Let’s strive to maintain character of Fruit Belt

These are exciting times in Buffalo. The growth and success of the burgeoning Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and groundbreaking for the University at Buffalo’s new medical school represent a catalyst for economic and community revitalization that our city has lacked for decades.

As the campus grows, we should remain mindful that community development depends not only on new bricks and mortar, but on how these places interact with those who live, work and socialize in surrounding neighborhoods. The effects of blight, population decline and poverty have created the potential for gentrification in the nearby Fruit Belt. Understandably, longtime residents are concerned. But the more negative effects of gentrification can be mitigated if we address them now.

Gentrification here is not inevitable, but change is. Complacency will not fend off a drastic neighborhood turnover. A neighborhood ripe with blight and few economic alternatives is most vulnerable to gentrification. A dense, diverse community is less so.

Given the various community assets at our disposal, there is little reason why people and place couldn’t coalesce around maintaining the central character of the Fruit Belt. Land banking can revitalize homes, promote homeownership and return blighted properties to the tax rolls. Begin to establish a mixed-use and mixed-income community by combating the stigma associated with affordable housing and providing residency for a diverse set of individuals, students and workers, young and old, from different races and cultures. Offer incentives for businesses to hire locally and take advantage of our several institutions of higher learning to provide workforce education and training programs to prepare people for the jobs being created at and near the medical campus.

It won’t be easy. But I would like to see residents grow with the neighborhood, rather than the neighborhood change without them.

Brian Sarama