* Parking permits for Fruit Belt residents won’t mean much in the long-term if Buffalo’s leaders allow gentrification and medical campus expansion to eliminate the Fruit Belt neighborhood. *
Standing alone, the August 17th editorial in the Buffalo News appears sympathetic and encouraging:
On parking, residents first – New system must be enacted to avoid hardship on inhabitants of Fruit Belt
But alongside a prior opinion piece published by the Buffalo News editorial staff in July 2014, and the persistent failure of Western New York’s business and political leaders to plan a medical campus that would not result in gentrification of the historic neighborhood that adjoins the eastern border of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, the editorial is both cynical and hypocritical.
A little over a year ago, the editors of Western New York’s major newspaper expressed the following sentiment regarding the impact of the medical campus growth on the nearby Fruit Belt neighborhood:
Development is also coming to the near East Side, and more is expected as land values rise elsewhere. As a consequence, the line marking “the wrong side of the tracks” is moving further east. The downside is that people without means may also be squeezed out of their homes. Those are the advantages and consequences of gentrification, which is not only wholly desirable, but as inevitable as the laws of supply and demand. Still, it will be important to help ensure that as values rise, people aren’t left without acceptable options. [Emphasis added.]
This blog responded to the offensive Buffalo News editorial in a detailed posting titled, “Disregard of Fruit Belt Residents by Buffalo’s Leaders is Unjust and Unlawful.” As noted in the August 3, 2014 post:
… The so-called “people without means” who may find themselves displaced by the gentrification process are the nearly 2,000 residents of the historic “Fruit Belt” neighborhood – thirty-six (36) blocks of mostly quiet residential streets located directly east of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus [BNMC], extending roughly from High Street on the north, Jefferson Ave. to the east, the Kensington Expressway to the south, and Michigan Ave. on its western edge.
The tree-lined streets, with names such as Maple, Mulberry, Lemon and Grape, are home to a predominately African-American population with an average household income of around $23,000 a year – less than half of the Buffalo area as a whole. While approximately twenty percent (20%) of the Fruit Belt’s residential units are vacant, more than forty-percent of the occupied units are lived in by the property’s owner. And the pride of ownership is readily apparent when walking passed a mixture of century-old and recently constructed houses…
As is also addressed in last year’s posting, the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) placed an affirmative obligation on City of Buffalo, New York State agencies, and the institutions comprising the BNMC, to put into place effective and enforceable safeguards and mitigation measures to preserve the character of the Fruit Belt neighborhood and prevent displacement of local residents and businesses. Regretfully, neither the letter, nor the spirit, of SEQRA has been complied with.
The past failure of Buffalo’s political and business leaders, including the Buffalo News, to demand compliance with the dictates of both the law and common decency underscores the hypocrisy in today’s editorial. While the newspaper’s opinion piece characterizes the parking problem presently experienced by Fruit Belt residents as “a problem of success”, it is, in fact, a problem of neglect and poor planning – of a decade or more of intentional or reckless disregard for the quality of life of the non-affluent neighbors of the expanding medical campus.
It is ironic, at best, that the editorial makes the workers who utilize the adjacent residential streets appear as the culprits. It is true that the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) sought to protect its members’ interests by opposing a parking permit system for Fruit Belt residents, calling the proposal a “shortsighted approach.” But the very institutions listed in the opinion piece as “in agreement” with a parking permit solution – “the corporation developing the Medical Campus and its two biggest employees, Kaleida Health and Roswell Park Cancer Institute” – are the very entities which allowed this hardship to materialize. This troubling fact is made even more painful for Fruit Belt residents when one realizes that the City of Buffalo’s Mayor and Common Council President sit as members of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus board of directors.
Today’s editorial suggests that the peaceful “park-in” demonstration – where local residents “claimed on-street parking spaces that have been routinely taken by Medical Campus employees” – “must have felt good” for the residents and their supporters. Most likely, the opinion piece by the Buffalo News editorial staff also made its authors feel good – taking a righteous stand on behalf of the afflicted.
But the editorial will ring as a hollow and meaningless gesture if our region’s primary news publication does not retract its July 2014 proclamation – that squeezing people without means out of their homes is both “wholly desirable” and “inevitable” – and demand that local and state political leaders, and the institutions comprising the BNMC, take immediate and effective steps to comply with the laws intended to protect local residents and businesses.
After all, parking permits won’t mean much to Fruit Belt residents if they are “squeezed out of their homes.”
With All Due Respect,