[My thanks to the Buffalo News edit page staff for publishing a version of this post in its “Another Voice” column, on-line June 8, 2020, and in the print version June 9. I have written here about the unjust and unlawful gentrification of Buffalo’s Fruit Belt neighborhood on multiple occasions, including, for example, in 2015 and 2014.]
Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus President and CEO Matt Enstice has issued the BNMC’s “Pledge for Racial Equity,” expressing firm opposition to “any form of racial injustice,” and the BNMC’s “strongly held beliefs in promoting justice for all people.” [Here’s the statement, BNMC’s Pledge for Racial Equity.]
The vast majority of women and men who work within the Medical Campus undoubtedly agree with these sentiments. And, I trust, the members of BNMC’s board of directors feel likewise. [With a bit of scrolling, the institutions forming the BNMC, and it board members, can be found here.]
However, taking steps to displace a community of low-income people of color in the adjoining Fruit Belt neighborhood is not racial justice. Similarly, making families fear that they will be pushed out of their neighborhood and replaced by wealthier and whiter individuals – in the name of “progress” – is itself a form of racial injustice. [Here is an informative introduction to the history and architecture of the Fruit Belt neighborhood, fruitbelt_brochure_final.]
Actions, and inactions, do speak louder than words.
In 2010, the BNMC issued a “Master Plan Update” urging the creation of “a campus-wide Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) in order to facilitate future campus development and assess the environmental, social and economic impacts of growth.” [See 2010 Master Plan Update, p. 62, 7.] If done properly, the GEIS would have included an objective analysis of the potential for displacing the less-affluent neighbors of an expanding Medical Campus, and identified mitigation measures to reduce the adverse impacts. The GEIS was never done.
That same 2010 master plan included the following statement: “The transition between the medical campus and the Fruit Belt neighborhood must be carefully considered to take advantage of proximity while also mediating building scale, character and use.” [See 2010 Master Plan Update, p. 28, 30.] Several years later, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, a major member institution of BNMC, ignored that call for moderation, and built a 12-story tower at the very edge of the Fruit Belt neighborhood, where the typical building is a one- or two-story home.
Another prominent BNMC member, the University at Buffalo, caused turmoil and distrust in 2013. The 150 families living at McCarley Gardens, at the edge of the Medical Campus, learned that UB planned to purchase the site and demolish the low-income townhouse complex. They felt victimized and tossed aside, no more than collateral damage to be forced to move in the name of so-called “progress.” It took a prolonged effort by community residents and activists to convince UB to drop its plans.
More recently, Roswell Park again demonstrated its insensitivity to the character and quality of life of the Fruit Belt neighborhood when it sold a single-family house on Maple Street to a private developer. By doing so, it provided the critical piece needed for a proposed “market rate” apartment complex that, if built, will be grossly out of scale physically with the nearby residences, and out of reach financially for most Fruit Belt residents. [Here’s one of several iterations of “The Lawrence” project, The Lawrence – Elevations; and, here’s my opposing letter, submitted as a concerned citizen in March 2020 to the City of Buffalo Zoning Board of Appeals, The Lawrence – Giacalone 03-10-20 ltr to ZBA.]
Had Roswell Park desired inclusion and diversity, it would have insisted on an “affordable housing” requirement in the deed.
A pledge for racial equity will ring hollow in the absence of respect for the dignity of the individuals and families who live in the adjoining neighborhoods.
With All Due Respect,