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Bringing Good Ideas Home to Buffalo

5 October 2009 16 Comments

This article was contributed by Katherine Reedy, a Buffalo native. She graduated in May from Columbia (undergrad) and lives in New York.

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A common refrain heard in Buffalo, and much of the Rust Belt, is that you can’t appreciate the place until you’ve left it.

A crop of young Buffalonians have put this idea into practice in the past several years by combining an appreciation for their hometown with the innovative resources and ideas they’ve gained through education and experiences in the world outside the Queen City.

Megan McNally, a senior at Barnard College in New York, used a megan-mcnally-june-2009school grant to purchase a home (pictured above) on Buffalo’s blighted West Side. Picking up renovation tips from the non-profit Buffalo ReUse (and some construction workers she befriended), McNally is remaking the house into a community center. Whitney Yax, an ’09 graduate of Columbia, joins her on the project. They’ve already been featured in Dwell magazine, and Megan blogs about her project at Buffalo Basics.

Erin Hheaneyeaney is drawing on her experiences organizing student activists at Swarthmore College to organize local residents against Tonawanda Coke, a major regional polluter in an area long plagued by environmental hazards. (Remember Love Canal?) Buffalo residents recognize the plant by the distinct stench it wafts over Grand Island in the Niagara River, and few were surprised to learn this summer that it emits dangerous levels of the carcinogen benzene. At just 22, Heaney is the executive director of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York.

aaronbartley4inFinally, Aaron Bartley is using his law degree from Harvard–where he was involved in labor organizing–to spearhead the non-profit People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH), which helps low-income Buffalo citizens find affordable housing. PUSH recently threw its third annual fundraiser “Buffalo Takes Manhattan” in September, drawing nearly 300 Buffalo supporters to SEIU headquarters in NYC for pizza, wings, beer, a speech by the esteemed A.R. Gurney, and much dancing to Rick James.

In a city that came late to discussions of sustainability, public accessibility, and centralized planning, the fresh ideas of Buffalo’s young activists are truly breaking ground. Hopefully, it will be their dedication and appreciation that clears the stale air of their hometown.

(Picture credits: Buffalo ReUse, Artvoice, and VOICE-Buffalo.)

  • Special K

    Sounds like they would be good GLUE members!

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  • http://www.buffalo.edu/~gardella Joe Gardella

    Growing up in Detroit in the 50′s to 70′s, moving to Pittsburgh and landing the job of my life in Buffalo, well, I’m a rust belt boy married to a rust belt girl (from Pgh), living well in the midst of the difficulties of high poverty, job loss and the need for structural changes in leadership and applications. I’m biased, obviously, as I know two of these people, working with Erin on the Clean Air Coalition. But there are many stories and opportunities where folks can take their ideas and make huge impacts in the rust belt. With the attention of Time Warner on Detroit, maybe folks on the coasts will open their eyes to what is really going on, and what can work, and will learn about creative leadership in Youngstown…Buffalo…Cleveland….Detroit…Pittsburgh, etc. and not ignore the problems as folks have done for forty years. The downturns didn’t start in the last 10 or 15 years, it’s been going on since the late 60′s.

    I love these stories and am glad to learn of this blog!

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  • schmange

    Awesome job, Katherine! I love the way this is laid out. I’m impressed! You should use a whole byline.

  • http://totalfurmanation.blogspot.com HHF3

    What an inspiration!

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  • Amy Vossen Vukelic

    Welcome Home!!! And thanks for investing your skills, talents, and knowledge to prepare a land for seven generations to come!

    Your energy and experience are needed and appreciated.

  • http://vacantpropertyurbanopportunities.blogspot.com/ Nick Helmholdt

    My fiance is a Buffalonian and we’re getting ready to get hitched in the Queen City. A fair number of my relatives & friends will come to Buffalo for the first time because of this – thus we’re labeling it as a “destination wedding.” I’m thrilled to hear that some Buffalo Gals have found a way to rebuild this beautiful city. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself!)

  • http://eachlittleworld.typepad.com LINDA from Each Little Wolrd

    As a proud former Buffalo Gal, I want to be sure that you all know that Buffalo hosts the largest home garden tour in the nation and had folks from national mags like Martha Stewart and Fine Gardening in town to check it out in July. Garden bloggers from around the country will be meeting in the Queen City next year. For info on the Garden Walk and other Buffalo stories with a different perspective, check out Jim at the Art of Gardening at http://artofgardeningbuffalo.blogspot.com/

  • schmange

    Congrats, Nick! I think maybe this requires a first-person blog entry: marrying in Buffalo.

  • http://jwoz74.cm Jennifer

    Great idea. You guys should partner with Buffalo Lab http://www.buffalolab.org/blog/ who specialize in teaching technology-related classes (PHP, video editing, graphic design, Web design, HTML) I know that Buffalo Lab is looking to rent out space they already pay for in the Larkin Building (Seneca Street) in order to help raise money to keep their operation going. They also have a Meet-Up group which is a great way of organizing classes, posting schedules and allowing members to give feedback.

  • http://jwoz74.com Jennifer

    I also forgot to mention Squeaky Wheel as another places to hold more tech-related classes. http://www.squeaky.org/equipment

    The advantage is that they have equipment for rent as well.