University Heights, Buffalo, NY

Friday, June 12, 2009

Buffalo News Feature Story

Donn Esmonde: University Heights needs UB to step up

The recent rash of violence around UB’s South Campus brought it all back for me: the school’s broken promise over the last decade to invest in —and to stabilize—the surrounding University Heights neighborhood.

If anything should spur UB to revisit the plan, it is last month’s shooting death of model student Javon Jackson the night after his graduation.

Banks, corporations and politicians in the mid-1990s were in place with UB to buy, renovate and resell more than 100 homes. UB never pulled the trigger.

The idea was to retrace the footprint that UB had in the ’70s, when it owned many houses—and had its campus police station—on nearby Winspear Avenue. Then-President Bill Greiner of UB abandoned a limp ’90s housing effort after redoing a half-dozen homes—at the same time UB was building reams of student housing at its isolated North Campus in Amherst.

Activists hoped that new President John Simpson’s UB 2020 plan would include a University Heights housing piece. Instead, it was the missing piece of a worthy 2020 vision that will—among other things—deepen the university’s downtown footprint and buck up its South Campus academics. But it does little to deal with the fraying University Heights neighborhood and the glut of absentee landlords and trolling street thugs.

Dozens of urban colleges—as close as Canisius and as distant as USC—extended their reach into surrounding streets. Whether fueled by altruism or self-interest, it makes sense for schools to reach into neighborhood housing—for student safety, and to avoid the enrollment- killing reputation that crime brings.

Police say crime in University Heights is down. But the last year saw several high-profile student rapes and beatings, a homeowner’s shooting and— last month—the shooting death of Jackson and a UB student’s brother.

Jackson’s tragedy should prompt UB officials to stop dipping their toe into the neighborhood and dive in. A similar tragedy prompted Milwaukee’s Marquette University to get off the dime a decade ago. Half steps such as UB’s employee housing incentives and task forces do not get it done.

“It was the right thing to do back then,” said Kevin Helfer, “and it is the right thing to do now. . . . I think it should be part of their core mission.”

As University Heights member of the Common Council in the ’90s, Helfer helped to craft the buy-rehab-sell housing plan that UB never launched. He said that it “would not be that hard” for UB to do it. Neighborhood residents have bought and rehabbed a handful of houses, but nothing on the scale UB could bring. Along with building a city at the Amherst campus, UB could prop up the one that already exists along Main Street.

“It is in their self-interest to stabilize the neighborhood,” Helfer said. “If they do not invest in the community and the housing stock, what we have now will just perpetuate. . . . Think of where we would be now if they had [started] 15 years ago.”

The lack of UB-controlled housing did not cause the recent violence. But stable neighborhoods smother crime.

UB’s vice president for student affairs, Dennis Black, said the focus is on adding to the mature mix of grad students and faculty in University Heights.

“I don’t know of much conversation going on [at UB] about us getting back into the buy-rehab-sell business,” Black said. “There is not much talk of us as a developer.”

Maybe it is time for the talk to start. The neighborhood—and its problems— are not going away. Unless UB finally decides to step beyond the fence, I think the next 15 years will look a lot like the last 15.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

UB Community Service Day with Brush Up Buffalo

As part of the University at Buffalo’s inaugural UB Community Service Day on Saturday, June 20, the university will participate in Brush Up Buffalo 2009. All community members, faculty, staff, students, and alumni are encouraged to volunteer.

Founded in 1996, Brush Up Buffalo is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization that organizes an annual event to repaint about 10 to 15 low-income, single-family, owner-occupied homes and revitalize city neighborhoods. This year’s event takes place in the University District, directly south of the UB South Campus. The University at Buffalo is proud to be a key sponsor.

Registration for Brush Up Buffalo 2009 is simple and can be done on the Brush Up Buffalo web site. You will be asked to include your name, e-mail, phone number, t-shirt size, and lunch preference.

About 500 volunteers from across the region are expected to participate this year and the organization hopes to repaint approximately 15 homes. More homes may be painted if additional volunteers register. There is no cost to participate, but volunteers must be at least 18 years of age.

All Brush Up Buffalo volunteers will meet at the UB South Campus beginning at 7:30 a.m. Parking is in the Diefendorf Lot off Sherman Road at Bailey Avenue. Buses are provided to transport volunteer teams to and from houses. Each volunteer will receive breakfast, refreshments on-site at the houses, a Brush Up Buffalo t-shirt, and lunch back at the UB South Campus.

With 30 to 40 volunteers assigned to each house, the painting takes about three to four hours to complete. Most volunteers are finished with the entire day by 1:00 p.m. Most supplies are provided, but volunteers are encouraged to bring extra ladders if possible. No painting experience is necessary, and union painters will be at each house to provide assistance.

Please consider taking part in this unique opportunity to volunteer with friends and neighbors to help beautify the neighborhood.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Be in the Samuel P. Capen Garden Walk

The Samuel P. Capen Garden Walk has been a University Heights tradition since 2002, created to showcase the neighborhoods surrounding the UB South Campus, including University Heights & Eggertsville, while building community among neighbors. It is a joint initiative between the University at Buffalo and local neighborhood partners and is held rain or shine.

At this time we are receiving entry forms to participate in the walk. There is no fee to enter a garden in the walk and no garden is too small! This event is part of the University and community’s larger efforts of making the neighborhoods surrounding the South Campus an exciting, safe and vibrant place to live, work and play.

The walk itself will be on Saturday July 18th from 11:00am - 4:00pm. Maps will be available at the University Community Farmers Market on the South Campus on Main Street at Kenmore Avenue from 8:00am - 1:00pm. They will also available at 22 Larchmont Rd; 135 and 405 Capen Blvd; and 67 Highgate Ave during the walk hours from 11:00am – 4:00pm.

All participants will be invited to a pre-event gathering on Friday July 17 in the neighborhood to meet other gardeners and pick up maps and your signs for the walk. Location and time will be distributed upon your confirmation of participation.

All participants are invited to leave their signs up on Sunday July 19 so you can see the other gardens on the walk.

Contact UB Community Relations for more information and an entry form at 829-3099. See photos from the Garden Walk here. Photo by Nancy J. Parisi.