What Ray and Sandra Moss saw on Saturday looked nothing like a bunch of vacant lots. The couple, billed as the unofficial mayors of the Bailey Green borough, watched a green space full of activity – seed planting demonstrations, healthy cooking demonstrations and youngsters learning to use tools – halfway down Zenner Street , just north of Genesee.
The 37-year-old residents of the Bailey Green neighborhood stood at the future site of Bailey Commons, an ongoing neighborhood development project that includes a design studio that graduated from the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning.
Pledges for development in their neighborhood have largely rung hollow, the Mosses said, with the turnover of residents and absentee landlords accompanying the violence plaguing the area east of Genesee and Moselle streets. But they hope the efforts of design studio UB — and the eagerness and creativity to engage the surrounding community — could be a step forward for the neighborhood.
People also read…
“I think it’s a breath of fresh air,” said Ray Moss. “He’s finally someone who is genuinely interested in pursuing what he’s talking about, not for points or getting elected.”
Conrad Kickert and Joy Kuebler, co-teachers at a design studio called Architecture 606, presented their students’ 13 sketched proposals to the public at Bailey Commons, while around 50 people – a mix of residents, graduate students and community organizers – ate hot dogs, threw a soccer ball, and shuffled around on the lawn.
Proposals for the eight empty lots were drawn from insights gained from three monthly meetings the studio had with neighborhood residents: a group walk in February, a collage creation in March, and an outdoor build night. with cardboard boxes and pool noodles in April. It’s part of Kuebler’s philosophy of play, which she calls “humans’ first language” and “the easiest way to learn and communicate.”
“The pursuit of play and the pursuit of relationships has been the strongest part of this project,” Kuebler said.
And with an approach that moves away from polls and board meetings, he has increased engagement and tangible results.
“It’s not a UB design, it’s a resident design,” Kickert said of Saturday’s exhibit. “We are showing today what we think is the future.”
Kickert thinks Bailey Commons can be a central hub for the Bailey Green neighborhood — it’s a sprawling green space that divides Zenner and Kilhoffer streets, essentially connecting two separate long blocks into a more unified community. A playground, pavilion, community garden, basketball court, skill park, office for Buffalo Peacemakers and walkways were among the features of the student proposals.
UB’s efforts are part of the Bailey Green Initiative, launched in 2008 by John Somers, CEO of Harmac Medical Products, an international contract manufacturer of single-use medical devices. Instead of moving his company’s headquarters off of Bailey Avenue, Somers chose to try to revitalize an area where about a quarter of his Buffalo-based employees live.
His friendship with Robert Shibley, Dean of UB’s School of Architecture and Planning, has kept the university involved in the business since 2014, with UB Professor Hiroaki Hata developing the master plan for the transformation of a neighborhood comprising four streets and approximately 33 acres. Between 30 and 40 UB graduate students have been involved so far.
The public-private partnership for the revitalization of the Bailey Green neighborhood is moving forward, despite the bumps in the
“We’re trying to put the neighborhood back together,” Somers said Saturday. He cited some of Bailey Green’s successes over the past eight years: the Groundwork Market Garden, a 2.5-acre urban farm that supplies restaurants and provides a community-supported agricultural association that connects consumers and farmers, as well as the construction of 15 of the 21 homes that Habitat for Humanity has pledged to build or restore.
Several projects remain ongoing, Somers said. Westminster Economic Development Initiative has pledged to open a microfinance office on Bailey Avenue, and Urban Fruits & Veggies plans to start a hydroponic garden in the neighborhood. Algonquin Sports for Kids and Heart of the City Neighborhoods were originally involved in the project but pulled out, The News previously reported. Somers said about 30 organizations remain involved with the Bailey Green Initiative, counting consultants, funders and others.
The Mosses are grateful that their voices – and those of other residents – are taken seriously.
“Now I understand that their vision is my vision,” Ray Moss said of UB and Harmac’s efforts. “If I live long enough to see this, I’ll be grateful.”
Ben Tsujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (716) 849-6927 or on Twitter at @Tsuj10.