Parts of Buffalo can ring in the New Year with a toast to good schools, safe neighborhoods and economic vitality. Yet other neighborhoods exist as if in a perpetual hangover, with no hope that ringing out the old will bring anything better.
What changes could make 2016 a tale of one city and revive this “forgotten” Buffalo? Those on the front lines have ideas:
• With a divided School Board, political factions already eyeing the May elections and 20 schools already on the state’s receivership list, parent activist Sam Radford has a simple wish: “Adult supervision,” he says, quoting a former state official’s rationale for creating the Erie County control board in 2005, two years after the Buffalo control board formed. So why not a trifecta?
While mayoral control never gained traction, Radford has talked before about a school control board and thinks either would be an improvement over the faux democracy that often sees fewer than 10 percent of voters deciding board elections. The result is a two-tiered school system divided along lines of race and income while the board has yet to act on remedies recommended by a national civil rights expert.
“We are in the same place the city was 20 years ago, and we need that same kind of intervention,” Radford said.
• While some focus on construction jobs or new business to help the East Side share in Buffalo’s resurgence, one urban expert contends the key is something often ignored: low-income rental housing that drains money from occupants and public assistance programs because government won’t make landlords shape up.
“If ‘black lives matter,’ you’ve got to create housing that is healthy to live in,” says Henry L. Taylor Jr. of the University at Buffalo’s Center for Urban Studies.
Enforcing standards would put the onus on landlords instead of renters and heating programs, freeing up money that could spur other economic activity. Taylor pointed to PUSH Buffalo’s work on the West Side as an example, with the fix-up effort training residents in rehab and weatherization to simultaneously create jobs.
The key is standards and strong code enforcement. But who’s going to do it?
“It’s shameful for the number of African-Americans that we have in power, to have the conditions that we have on the East Side,” Taylor said.
• If black lives really matter, how do you convince young blacks? Pastor James Giles has an answer, if not enough resources.
The supervisor of the Buffalo Peacemakers anti-violence coalition says only about 100 young people are causing the mayhem in five pockets of the city, with only about 15 calling the shots – literally. While the stereotype is that they want to be in gangs, his work over the years has convinced Giles otherwise.
“All of them say, ‘If I can get a job, I’m coming up out of this,’ ” he said, adding that the single most important thing we can provide is comprehensive job-training and mentoring because “you’ve got to be in their lives.”
Working with groups like the Buffalo Urban League and AmeriCorps, Peacemakers has gotten gang members into GED and job-training programs. That could be one reason homicides dropped by a third in 2015. Will 2016 be the year they get more support?
“We believe we can bring them all out,” he said, “if we get the resources.”
What changes could make 2016 a tale of one city and revive this “forgotten” Buffalo?