When PUSH Buffalo was founded in 2005, Buffalo’s West Side was struggling with neglect and exploitation resulting in rampant blight, high energy costs, limited opportunities for employment, and multiple environmental threats to residents. In 2006, there were an estimated 23,000 vacant housing units in Buffalo and thousands of houses were being demolished by the City. Focusing on community strengths and assets, PUSH addressed the neighborhood’s priority issues through community organizing for resident power. Residents launched a bold campaign targeting a New York State housing agency that was using its control of vacant houses and lots in Buffalo to speculate on Wall Street. Residents not only won a decisive victory that resulted in millions of dollars for the state’s neighborhoods, they laid the groundwork for a new local economy in Buffalo’s Westside.
Key to resident-driven community resiliency solutions in Buffalo has been resident leadership, power, and capacity-building strengthened by multi-stakeholder partnerships to address the root causes of poverty and blight. Training residents to rehabilitate vacant houses, PUSH was able to engage under-employed residents, youth, renters, homeowners, business owners/contractors, and public agencies in delivering multiple benefits to the community: jobs, workforce development, energy efficiency, and community-driven neighborhood revitalization.
Using a Community Congress model of community-driven neighborhood planning to ensure solutions are driven by the the visions, needs, and priorities of residents, PUSH Buffalo and a range of partners have grown these efforts into a 25-square block Green Development Zone that links green infrastructure, affordable housing, local food systems, and energy efficiency to build lasting community resilience.
A truly comprehensive community resiliency solution, the Green Development Zone (GDZ) advances three goals: Green and Affordable Housing, Vacant Land Use, and Quality Jobs.
What does it take to build the kind of multi-stakeholder partnerships necessary for the success of such an integrated set of climate resilience solutions like the Green Development Zone? The critical element is centering the leadership and capacity of residents, which means creating the infrastructure for meaningful community dialogue, participation, and capacity-building. When the experiences of residents are the foundation for a solution set, the solutions that follow will not be artificially siloed - they will be as interconnected as the web of interlocking problems impacted communities face. PUSH engages residents both as the builders of new community infrastructure and as the advocates for the necessary policy and systems change to scale new community infrastructure. Moving this work requires deep investments in relationship-building, with a focus on identifying clear roles and uncovering win-win opportunities for a range of stakeholders.