Saturday, November 12, 2011

Discards - Part 1

Lately it has been stated via various sources that there are 12,000 vacant houses in the City of Buffalo. While not necessarily saying that the number is wrong, I'm somewhat curious as to how that figure was generated. Tax bills being returned as "undeliverable" may have an incorrect mailing address, as much due to an input error as unforwardable for whatever reason (those mechanical sorters are just soooo efficient *sarcasm*).  There are many homes with unpaid taxes that have people living in them, and many vacant buildings that are paid in full (one way around massive attention from inspectors/housing court for "investors").  Was a hand count done? Does it include apartments buildings/former hotels/rooming houses? Business type buildings?

Whichever method was employed, whatever the number, there are undeniably many vacant houses, and many vacant lots that used to have a home on them. Back in the early 1900's there were houses crammed into every available green space except in the more well-to-do enclaves (and where Olmsted carved out territory).

There were those with a storefront where the proprietor and family lived upstairs.  There were doubles that people built so family members could be close, not to rent to strangers.  Cottages were stuck behind larger homes as a place to live while building the main house, later for family or income. There were houses slapped up by factory/business owners so that employees could live nearby, transportation not being what it is today. Either they were rented or sold to the workers, with payments coming out of paychecks.  No one ever thought that they would still be standing more than 100 years later, but they are. That's not even getting into all hotels thrown up to house people during the Pan-Am Exposition that later turned into apartment/rooming houses, or those built expressly to rent to the masses.

Not everyone raced to the suburbs as a symbol of better financial circumstances, or to escape the "big, bad city" and its ever changing occupants (aka "those people" who could be a different race, ethnic group, religion, and just plain different).  Many times it was like a rolling wave as city planners in their "wisdom" declared vibrant areas "slums" in a bid to clear away the less well off with funds garnered via Urban Renewal to create "shovel ready" sites.  A still well-known mayor cleared out his entire childhood neighborhood, perhaps to erase the roots of his humble beginnings, perhaps to also show he wasn't being prejudiced when the black neighborhood was mowed down to...perhaps a little of both...near downtown don't ya know, and the powers that were wanted people downtown, just not those less fortunate people.

Housing projects were planned as a substitute (whoopee) and those that didn't like it could just leave, and so they did. Usually they just moved a bunch of blocks over to a different area, but in the process, people who were already there then also moved to a new neighborhood, and so it went, with spillover to the suburbs.  The I190 threw areas into disarray and the Expressways Kensington and Scajaquada ripped the heart out of some more. And then there were the riots that cleared out some more.  Many reasons, same results.

That's a lot of places that people called "home" and filled with their hopes, dreams, and later, their memories. Now many are abandoned or neglected, the discards.

More tomorrow....

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