On this day of counting blessings, both personal and societal, add one more to the list: the recognition that the least-developed parts of Western New York need just as much attention as the waterfront, downtown and the Medical Campus.
It has been a long time coming, but that mindset appears to be taking hold.
You can see it in the places we long chose not to look, like the corner of Bailey Avenue and Amherst Street. That's where an early childhood center is going up as part of the Buffalo Promise Neighborhood project to remake the East Side's 14215 ZIP code area.
That area, which contains some of the city's poorest neighborhoods, is targeted for about $20 million so far in an ambitious, ground-up revitalization effort focused on everything from education, parenting and health to job training and business development.
The locally led initiative continues to attract national attention – and money – from sources ranging from the federal government to the Anne E. Casey Foundation and Johns Hopkins University, along with the local John R. Oishei Foundation.
It's an amazing development in a region divided by poverty and segregation, yet the seeds for this intervention were planted years ago when M&T Bank first adopted the struggling Westminster Community School in the heart of the neighborhood.
M&T is now helping build the childhood center and is a linchpin in the overall project. It's an example of what can happen when Buffalo Niagara's vision extends beyond the traditional development targets and when corporate leaders are willing to partner with people in the neighborhoods.
A similar, if smaller, transformation is on tap with the Perry Choice Neighborhood project spearheaded by the University at Buffalo's Center for Urban Studies, the Community Action Organization of Erie County and the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority.
The goal is to remake the neighborhoods around the Commodore Perry public housing complex, again with a focus on people – not silver bullets – and on involving the residents in reshaping their own community. With a $250,000 competitive federal planning grant in hand, the collaborative is preparing to compete for millions more to implement a project not in downtown, the Elmwood strip or the medical corridor, but in one of Buffalo's poorest areas.
In a similar vein, the Say Yes to Education initiative – excessive hype notwithstanding – will focus much of its attention on schools, and the support services to make them successful, in heretofore forgotten neighborhoods.
The efforts signal a Western New York epiphany long in the making. In many ways, they mark the logical outgrowth of what “regionalists” preached two decades ago.
From the 1993 National League of Cities study showing that cities and their suburbs prosper or shrivel together, to books such as “Citistates” and “Cities Without Suburbs” that made the same point, the writing has been on the wall. It says that this region will never thrive without a strong, vibrant Buffalo at its core. By extension, that implies a strong, vibrant East Side.
Thankfully, we're starting to get it.