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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Defining the "problem"

So we all know that Buffalo gets a bad rap. I tell people at school I'm from Buffalo and the responses I typically get are "Oh, you must like snow..." or "how does it feel to have your sports teams ALMOST win?" and the occasional "that's so close to us here in NYC, you must go home often!"

Well, I happen to love all four seasons of Buffalo weather, I hate when the Sabres and the Bills lose (but they won't this year!), and if you didn't know, Buffalo is 400 miles away on the other side of the state (totally separate from NYC), so no, I do not go home as often as I'd like.

Anyway, all this to say--Buffalo's reputation precedes it in one way or another, and oftentimes the reputation is not a very good one. Unfortunately this negativity seems to affect Buffalonians' opinions, causing a "poor us" mentality which, more often than not, results in pessimism and an action gridlock on many social issues and city plans. We begin to think that solutions are hard to come by and frankly not worth the time it would take in years of bickering. This is especially the case with the current housing crisis.

An estimated 40,000 houses lie vacant in Buffalo. Forty thousand! If an average family of four occupied each of those homes, Buffalo's population would rise 160,000 from under 300,000 to over ~450,000! Clearly this will not happen if there continues to be suburban sprawl and a lack of jobs, so that still leaves us with a considerable housing problem. What should we do with these properties? Should we demolish/deconstruct all of them? Rehab them?

To be sure, it must be a combination of many strategies. To say that rehabbing is the only answer is unrealistic given our decreasing population (who would move into all these homes?), but to say that a good plan is getting rid of all the structures and throwing them into landfills is equally as out of touch with reality. Adopting a middle of the road policy and allowing for both downsizing and revitalizing is the strategy I believe Buffalo must take.

I have chosen housing rehabilitation as my contribution to the solution. A small part of my decision was to see one less house demolished. The old homes in Buffalo are gorgeous if you put a little time and effort into them! I also decided to tackle this project given chats I had with friends, relatives, neighbors this summer. What I often found when talking with them was that people (including me!) just don't know how to maintain their homes. If you have enough money then sure, you can pay someone else to worry about it, but a) not everyone can afford to do so, and b) if everyone did that, no one would take pride in and feel connected to their neighborhoods! This makes up the second component of my project: offering the house as a learning space where workshops are offered on everything from home repairs to basic maintenance to lawn/garden creation. Lastly, my decision to start this project stemmed from my belief that there are answers to the housing crisis that we haven't even dreamed up yet. My thinking is, if I can provide this house as an open slate to try anything on--invite people with new ideas, new technologies, new rehab techniques, variations on traditional methods--then perhaps we can work collaboratively and arrive at a solution that makes sense!

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