By Lynn Richards
I want to thank Mayor Byron Brown and the businesses and residents of Buffalo for the warm welcome and hospitality they gave us in early June at the Congress for New Urbanism’s 22nd annual meeting. Buffalo has great assets to help rebuild and revitalize the city into a thriving region.
Our hope is that in every city where we have our annual congress, we are able to offer guidance, help address barriers and generally move conversations forward on where and how residents want to grow their city.
Just as our members flew home, The News published a critique by Colin Dabkowski called “An Open Letter to the New Urbanist Movement.” He felt the CNU’s approach benefits the wealthy and leaves low- and middle-income residents behind. Rather, the CNU strives to provide solutions for improving cities and towns for all residents, and has done so throughout our 22 years of history. The CNU cares deeply about revitalizing distressed communities, and has a track record of doing just that.
In the 1990s, the CNU worked with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to create design standards for the Hope VI program. We introduced mixed-income and mixed-use building types that accommodated a range of incomes, ages and lifestyles. The result? From 1993 to 2010, HUD spent $6.7 billion to rehabilitate over 600 of the most deteriorated and isolated public housing facilities in the nation into vibrant mixed-income neighborhoods.
CNU members have been active throughout the United States, working with local governments, residents and community groups to determine the best approaches for revitalizing local economies.
Investing in road, water and school improvements in areas where the city wants reinvestment sends a strong signal to the private sector that the city cares. Hamburg, a village of 10,000 people, resurrected itself from a 30-year slide by transforming the design of its Main Street from a major thoroughfare to a walkable Main Street, while maintaining traffic volumes. Since 2009, business owners, inspired by the new road, have spent $7 million on 33 building projects and average property sale values along Route 62 increased 169 percent since 2005. Placemaking and revitalization strategies are economic development strategies.
Turning neighborhoods around, after decades of disinvestment, is a long and complicated process. We welcome thoughtful challenges like Dabkowski’s because they give us the opportunity to improve our approaches. Positive, robust discussion from a range of stakeholders is the only way to achieve places that celebrate residents, are safe and economically prosperous, and serve as an icon to the great city that is Buffalo.
Lynn Richards is incoming president and CEO of the Congress for New Urbanism.