It takes a village…to make a place: Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo

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Our new report, Placemaking in Legacy Cities: Opportunities and Good Practices, uses case studies to examine how placemaking can be used in Legacy Cities.

Below, we share an excerpt from the report. Learn how one Buffalo resident’s morning run ended up sending him down the path of helping to form a vibrant neighborhood association:

So, it was a Sunday morning, and this was in the mid- to late-90s, and I was starting my run. I lived just off of Elmwood Avenue. I noticed that this guy is weeding a planter at a bus stop on Elmwood near my house. I finish my run an hour later, and this guy is still weeding the bus stop. So I stopped to talk with him, and it was Mike Attardo, who was, and is, a merchant on Elmwood Avenue. He told me his whole philosophy about the neighborhood, which was that we couldn’t just wait around for the city to clean up for us. We have to just take care of it ourselves. The citizens needed to just make their own decisions about caring for the street, and then just get to work. That’s how I got involved in Forever Elmwood.

-Mike Ferdman, who went on to serve as the second Board President of Forever Elmwood.

In the mid-1990s, Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, New York was at what a number of observers have called a tipping point: it displayed many symptoms of disinvestment, including retail and residential vacancy, low rents and neglected properties.

At the same time, it was home to significant assets. Elmwood Avenue was narrow enough that pedestrians were able to read signs and interact with people on the other side of the street. Historic architecture was scattered throughout. Anchor institutions like the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and Buffalo State College were located at the north end of the street. Delaware Park and the Bidwell and Chapin Parkways, all part of the Buffalo Olmstead Parks Conservancy, offered ample green space.

And even during the time when it was struggling against decline, the existing retail on Elmwood was clustered into discrete nodes that seemed to change in character every few blocks.

Yet a group of residents and business owners during this time sensed that, without intentional care and collaboration, the commercial strip and neighborhood Elmwood Avenue was embedded in would continue to suffer disinvestment as Buffalo’s suburbs drew residents away from downtown… (Learn how they avoided such a fate: Continued on page 32 of the report)

Placemaking in Legacy Cities

The full report is available to download on our website, free of charge. Share your thoughts at @CProgressNews or follow the conversation at #placemaking and #LegacyCities.