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Resistance to Wheatfield plan shows little has changed

The recent uproar over the Townhouses at Shawnee Landing, an affordable housing development initiated by a church group and a not-for-profit organization in the Town of Wheatfield, should be appalling to onlookers and residents of the area. Despite their repeated claims to the contrary, residents' opposition to the project is rooted in socially embedded prejudicial misconceptions.

This is a new twist to the 1960s and '70s phenomena of "white flight," when middle-class whites moved out of vibrant urban neighborhoods to avoid school integration, the outlawing of redlining and to avoid the African-American community as a viable political force. The aftermath of white flight left cities devastated, having lost their tax base, middle class and ability to lure unsubsidized investment.

That aftermath was typical of almost all American cities between the 1960s and 1990s: incredible concentrations of poverty whose burden fell singularly on one municipal jurisdiction within the metropolitan area -- the inner city.

In order to remedy this socio-spatial predicament in which we find ourselves, poverty and its consequences must be redistributed evenly among all of the municipal jurisdictions of the metropolitan area.

All communities should provide an appropriate share of the region's need for public and affordable housing. This would require that affluent communities such as Williamsville, Orchard Park and Clarence dedicate to the working class a percentage of their total housing stock equal to the share that less affluent communities, like Buffalo and Lackawanna, provide by circumstance.

Unless we can spatially integrate our metropolitan areas by both class and race, making the velocity of social mobility more rapid, we will continue to see systemic social inequality in all facets of American life for decades to come. Wheatfield, like all other communities, should be no exception.
If each municipality were to share in the burdens of poverty, it would become spatially dispersed. The externalities would no longer be heavily concentrated. It would become manageable, and the externalities easily absorbable into society. Then we might be able to make some real social progress.

Town Supervisor Timothy Demler exemplifies what is wrong with our area's public leaders: They don't understand the profound social and economic phenomena that have led us to where we are, or the paths we need to take to solve problems.

His recent letter to the Department of Housing and Urban Development asking that funds be pulled from the project is, consciously or unconsciously, racist, and is pandering to his own narrow parochial interests, namely, getting re-elected and prolonging what will surely be a failed political career.

Matthew Ricchiazzi is a junior at Cornell University in the Department of City & Regional Planning. In 2004, he interned with the Town of Wheatfield's Planning and Zoning Board. His family lives within a mile of the development.

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