University Heights, Buffalo, NY

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A dialogue needs to start

What exactly is UB's relationship to University Heights?
Below is a letter written by Scott Ries that sums up nicely how most residents and students living in the Heights feel towards UB.
With escalating crime and the tragic cold blooded murder of this bright young graduate, the resentment towards UB is reaching critical mass. I encourage all parties involved to start talking and start addressing the issues that plague the Heights.

"It’s May 10th, the day Javon Jackson was shot and killed on Main Street, near UB’s South Campus. quotes Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson, presumably in response to a question about the surveillance near where the shooting occurred: “We are in the process of examining the tape to see if there is any usable information from the cameras. Of course, you’re dealing with ambient light and nighttime. The best information, of course, would be an eyewitness account.”

Such an admission makes clear that Gipson’s lobbying for the $4.4 million installment of the cameras in 2007 was badly misguided. Ambient light and nighttime, I assume, are common conditions for crime scenes, especially the armed and violent crimes for which University Heights has become notorious. If the cameras function preventatively (panopticism: if the surveilled believes himself watched, he will not misbehave), they simply do not work. If anyone was foolish enough to believe they were being watched, Gipson himself will now have convinced them otherwise. The “information” the footage might present is obviously visually problematic, and, as Gipson implies, not actively monitored. And again, if the cameras are intended as an aid to enforcement, what good is such footage?

The tragedy of Jackson’s murder makes clear in the very worst way the problems in University Heights and of the relationship of the University to the city as a whole. While I cannot claim that this was Jackson’s situation, many University students arrive to Buffalo with the promise of cheap rent and proximity to UB’s badly located two main campuses. When I moved to Buffalo to begin my master’s degree in 2007, my first apartment was on Lisbon Avenue, where Jackson lived as well, according to the Buffalo News. My landlord lived in Brooklyn, did not maintain the property, and charged an exorbitant rent when I moved out. In April 2008 I was robbed at gunpoint not a block from where today’s incident occurred.

I see a direct connection between the location of the University and its relationship to the city and the crimes that all too commonly occur there. (The Answer Lady’s blog at provides a detailed list.) The University provides very little guidance as far as off-campus housing, and its direct influence on the area around South Campus seems to be little more than the opportunity for students to export money to irresponsible landlords and to provide an image of class division with its location atop the green hill.

These are very high-level problems for which there is no simple solution; the location of South Campus maintains a social and class division and a tension as palpable as the visual separation between Crosby Hall and the Tops Plaza across Main Street. The locations that the University chose are fatally unfortunate. The location is not the problem to be solved. It is absolutely essential, in the thrust to UB2020, that the University address its situation to the surrounding community.

It is not solved by romanticizing an alumnus’ murder. How many students are the victims of violent crimes in the Heights? This is an important question, one to which the University as a research institute must address its efforts, but the University should not remain selfish to its effects. What precisely is the University’s role with its community at the bottom of the hill, and much more importantly, how will it resolve the tensions its locations commonly (if not, perhaps in the present situation) cause, perpetuate, or ignore, and the violent crimes by which these tensions manifest themselves?

Something is very wrong in the Heights. Cameras that are meant to be seen more than to see are not the solution. The University’s position atop the hill compounds the problem. The city and the University are not responsible for Javon Jackson’s murder, but they must address their impact on the concentration of crime in University Heights. It is too late; UB must, however, address its responsibility in fostering a healthy community, both in proximate neighborhoods and with Buffalo as a whole. President John B. Simpson’s assertion, coordinated with UB’s purchase of three security cameras in the Heights at $80,000, that the University “will continue to take a leadership role in improving safety and behavior in the neighborhood,” (according to the UB News Center) is simply not enough. How can UB and the Buffalo Police, no administrative strangers, contribute to a healthier Buffalo community?

Scott Ries
Buffalo "


  1. Reis has some good points. My sense is that students are taking this as a wake up call and are realizing they can help be part of the solution to crime in the Heights. The diehard party crowd may be a holdout, but they need to understand their large parties on residential streets attract the very crime they say they don't want.
    We know there are not a few students fed up with their housing problems, but don't know their rights or options (via city housing code enforcement).

    Bottom line is that the student body is an enormous capacity that can help build neighborhood excellence.
    David E.

  2. That is NOT the bottom line. UB bears a huge part of the responsibility for this situation. If you read the letter, that is what is being said.

  3. I agree, UB has turned it's back on the Heights, All their money and efforts have been focused on Amherst. UB has left UB to rot.
    The ghetto that the heights is becoming is the creation of a University that just doesn't care.

  4. UB hasn't "left" anything. UB has more students and faculty now on the South Campus than they had before the Amherst campus was built. Unfortunately, what has in fact left the University Heights neighborhood are people who own and live in their own homes.

    UB is one player in a much broader effort to revitalize the neighborhood.

    It is a shallow and intellectually dishonest comment to say that the University doesn't care. It is the University community that makes up the majority of the victims of crime in the neighborhood. The University Heights neighborhood lost one of its residents to a senseless act of violence last week. Today there was a peace march through the neighborhood, but there were very few residents in attendance that were not UB students or faculty. That doesn't mean that the residents don't care, but clearly there are many that would prefer to complain that to become a part of the solution.

    Hopefully the residents of the neighborhood will come together and work with the city and the University to improve the quality of life for all. We need more people to make their voice heard above the shrill voices that want to blame others without rolling up their own sleeves to work on a solution.

    I don't know how much UB has invested in the Main St. Campus in the last 10 years, but I would guess that it is more than all the businesses on Main combined. We ALL need to invest in the community - be it with our time, our talent or our treasure. Together, we can make this neighborhood what we want it to be.

  5. What a nasty thing position to take, -blame the residents. Truth is, that most of the people who work at UB don't live in University Heights because UB neither promotes or encourages it. The amount of students in the heights is also shrinking. UB has abandoned the Heights for Amherst and soon, for downtown.
    get real, wake up and smell the coffe, That big sucking sound you hear is our tax dollars flowing out of the city into the suburbs.

  6. I can't see anything anywhere above that blames the residents.

    Unfortunately, with anonymous comments, people sometimes feel more comfortable speaking from a position of ignorance. UB does, in fact, have a fairly well established program to encourage its employees to purchase homes in the neighborhood.

    The neighborhood, and the city, county and state in which they are located, have unfortunately been in a downward spiral for the past 40 years or so. The population is declining, and with it the political clout and the federal support we once had.

    There is no one group to blame. The fact is, the more time we spend looking to place blame, the more it takes us away from doing something worthwhile - like working together to address our problems.

  7. "Such an admission makes clear that Gipson’s lobbying for the $4.4 million installment of the cameras in 2007 was badly misguided. "

    As the dust settles, it looks like the best investment we the city or UB have ever made.