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