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Ever since the University at Buffalo moved its heart and soul to the Amherst plains, the South Campus -- once the only campus -- has played second fiddle. The City of Buffalo, especially its University Heights community, suffered a great loss almost without realizing it. Except for student housing and a bar scene, UB began to make but a small footprint on the way things went in University Heights and nearby.

So plans announced Friday carry special importance to both the university and its surrounding neighborhoods.

First of all, it's obviously wise for the university to invest in its South Campus facilities through expansion and rehabilitation.

More than $100 million is to be sought for transforming the South Campus into what UB calls "a premier health-sciences and research center." In the scheme of things, the center will "serve as both the anchor and catalyst for the redevelopment of the entire University Community." If nothing else, the money and the plans are signs the university intends to flourish at its old site as well as out in Amherst. They are most welcome signs.

But what puts UB's plans outside the obvious are the roles the university intends to play in the surrounding communities. It's important to note from the start that what today's UB planners call the University Community extends farther afield than the university has sometimes envisioned its beneficial influence reaching. To cite on example, the Town of Tonawanda's Kenilworth section has had but sparse ties with the university in years past, but it's included in the University Community Initiative planning area. The broader vision is good news. It recognizes that UB is the area's biggest institution -- one with responsibilities that extend beyond its campus boundaries. It begins to put into action some of the new talk about regionalism.

The University Community, as newly defined, has been losing population over a 25-year period. While its neighborhoods have their distinct character, the overall population cuts across many economic classes. The intent is to preserve and strengthen those neighborhoods. The vision for the future, in UB's words, is "a lively, cross-class, multicultural community with a high quality of life."

UB rightly sees its South Campus location as special, at once a neutral location at the meeting point of four governmental jurisdictions, city and suburban, and a natural center for future initiatives.

One emphasis is on housing. Through a real-estate development organization meant to be funded by private corporations, deteriorating houses will be bought, renovated and sold, primarily to middle-income families and upwardly mobile residents.

Particularly innovative is a plan for what is called the Regional Community Policing Resource Center, involving seven police departments in a combined public-safety and crime-prevention effort in the University Community. It will function from "a neutral site" on campus.

A third emphasis is education, a most natural one, involving elementary and secondary school pupils and adult education and training programs.

Given its size and location, the university can bring great benefit to its neighbors. May it happen. And may other initiatives follow.

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