education, housing and neighborhoods, culture and heritage will have important implications for planning and development. The focus of the Comprehensive Plan is land use, but these community issues will have an impact on how land use decisions are made. The answers this plan provides will have a major influence on the quality of life in Buffalo.   


1.4.1 Race, Ethnicity and Diversity

Buffalo’s racial and ethnic diversity represents both a challenge and a promise for the regeneration of the city. Throughout Buffalo’s history, citizens have struggled to adapt to the changing ethnic and racial composition of the community. Through waves of 19th century immigration that brought Germans, Irish, Italians, Poles and others, to the great internal migration of African-Americans in the mid-20th century, to the more recent arrival of Hispanics, Asians and others, Buffalonians have often welcomed their new neighbors grudgingly. Consistently, however, the new arrivals have found a way to contribute to their new community and the community has found a way to accept them.

Table 5 City Population by Race
  1990 2000
White 63% 51%
Black 30% 37%
Hispanic 5% 8%
Other 2% 4%

A new round of adaptation is on the horizon. As Buffalo’s population declined during the last decade the proportion of African- Americans, Hispanics and members of other non-white groups all increased to the point where a bare 51 percent majority of Buffalo residents were white. The proportion of blacks rose from 30 to 37 percent; the proportion of Hispanics increased from five to eight percent; and the proportion of others – Asians, Native Americans and other groups – increased from two to four percent.

If the trends of the 1990s continue in the current decade, it is possible that Buffalo’s black population will exceed the white population by the next census. Hispanics will also have a much more significant presence. The proportion of other races such as Asians may also grow. It is clear that Buffalo will be a far more multi-racial and multi-ethnic community than ever before with profound implications for political life, inter-group relations, and issues of social equity including residential segregation, discrimination, inequality and environmental justice. How Buffalo handles these issues will have an important effect on efforts to regenerate the city (See Table 6 ).

Table 6 Source: U.S. Bureau of Statistics / OSP Information & Data Analysis
Planning 1990         2000    
Community W B H* O W B H* O
Riverside 93 3 3 1 79 7 9 5
North Buffalo 91 7 2   82 13 4 1
North East 49 46 2 3 29 65 3 3
West Side 73 10 20   47 17 29 7
Masten 8 92     10 87 2 1
East Delavan 31 68 1   15 81 2 2
Central 50 36 16   48 40 19  
Ellicott 17 79 5   16 79 6  
East Side 73 25 2   57 38 3 2
Buffalo River 98 2     75 14 14  
South Buffalo 98 2     96 1 4  

Key | All figures are percentages. Numbers are rounded. W = White; B = Black;

H = Hispanic; and O = Other

* Note that the census does not denote “Hispanic” as a race.

Issues of social equity, of course, go beyond race and ethnicity. They involve questions of the treatment of people because of their religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, and disability. All of these must be factored into the rebuilding of the city by ensuring there is provision for all communities that physical as well as social barriers are removed, and inter-group contact fostered. 

Buffalo remains a community marked by heavy residential racial segregation. The overwhelming majority – 86 percent – of African-Americans in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls MSA lived in the two central cities in 2000, a fact which had changed little since 1980 when 91 percent of all blacks lived in Buffalo or Niagara Falls. More than two thirds of all Hispanics also lived in these two cities. 

The region remains the eighth most segregated metropolitan area in the nation of 331 ranked in terms of the separation of white and black residents. (This is based on the commonly used dissimilarity index that measures the proportion of people who would have to move to a new census tract for each tract to have the same racial composition as the whole region). Segregation between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites and blacks was nearly as pronounced. 

Many Buffalo residents also have limited personal exposure to people of other races, ethnic groups, religious faiths, and age groups. A survey by the Institute for Local Governance and Regional Growth (April 2002) showed a majority of metropolitan residents responding had little or no contact with Muslims, recent immigrants, Asians, gays and lesbians, American Indians, Jews, Hispanics, elderly people, and teenagers. While this may reflect the relatively small size of these communities in the region – Asians, for example, make up less than one percent of the population – it clearly indicates some level of isolation of groups from one another. 

Opinions about the significance of discrimination and inequality, not surprisingly, diverged along racial, age group and gender lines. More than half of all respondents to the Institute survey agreed that gays and lesbians, blacks, Muslims, and people on welfare experience some or a great deal of discrimination. But black residents, younger people and urban dwellers were more likely to perceive discrimination. For example, 84 percent of black respondents compared to 58 percent of whites agreed that blacks face some level of discrimination. Sixty-five percent of respondents 24 to 35 years of age agreed with the proposition compared with only 45 percent of those 75 or older. Urban dwellers were more likely to perceive discrimination than rural residents (69 percent versus 48 percent). 

Similar patterns characterized views on equal opportunity. A majority of all respondents agreed that racial minorities do not have the same opportunities as whites in promotion to upper management, fair treatment by police and the media, and influence over public policy decisions. Blacks, women, persons from households with lower income, young, and urban residents were more likely to perceive disparities. Eighty-six percent of blacks, compared to 61 percent of whites, said blacks are not treated fairly by police. Only 18 percent of blacks, compared to 57 percent of whites, agreed minorities and whites have the same opportunities for quality education in the region. 

A majority of all respondents also saw discrimination against women, but views on this question divided along gender lines. Only 38 percent of women, compared to 50 percent of men, said women have the same opportunities as men to influence public policy; 32 percent of women, compared to 46 percent of men, said women have the same opportunities to break into upper-level management. Such perceptions of unequal opportunity were even stronger among black females, only 21 percent of whom said women and men share the same chance to break into upper-level management or influence public policy decisions. 

Taken together, the combination of residential segregation, low inter-group contact, and differing perceptions of discrimination and equal opportunity has produced division in the community over values, priorities, problems and their solutions. Despite the common ground of a shared experience of the region’s history, environment, culture, economy, and allegiance to regional institutions and sports teams, blacks and whites, men and women, city-dwellers and suburbanites find themselves divided across a variety of issues that matter. 

Diversity in culture and opinion is appropriate and worthy of celebration, particularly in a democracy. But without a strong set of institutions to foster cross-group interaction and deliberation, these divisions are likely to hamper the region’s ability to solve problems and find consensus over a range of regional concerns. This needs to be addressed. 

Yet the diversity of the community can still be an asset. Buffalo’s history shows how the people of various ethnic groups – from the first German immigrants to the most recent Somalis – all found a place in the city where they could live, express pride in their identities, and share their culture with their neighbors. The city could be divided into ghettoes and exclusionary enclaves or it could become a mosaic of neighborhoods where diverse ethnic groups and cultures flourish and visitors are welcome to enjoy the differences of their neighbors. It seems clear the latter course will better support the broad goals of this plan. 

1.4.2 Public Safety

Crime and fear of crime is a key challenge for the Comprehensive Plan to meet. Public consultations for this plan confirmed the common understanding that city-dwellers are concerned about crime. If Buffalo is to reverse current downward trends in employment and population, effective action must be taken to ensure that Buffalo is a safe place to live and work – and that people feel safe in the city, too. Improving public safety is a precondition for renewed growth in Buffalo.

Fighting crime, however, is only one aspect of improving public safety. Other tasks on the agenda include improving fire protection, emergency response, traffic safety, and the prevention and response to threats of terrorism. Crime, however, remains uppermost in the minds of citizens. Approaches to crime-fighting have grown in sophistication in recent years. Some have demonstrated their effectiveness and might be implemented here. 

Law enforcement on the “broken windows” theory of crime prevention has shown promise in practice, including during the tenure of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in New York City (1994-2001). The theory, advanced by professors at Harvard University, says that responding to minor crimes – like jaywalking, graffiti and vandalism – promotes an environment of public order and safety and may actually prevent more serious crimes. Fixing broken windows shows that someone cares about crime. 

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is based on a theory that the design of city streets, business districts, housing, parks and the whole urban environment can help inhibit criminal behavior. CPTED techniques range from the redesign of streets to reduce speeding to the reorganization of retail shops to place cashiers where they can be seen from the street to deter robbers. Improving street lighting, building design, landscaping, alarm systems and video surveillance are all important elements of CPTED practice. 

Community Oriented Policing remains a popular approach to crime prevention. Community policing programs focus on building partnerships between law enforcement officers and community organizations and residents to respond to neighborhood level concerns in a timely and effective manner. There has been some tension between community policing approaches and the district reorganization of the Buffalo Police Department. Although this will continue to be a matter of debate, it should be noted that community policing and efficient organization and management of police forces are not mutually exclusive. 

Situational Crime Prevention is an approach, closely related to Community Oriented Policing, being used successfully in Britain, Canada and the United States. In addition to police community partnerships, Situational Crime Prevention also involves “action research” involving police, residents and researchers to analyze problems, try out solutions and repeat the process until satisfactory answers are found. The Good Neighbors Planning Alliance could be an appropriate organization to undertake such an initiative. 

Problem-oriented policing, involving the flexible use of police resources to respond to emergent situations, is likely to become more sophisticated with the application of computer technology. Use of a community statistics software package to map crime and other public safety data on a real-time basis can help police identify, analyze and respond to problems as they arise. They can also help police identify problems on the basis of hard data rather than perceptions or political pressures. Care must be taken that such data is not used for inappropriate purposes such as bank red-lining of crime-stressed neighborhoods. 

Many other issues are just over the horizon. Technology will bring many changes to public safety practice. Concern for personal privacy will come in conflict with worries about public safety as technologies advance for biometric identification, DNA collection, high-tech surveillance, and personal data collection and storage. Information sharing between law enforcement agencies at every level of government will increase as technology improves and sharing methods and agreements are refined. Citizens will also have access to public safety information online. Innovations in police weapons that are less lethal will also be a topic of debate. 

Public safety workers may face increasing competition from private security firms and consultants or even threats of outright privatization. Law enforcement personnel can respond by improving call handling and victim care. Public safety workers will also be challenged to deal with an increasingly diverse and better informed society. All will need to be better educated and trained to use advances in technology, social sciences and police sciences. 

Meanwhile, crime in Buffalo is not necessarily as bad as people think. Buffalo has experienced the same overall decline in violent crime since the early 1990s as most other U.S. cities. Regional figures compiled by the Institute for Local Governance and Regional Growth show a similar positive trend, with the exception of increases in arson and domestic violence.

Ongoing local responses to the challenges of public safety include efforts to combine selected public safety functions on a regional basis, including construction of a new joint County-City public safety building, and planning for a new Downtown public safety campus. Police dispatchers and 911 call-takers for City and County as well as both City and County police academies will be housed in the building. The City cellblock will also be relocated to County facilities. Plans for a new Buffalo headquarters remain to be resolved. 

Especially since September 11, 2001, Homeland Security has become a major preoccupation for all law enforcement agencies. In the Buffalo-Niagara region there is much to protect, including the international border itself, major hydropower installations, chemical and other vital industrial plants, enormous water flow and supply, as well as important government and public buildings in the heart of the city. Regional cooperation among all law enforcement entities must be promoted to reduce the threat of terrorism. 

Organized crime also presents a serious challenge. Criminals have the means and motivation to take advantage of all the latest technology and have no respect for political boundaries. Narcotics and weapons smuggling, money laundering, and illegal aliens are just a few of the threats we face because we are a border city. We must work more effectively with other agencies to protect the public from such crime. 

Other public safety issues include fire protection, emergency response and motor safety. The incidence of fire in the region declined by ten percent from 1993 to 1997, according to data compiled by the Institute for Local Governance and Regional Growth. Civilian fatalities and firefighter injuries also declined. Insurance losses shrank from $67.6 million to $54.5 million. The City is currently preparing a detailed analysis of fire incidents and response times as well as an inventory of firehouse locations and physical conditions in order to develop long term plans for fire prevention. 

According to Institute figures, urban areas enjoy better emergency response than suburban areas. In Erie County, roughly 55 percent of calls received responses within five minutes. Fewer than four percent took longer than 15 minutes.

Motor vehicle accidents have risen, however, along with the increase in the total number of vehicles, the total vehicle miles traveled, and traffic congestion overall. From 1993 to 1997 traffic accidents increased 11 percent – from 25,541 to 28,344. Indeed, more area residents are killed in traffic accidents each year than as a result of violent crimes. 

1.4.3 Housing and Neighborhoods

Housing and neighborhoods is one of the most critical components of the Comprehensive Plan. The City has worked hard and invested heavily in their improvement. The Office of Strategic Planning and the City's housing agencies have monitored housing and neighborhood conditions and worked with neighborhoods, housing organizations and citizen groups to identify problems, create solutions, and deliver both remedial and developmental programs.


Figure 15 Nationality Map

Figure 15 Nationality Map (Popup full image) 

This graphic depicts settlement migration in ethnic categories emanating from the initial site of arrival in and around the Lower West Side. While not comprehensive, it illustrates some of the rich mix of ethnicities that settled Buffalo. (Source: Laura Redding for the Western New York Heritage Institute reprinted in The Lower West Side: Strategies for Neighborhood and Community Development,, 1993).


Figure 16 Prospect Park and neighborhood housing in the lower west side. (Photo from the Western New York Regional Information Network).

Figure 16 Prospect Park and neighborhood housing in the lower west side. (Photo from the Western New York Regional Information Network). (Popup full image) 


The city has a number of attractive, stable, well-built neighborhoods where conditions are good to excellent. But most neighborhoods have experienced loss of population and deterioration during the past ten years, despite the City's best efforts. The loss of jobs in the city, out-migration to the suburbs and beyond, and the increase in individuals and families living below the poverty line and depending on social assistance have contributed to these trends. Much of Buffalo’s housing stock is both old and in poor condition. Fifty-eight percent of the total housing stock – nearly 84,000 units – were built before 1940. Many are of frame construction and poorly maintained, leading to dilapidation, blight and abandonment. 

In 2000 Buffalo had 145,574 housing units in its 54 City-designated neighborhoods. Only 43 percent of the occupied units were owner-occupied. Some 22,854 or 15.7 percent of the housing units were vacant or abandoned. There were 10,170 vacant residential lots and 8,684 abandoned structures, leaving the city with a substantial clearance and reconfiguration problem. 

Figure 17 Williams Street housing

Figure 17 Williams Street housing (Popup full image) 

Williams Street housing on the near East Side of downtown built in the 1980s. Urban design guidelines for inner ring neighborhoods surrounding downtown now call for a more urban street front that these early housing starts. Garages set back from the street and porches are two of several features that add to the urban feel of neighborhoods.

Few new homes have been built over the past decade. From 1990 to 2000 only 3,656 new units were built. Many of these were delivered through public housing programs or with public assistance. There was little unsubsidized private sector investment. By comparison, the housing stock expanded by 20,134 units in the remainder of Erie County (See Table 7 ).


Table 7 Buffalo- Niagara Falls MSA Housing Statistics
Jurisdiction: 1990 2000
City of Buffalo    
Total housing units 151,971 145,574
Total occupied 136,436 122,720
Vacant units 15,535 22,854
% Vacant 10.20% 15.70%
Remainder of Erie County*    
Total housing units 250,160 270,294
Total occupied 240,558 258,153
Vacant units 9,602 12,141
% Vacant 3.80% 4.50%
Total Erie County    
Total housing units 402,131 415,868
Total occupied 376,994 380,873
Vacant units 25,137 34,995
% Vacant 6.30% 8.40%
Remainder of MSA*    
Total housing units 340,545 323,145
Total occupied 325,367 366,009
Vacant 15,178 20,010
% Vacant 4.50% 6.20%
Total MSA    
Total housing 492,516 511,583
Total occupied 461,803 469,019
Vacant 30,713 42,564
% Vacant 6.20% 8.30%

The city faces a series of housing challenges. Local government is required to continue provision of affordable housing, including emergency housing for those in need. It must assure the maintenance of rental housing and promote renovation and rehabilitation for both rental and owner occupied homes where it is cost effective to do so. It must provide incentives for increasing home ownership. It must demolish and redevelop vacant and abandoned properties that cannot be renovated or reconfigured. Importantly, the City needs to create the conditions for private sector residential investment.

All of these challenges must be met in a way that respects Buffalo's long and deep commitment to its neighborhoods, each with its distinctive identity, needs, resources, and aspirations, and in a way that meets our obligation to promote job creation and foster social equity. 

Figure 18 The Good Neighbors Planning Alliance forms a core of community-based involvement to make the plan, implement the plan, and sustain the local communities who live the plan.

Figure 18 The Good Neighbors Planning Alliance forms a core of community-based involvement to make the plan, implement the plan, and sustain the local communities who live the plan. (Popup full image) 

To achieve these goals, the City has organized an elaborate set of planning and administrative arrangements and housing programs through its various agencies. The 54 neighborhoods have been grouped into 11 Planning Communities (see Figure 18 ). The boundaries of these Planning Communities follow census tract boundaries, thereby facilitating consistent socio-economic analysis over time. 

More recently, the City set up the Good Neighbors Planning Alliance, a network of ten local, volunteer neighborhood planning groups, and is encouraging them to develop plans, in whole or in part, for their planning communities, within the framework of the Comprehensive Plan. Some of these groups have begun work. Others are still organizing themselves. The Office of Strategic Planning provides them with technical and administrative support. 

Recently, The City has established 11 “Comprehensive Code Enforcement Areas” as part of a “Livable Communities Initiative,” to help focus local delivery of housing programs.

Federally supported programs for the repair, maintenance and renovation of residential property are funded through OSP’s Division of Residential Development and a network of not-for-profit Community Based Organizations. Their not-for-profit status allows them to own real or personal property, accept funds to carry out their mission, lend money, and hold and file mortgages. In the last five years, 1,454 loans amounting to a total of $17.4 million have been processed through these organizations. They have provided assistance for emergencies, acquisition and rehabilitation, down payment and closing costs. They currently assist about 350 units a year. 

These community based and faith based organization are the primary sponsor of the City of Buffalo’s homeownership initiatives. They act through public, private, and community partnerships as the City’s local development corporations. They provide assistance to buyers for down payment and closing costs associated with the purchase of new and existing housing, through a purchase price reduction program, and other programs that encourage and increase homeownership.

Figure 19 The Hub Hope VI

Figure 19 The Hub Hope VI (Popup full image) 

The HUD Hope VI project is helping to revitalize the Lower West Side of Buffalo. These dwellings are consistent with the urban guidelines for inner ring neighborhoods including porches, consistent set backs, and garages set back from the street wall.

These agencies have been instrumental in the development of affordable, newly constructed housing units sponsored by the private and public sectors. Over the past five years not-for-profits have coordinated investments totaling $36 million in providing 358 new housing units – a rate of just over 70 units a year. 

The Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority is a federally assisted public housing authority. BMHA owns, operates and manages more than 7,000 housing units in large developments and scattered sites throughout the city. The Authority is engaged in major initiatives to improve its housing stock and the overall living environment of its clients, and in doing so, hopes to remove any remaining stigma associated with public housing. A key focus of the Authority’s new work is to create mixed-income communities and alleviate concentrations of poverty.

The Lakeview HOPE VI project was designed to do this through density reduction, redevelopment and neighborhood infill and rehabilitation. Obsolete units have been demolished, replacement housing built, and parkland and open space developed. Improvements in the surrounding neighborhood are ongoing. HOPE VI establishes incentives for resident self-sufficiency through programs designed to help residents increase their income level and then move into housing of their own choice in traditional neighborhood environments. 

BMHA is also developing master plans for three of its other major developments: A.D. Price Courts and Extension, Commodore Perry Homes and Extension, and Jasper Parish. These complexes contain several hundred units each in physical configurations ranging from two and three story walk-ups to high-rise, serving client groups ranging from the elderly to families. Each project involves density reduction, site rationalization and redevelopment, including open space and other improvements. 

Table 8 City of Buffalo Population Densities (per square mile)
Planning Communities 1990 2000
Black Rock 7,719.20 7,530.00
North Buffalo 7,404.30 7,109.70
North East 10,052.10 9,726.60
West Side 15,862.40 12,707.50
Community of the Arts/Elmwood 10,170,9 10,888.40
Masten 10,620.40 9,056.90
East Delavan 10,585.90 8,741.60
Central 3,772.10 4,374.00
Ellicott 6,713.70 5,513.80
East Buffalo 8,332.20 6,487.10
Buffalo River/South Buffalo 8,239.30 7,546.20

The Authority has worked hard to build public-private partnerships that increase the leverage factor for public funds. Such partnerships have resulted in as much as a three to one ratio of private to public participation in Lakeview. Total capital investment there will exceed $80 million. 

Over the past five years, the City invested $32.4 million annually in its neighborhoods, relying heavily on federal programs. In its most recent budget, however, the City’s allocation has been reduced to $28 million annually. Until now, these funds have been spent on a random geographical basis as clients and corporations made applications, or emergencies or crises occurred to families and individuals or their property. Although spot improvements have occurred, the positive effects of these investments in neighborhood redevelopment have been hard to discern. 

Looking ahead twenty years, it is clear that the current level of public investment in housing and neighborhoods is too low, the current rate of activity too slow, and the pattern of investment too scattered, to meet the city’s goal for recovery in a timely way. If other elements of the Comprehensive Plan are successful in reversing trends of economic decline and job loss, it is crucial that housing and neighborhoods offering an attractive environment and quality of life in the city be ready when new jobs are created. Otherwise, the executives, managers and staff of new or expanded enterprises will continue to choose homes in the suburbs, and Buffalo will lose the full benefits of its efforts. 

Residential density is another important aspect of the city’s structure. Population density is declining with overall population decline, overall and in the majority of the city’s Planning Communities. Between 1990 and 2000 the city’s density fell from 8,073 to 7,206 people per square mile. Only two Planning Communities, Elmwood and Central, had an increase in density (See Table 8 ), and only Central increased in total population during this period. Loss of density has both positive and negative implications for the sustainability and character of Buffalo and the vitality of its neighborhoods. Medium and high densities are features of urbanity; they help to attract and sustain urban amenities and they bring life to urban streets. Reductions in density add strain to the city’s capacity to maintain its amenities and infrastructure. Lower densities tend to be associated with suburban communities, often with quieter neighborhoods and greater open space.

Intelligent planning and redevelopment of Buffalo’s neighborhoods should enable the city to minimize the negative aspects of density loss in some areas, while achieving higher densities in those parts of the city that need and will benefit from the greater density.

Downtown is the most obvious place density should be concentrated. The Queen City Hub plan calls for increased residential density through new housing construction and office-to-housing conversions. In other parts of the city, especially around concentrations of employment, commercial areas, and major arterials, densities should be protected or increased.

Redevelopment in select neighborhoods in other Planning Communities may benefit from lower urban densities (three to five units per acre), providing opportunities for “urban sub-divisions.”These may include homes with gardens, community parks or naturalized open space, walkways, trails, and woodlots. As the members of the Good Neighbors Planning Alliance develop their plans, density will be one more factor to consider.     

1.4.4 Neighborhood Commercial Revitalization

Buffalo has experienced a decline in its number of retailers, due in part to the decline in population, but also to restructuring in retail markets from smaller shops to larger ones. At the same time, Buffalo has experienced a modest real increase – above the rate of inflation – in retail sales.

Research shows that the increase in sales is attributable, in significant part, to consumers from the suburbs shopping and dining in the city. Focus groups confirm that shoppers are attracted to unique urban character of city shopping. Suburbanites enjoy the cultural diversity, architecture, history, and artistic institutions that the city has to offer. As consumers, they express strong interest in the small, independent, niche retailers located in the city. 

Focus groups also confirm that city residents want to have “big box” retailing, such as Wal-Mart, Target, and other major discount department stores, nearby and available to them. The challenge is to incorporate these two divergent retail experiences into a unified theme within Buffalo’s urban environment. 

Three main issues affect neighborhood commercial districts and their revitalization. First, viable retailing requires high population density, whereas population density has declined in the city. However, the city retains significant areas of residential density as well as financial strength. These will expand as City plans are implemented. 

Figure 20 Buffalo’s science magnet adjacent to the Buffalo Museum of Science and Martin Luther King park will form the nucleus that reinforces the surrounding neighborhood.

Figure 20 Buffalo’s science magnet adjacent to the Buffalo Museum of Science and Martin Luther King park will form the nucleus that reinforces the surrounding neighborhood. (Popup full image) 

Second, viable retailing requires an environment that is compatible with emerging consumer habits. The environment of the city’s neighborhood commercial districts corresponds to consumer habits that were dominant during the 1950’s, when neighborhood commercial districts served as “mini-downtowns” with a wide variety of small independent retailers. Market research confirms that current consumer habits correspond to two ongoing retail trends: “big box” retailing composed primarily of retail chains and franchises, and small, theme-based retail districts. 

Third, viable retailing requires a density of retail offerings that can serve as an attractor for additional stores. In retail, activity begets more activity. These retail clusters must be easily accessible for both local and regional shoppers. As its Downtown and neighborhoods are redeveloped, the revitalization of Buffalo’s retail sector will depend on how successful the city is in shaping plans that respond positively to these trends. 

Early in 2003, the Erie County Industrial Development Agency indicated it was considering providing assistance to strengthen neighborhood retail across the County. In response, OSP designated 38 neighborhood retail areas called “CARE Areas” (See Figure 20 ) to be eligible to receive assistance – one more way of strengthening and encouraging neighborhood vitality.

Figure 21 Buffalo's Live Zones are intended to help stabilize key neighborhood retail strips.

Figure 21 Buffalo's Live Zones are intended to help stabilize key neighborhood retail strips. (Popup full image) 

1.4.5 Public Education

Improving public education and restoring confidence in Buffalo’s public schools is a crucial element in efforts to reverse the economic and population decline of the city. Public consultations supporting the development of the Comprehensive Plan confirm the widespread perception that lack of confidence in the quality of public education in Buffalo has been a major factor behind the continuing migration of population from the city. While it is true that the Buffalo system has some excellent schools, failure to respond to the demands of “consumers” of public education will hobble all efforts to achieve the goal of the plan. 

There were approximately 52,000 children enrolled in school in Buffalo in 2003-2004. Eighty percent of those – more than 41,000 – were in public schools housed in 71 different buildings. Nearly 15 percent – almost 7,700 students – attended private schools in 84 buildings. Eleven charter schools enrolled another 3,100-plus students – the remaining six percent of the total. 

These numbers are expected to fall significantly in the coming years. Kindergarten through grade 12 enrollment in Buffalo public schools is projected to fall roughly 23 percent between in the decade from 2002 to 2012 – a loss nearly 10,000 students. The trend is driven, not only by population loss in the city, but also by a decline in both births and the number of women of childbearing age. Such a decline will require major adjustments in the district. 

Otherwise, the Buffalo school system faces a series of tough challenges, including severe budget restrictions, inequitable state funding formulas, trouble in recruiting and retaining a qualified and socially diverse staff, and obsolete and aging facilities suffering from deferred maintenance. Physical conditions of most city schools leave them inadequate to deliver a 21st century education. 

Figure 22 The Joint Schools Construction Board’s phase one schools and one other new school form an excellent starting point for neighborhood revitalization. As the neighborhoods go, so go the schools. As the schools go, so go the neighborhoods.

Figure 22 The Joint Schools Construction Board’s phase one schools and one other new school form an excellent starting point for neighborhood revitalization. As the neighborhoods go, so go the schools. As the schools go, so go the neighborhoods. (Popup full image) 

Private and charter schools provide an element of “consumer choice” for parents. Many families stay in the city only because the can place their children in an educational environment apart from the public school system. Support, development and cooperative planning with these schools is needed to keep such families in the city. 

Recognizing the critical nature of these issues for the future of the city, the Board of Education created the “Choice Committee” in January 2000. The committee was asked to produce a blueprint for the school system that would ensure high academic achievement for all children and allow parents greater choice over school placement while still reflecting district diversity objectives. School officials are now pursuing their plan to achieve these goals. 

The reorganized school system will retain some citywide magnet schools but also create a new set of standard school types to be replicated in each of three newly drawn geographic zones across the district. These arrangements will facilitate choice, permit school populations to match the ethnic diversity of the different neighborhoods, and reduce the extent of bussing across the city. New efforts to improve staff recruitment and retention and to measure school performance are being made to support the overall goal. 

Extensive improvements in the physical plant of schools are required to fully implement the plan. The Joint Schools Construction Board has developed a district-wide program under which, over the next ten years, a number of obsolete schools will be closed, several new schools will be built, and the remainder reconstructed, upgraded and re-equipped to provide a 21st century quality education. 

This sweeping schools reconstruction program, funded in large part by hundreds of millions of dollars in state capital reimbursements, will provide major new investments around which to focus other redevelopment efforts in Buffalo neighborhoods. Good schools will help to retain Buffalo's existing population and attract families back into the city. Workforce diversity and development initiatives will enhance economic opportunities for Women and Minority-Owned Business Enterprises. 

The great opportunity is to coordinate schools reconstruction with neighborhood revitalization, including housing rehabilitation and new construction, maintenance of appropriate residential densities, good neighborhood design, promotion of public transit, and other smart growth principles. Such coordination of investments is all that much easier because the planned first phase of the schools reconstruction program has one school in each of the City’s Planning Communities slated for improvements. 

The alignment of these investments, however, won’t happen by itself. It is important that the Joint Schools Construction Board, which combines membership from both the School Board staff and City Hall staff, remain in position. The schools reconstruction program and City neighborhood revitalization efforts must be planned and implemented together.

1.4.6 Arts, Culture and Heritage

Buffalo has enormous and unusual assets in the arts, culture and heritage. These have long been an important contributor to the quality of life for residents throughout the metropolitan area. In recent years, however, Buffalonians have also come to understand that these can contribute much to the economic and social revitalization of our city. Many new initiatives are now emerging to showcase the visual and performing arts in Buffalo and to tell the city’s unique story.

Buffalo has been the regional center for arts and culture in all forms for more than 150 years. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society, Buffalo Museum of Science, and the Buffalo Zoological Gardens – all founded in the 19th century – have prospered and taken their places among the country’s oldest and most respected of such institutions. 

Cultural organizations founded during the 20th century have built upon and enhanced this legacy. These include the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Shea’s Buffalo Center for the Performing Arts, the Community Music School, Shakespeare in Delaware Park, and the Burchfield-Penney Art Center. With Studio Arena, The Alleyway, Irish Classical, Kavinoky, Ujima, Theater of Youth Co. and others, Buffalo stands second in the state only to New York City in the production of live theater 

Buffalo has a well-deserved reputation in the avant-garde with Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, CEPA Gallery, Buffalo Arts Studio, Squeaky Wheel, and just buffalo literary center. There is also great strength in multi-cultural and community based organizations such as the African-American Cultural Center, Buffalo Inner City Ballet, Los Caribes, El Museo Francisco Oller y Diego Rivera, Gardner’s Pick of the Crop Dance, Locust St. Neighborhood Art Classes, Neto Hatinkawe Okwehowe, and many others. 

Yet these are also times of extraordinary struggles for the arts, cultural and heritage organizations. The City government’s own financial crisis forced the suspension of funding for dozens of arts and cultural organizations starting with the 2002-2003 fiscal year. With many organizations heavily dependent on public funding, the difficulties brought on by funding cuts have been severe. 

Figure 23 An outdoor concert on Elmwood Avenue at Bidwell Parkway

Figure 23 An outdoor concert on Elmwood Avenue at Bidwell Parkway (Popup full image) 

Figure 24 Shea’s Performing Arts Center in the heart of the Downtown Theatre District was saved from the wrecking ball in the late seventies and is now a major attraction.

Figure 24 Shea’s Performing Arts Center in the heart of the Downtown Theatre District was saved from the wrecking ball in the late seventies and is now a major attraction. (Popup full image) 



Figure 25 Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin D. Martin Complex (1903-06) is on the National Register of Historic Places and is currently undergoing full restoration as a house museum.

Figure 25 Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin D. Martin Complex (1903-06) is on the National Register of Historic Places and is currently undergoing full restoration as a house museum. (Popup full image) 

It is not likely that cultural organizations will ever be totally self-sustaining and the search for broader and more reliable sources of funding must continue. Arts and cultural organizations will be forced to find more funding from both private gifts and earned income. Continued public support will be governed by clearly defined allocation criteria, requirements for the adoption of best business practices, and the formation of partnerships to lower costs, improve management and coordinate marketing. In any event, it seems unlikely that City of Buffalo funding will resume in the foreseeable future.

Nevertheless, the rationale for public support of arts and cultural organizations is strong because of the potential of these groups to contribute to community and economic development. These organizations make the community stronger. But they can also bolster ongoing efforts to develop the tourism industry by attracting visitors who want to experience an authentic cultural experience. These organizations are part of the Queen City brand. As such, they contribute to the prosperity of the region as well as the city. 

Today a variety of organizations, including the City of Buffalo Arts Commission; the County Office of Arts, Culture and Tourism; the Arts Council in Buffalo & Erie County; the Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors Bureau; and others in both the public and private sectors share an interest in the inherent worth and promotion of the brand. 

This work extends beyond Buffalo to the region. The National Park Service is studying the feasibility of creating a Niagara National Heritage Area to help develop, manage and promote regional attractions. The State of New York is working to restore the Erie Canal and prepare canal communities to take advantage of tourism opportunities. The State has designated Buffalo’s Theatre District as part of its Historic Districts Program. Efforts are also underway at the regional level to develop a comprehensive cultural tourism plan for the Erie and Niagara bi-county area.   

Figure 26 The Rethinking Niagara program in the region suggested several cultural and heritage themes relevant to making Niagara a single destination with multiple attractions.

Figure 26 The Rethinking Niagara program in the region suggested several cultural and heritage themes relevant to making Niagara a single destination with multiple attractions. (Popup full image) 


1.4.7 Historic Architecture

Buffalo possesses an extraordinary wealth of historic architecture – from celebrated works of the masters to typical period structures – that give meaning to the lives of city residents and hold promise to attract new visitors. The range of assets is very wide, from churches to factories, office and commercial buildings, schools and other public buildings, monuments, residences, and parks. 

The work of recognizing and protecting these assets has been going on for many decades. The City of Buffalo Local Landmark List has been in development for nearly thirty years, designating individual properties, ensembles, and Heritage or Historic Districts. Today there are 84 approved landmarks on the list and nine Local Historic Districts, including the Olmsted Parks system, and a total of some 7,000 buildings. 

Figure 27 The Michigan Avenue Baptist Church is part of a larger district under development that interprets Buffalo’s role in the under ground railroad and celebrates other aspects of the area.

Figure 27 The Michigan Avenue Baptist Church is part of a larger district under development that interprets Buffalo’s role in the under ground railroad and celebrates other aspects of the area. (Popup full image) 

The Secretary of the Interior has designated seven properties, a warship, and a fireboat as National Historic Landmarks. Forty-one properties, including the fireboat and a tugboat, have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. New York State Historic Preservation Office has identified ten Historic Districts with historical periods represented ranging from 1814 to 1940. 

More recently, major investments have been made in the renovation or restoration of some of the more significant properties. The City and its partners put $16.2 million into the renovation of Shea's Buffalo Performing Arts Center in the Theatre District downtown. Another $6.2 million was invested in restoration of the Market Arcade, also Downtown. More than $23 million in public and private contributions were invested in the ongoing restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin complex. 

The renovation of Shea's is a striking example of positive economic spin-off. After its restoration, but before its recent backstage expansion, the theater staged 30 or so Class B productions annually. With capacity for larger productions, it now hosts 60 or more Class A productions each year. Expanded and upgraded theater activity has also had a noticeable impact on restaurant growth in the Downtown. 

Buffalo’s regional Office of Historic Preservation, the Preservation Coalition of Erie County, the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier, the New Millennium Group, and Buffalo Architectural Salvage have acted together to stop the indiscriminate demolition of ordinary Buffalo buildings. These organizations have developed a civic preservation policy designed to protect and restore these numerous assets, going beyond individual buildings and Historic Districts to encompass adjoining neighborhoods.

Figure 28 This illustrates the land coverage within a quarter mile of every historic district boundary. A major portion of the city would be renovated if we took care of our cultural heritage and its immediate neighborhood context.

Figure 28 This illustrates the land coverage within a quarter mile of every historic district boundary. A major portion of the city would be renovated if we took care of our cultural heritage and its immediate neighborhood context. (Popup full image) 

They envision that all preservation activities should be grounded in a “web of urbanism.” This concept places individual heritage and preservation projects in the context of well-landscaped and pedestrian friendly streetscapes to ensure that the surrounding urban fabric is preserved along with specific historic structures and sites. 

Weaving the “web of urbanism” also involves a moratorium on demolitions other than those necessary for the preservation of public health; pedestrian oriented (re)development; a moratorium on new surface parking lots in the Downtown area; unified landscapes and streetscapes; guidelines for new development in historic districts; “buttoning up” or “mothballing” important buildings until their restoration can be accomplished; and providing connections and public access to the water. 

The City is taking steps to protect and preserve Buffalo’s uniqueness through a broad preservation strategy that understands preservation as part of looking after the city’s infrastructure and conserving the urban fabric. That fabric is what makes Buffalo unique. This policy will rely less on demolition and more on rehabilitation. 

As a result of a 2002 Buffalo-Pittsburgh preservation exchange, former Mayor Masiello directed the Preservation Board, in cooperation with the Office of Strategic Planning, to prepare a citywide Community Preservation Plan. It was based on the principle that a broadly conceived and well-executed preservation strategy is also an economic development strategy, that preservation enhances the quality of life in the city and increases the attraction of the city as an interesting, unique place to live, and it augments property values and stimulates the real estate market. 

The three-part plan will include a comprehensive land and building management program that will require advance notice of demolitions, procedures for reasonable appeal, and clear criteria for demolition. The second part directs the Preservation Board to convene organizations interested in preservation to establish a shared agenda and preservation program. This will include the updating of preservation materials, management of communications on inspections, recommended zoning restrictions, and guidelines for design standards. The Mayor has also asked local foundations to assemble a strategic investment fund to leverage the resources necessary to implement the Community Preservation Plan.