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EVERYBODY'S COLUMN

Regional planning board is key to revitalizing area

The citizens of Western New York are losing out on opportunities to revitalize our communities because we lack an effective regional planning entity that can apply for federal assistance. This is a lesson learned from "A vision of filling in aging, sprawling suburbs" by Kathleen Lynn, published in the Business Section of the Jan. 16 News.

In the article, Lynn interviews June Williamson, a co-author of the book, "Retrofitting Suburbia." Abandoned properties, both residential and commercial, haunt our city and inner-ring suburbs. Williamson's book suggests creative ways to repurpose these buildings, but she emphasizes that such retrofitting has been most widespread in states like Maryland and Virginia, where counties engage in effective regional planning.

She points out that federal grants for this purpose are available from the Partnership for Sustainable Communities (a joint project of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency). A proposal must be regional in scope in order to qualify for such a grant.

I have worked with the League of Women Voters of Buffalo Niagara for many years to educate the public about the costs of sprawl and the value of regional planning. It is clear now that we must persist in finding a way to establish an Erie County Planning Board that can work with a regional entity, perhaps including all eight counties of Western New York, so that we can qualify for federal assistance. Our quality of life depends on it.

Anne Huberman

Buffalo

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African-American Civil War Monument is incredible

At the Martin Luther King Jr. Program of the African-American Historical Society of the Niagara Frontier, held at the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society, Felix Armfeld extended an invitation to the opening next summer of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.

I would suggest that visitors to D.C. for that event also go to the African-American Civil War Monument in the city. It's a beautiful bronze sculpture, depicting soldiers going forth on one side, and on the other side women with children hiding among their mothers' skirts. Curved low walls are inscribed with names of those who went to war. I was moved when I found my great-grandfather's name, and I made a new friend who was also searching for her ancestor.

Put the African-American Civil War Monument on your itinerary.

Alison Hyde

East Aurora

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United Way funds programs that address priority needs

I would like to add some key points to the Jan. 14 News article regarding United Way's $4 million in discretionary funding for 78 community programs. Even in a down economy, this dollar commitment to our community remains unchanged from last year.

Our application process began in spring 2010. Agencies were invited to a series of training sessions, and the evaluation criteria were disclosed fully and openly. Approximately 80 community volunteers -- two-thirds with subject matter expertise in our focus areas -- carefully reviewed and objectively rated (using a 150-point rating scale) each of the 147 program applicants. Engaging professionals in education, income, health and wellness as volunteers helped us fulfill our role as stewards of our donors' contributions by investing in those programs that address priority needs most effectively.

As in past years, the volume of applications exceeded our capacity to fund all the worthy requests we received. The United Way's funding commitment is contingent on success in the balance of our campaign, which concludes on March 31. Exceeding our campaign goal would enable us to fund additional programs that we cannot now support.

The economic environment has taken a toll on countless families. Agencies in our health and human service network work every day with limited funds to address ever-growing needs. United Way is grateful to more than 55,000 local individuals and 1,200 companies that trust us to invest their charitable dollars where they will do the most good for the most people. With the community's support, we hope someday to fulfill every worthy funding request from programs that improve education, income, health and wellness in Erie County.

Bob Zak

Chairman, United Way of Buffalo & Erie County Board of Directors

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Shriver was a champion of poor, disabled people

I assumed that upon waking the other morning, I would be inundated with stories of the Peace Corps, VISTA, Head Start, Job Corps, Community Action, Upward Bound, Foster Grandparents and Special Olympics -- all legacies of R. Sargent Shriver. Instead, I was told over and over that Regis Philbin will no longer be appearing on his morning talk show.

To me, we have lost one of this country's true servant leaders. I am saddened to have lost a personal hero. Shriver accomplished more to help the poor of our nation and world than anyone else in history. Countless people have been affected by the Peace Corps and Head Start to the war on poverty and the Community Action Organization. The continued success of the Peace Corps, which will celebrate 50 years of service this year, and VISTA are a testament to his leadership and innovation.

Shriver's loss will be mourned for a long time throughout the national service movement. For almost a decade, Shriver's life and service to the poor have been the center of Western New York AmeriCorps member and staff orientation. In Buffalo, his memory will not be forgotten, but embraced by the thousands of AmeriCorps members who have served and will serve in the future.

Mark P. Lazzara

CEO, Western New York AmeriCorps

Hands On Greater Buffalo

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DOT should synchronize traffic lights on Transit

I am writing about the traffic lights on Transit Road between Genesee and Main streets. I was driving south on Sunday morning and got stuck at every light between Main and Genesee with the exception of Aero Drive. And that was only because the signal at Aero cycled through a red light cycle while I sat at the Thruway entrance and watched it change from green to red to green.

I'm talking about the "300-yard dash" between Main, Garfield, Wehrle, Freeman and the Thruway entrance. It's ridiculous that these lights are not synchronized. The State Department of Transportation needs to do more to get these lights working for us. It's the 21st century, for God's sake.

I can only hope that this spring the lights will finally be set up to move traffic efficiently and stop this waste of time and gasoline for the thousands of us who travel north and south on Transit Road.

Paul Friedrich

Bowmansville

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