Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Glimpse Into the Past: Model Cities in Buffalo

A Glimpse into the Past: “Model Cities” Program in Comparison to Buffalo Development

            Although the city of Buffalo has come a long way in the area of urban development for companies and facilities, the push for strengthening residential areas is becoming more of a priority. In addition to newer large scale developments occurring in Buffalo such as Conventus and the Harborcenter, Buffalo is also improving its neighborhoods through community involvement. There are similarities in the positive aspects of the Model Cities program from the 1960s Great Society plan to Buffalo’s housing development programs throughout the city.
As mentioned in the State of the City address earlier this year, plans to revitalize Buffalo neighborhoods are in full effect. More focus is going into the conditions of underdeveloped neighborhoods such as the east and west sides of Buffalo. Urban renewal plans in the works can also be compared to the Model Cities Program from the 1960’s, an observation not widely addressed in recent times. The Model Cities program was an element of the “Great Society” plan that worked to send aid and help promote social improvement to cities with communities that are underdeveloped, poor, and in need of help. According to an article on Facts on File,
          “The Model Cities program, passed by Congress in November 1966, encouraged participating cities to confront actively social and economic problems as well as physical decay in poor, urban areas throughout the United States.”
Not only was the program designed to build communities up, it also worked to help address underlying issues as to why they were underdeveloped in the first place. A lot of the same issues from the past can be seen in present day Buffalo.
In January of 1967, The Buffalo Model City Conference was held and it was sponsored by the Cooperative Urban Extension Center. This conference was held to bring light to many factors that would help make Buffalo a more desirable and stable city. With help from federal funding, Buffalo would be able to carry out the solutions needed to make this happen. Richard R. Miller, former city commissioner of Urban Renewal of 1968 stated in a copy of the conference that,
 “One of the principal requirements of an effective Model City program is a strong administrative structure centered in city government which has the authority to undertake and finance the variety of program elements that will be involved.” 
However, according to Buffalo Rising, Publius writer and Model Cities critic Judson L. James noted that by decentralizing federal programs and reconfiguring state and national programs, it was moving in the opposite direction than what was originally intended. For example, when the Scajaquada and Kensington Highways were created, they tore straight through Humboldt Parkway.  In comparison with today, there is hope that with better strategic planning and community involvement, more projects will be more beneficial than not.
Today, there are strategic neighborhood investments about to unfold. They are investments that require cooperation from its investors and careful planning from the city’s administration. One example of an investment includes the Northland Avenue Belt Line Corridor on the East Side, which will be funded in partnership with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s “Buffalo Billion.” It will be a site for manufacturing jobs and job training as stated in the State of the City press release. Another example of an investment is the Niagara Street Gateway Project on the West Side that will essentially make Niagara Street an attractive destination for residents, businesses and visitors while simultaneously creating a beautiful gateway to and from Canada.
The Model Cities program was ultimately intended to bridge the relationship between communities and government. Some of the categories included opportunities to re-orient social action programs, urban renewal programs, economic opportunity programs, and cultural programs. Each category included details to how the program would be carried out and how it would benefit the communities and cities involved.
One example of an organization that promotes urban renewal and development as well as social change is True Community Development Corporation, a sister company of True Bethel Baptist Church located on the city’s east side.
“…One thing that we’re really concentrated on this year is education and empowerment through homeownership. Our focus this year is educating people beyond everything,” said TCDC Executive Director Janice White showing that urban development overall takes more than simply building homes and businesses. Social action and cultural awareness are also important aspects.
             In fact, professor and doctor of Urban Planning of University at Buffalo, Henry L. Taylor is one of the many agents of change for Buffalo. He has been involved in a lot of urban planning for the East Side, produced countless publications, technical reports, and several grants and contracts for communities. One of his ideologies includes raising sociopolitical development within communities that “enables residents to understand what actually is going on [underdevelopment in certain areas].”

Buffalo is now recognizing the accomplishments as well as the failures in urban development that begun in the past.

            “Comparing now to then; the Thruway Plaza took away from businesses downtown and neighborhood communities…people in areas of development are not being given jobs or training,” said George K. Arthur, former Buffalo common council president. He noted that learning from mistakes made in the past could help build a better future. Incorporating social and cultural elements in urban renewal plans is a way to help build cities and the communities within them.

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