“There are so many options for transforming vacant lots into meaningful spaces in your community,” says Jennifer Kaminsky, Director of Planning and Community Development with People United for Sustainable Housing (or PUSH Buffalo) in Buffalo, NY. Options can range from basketball courts, bocce ball fields, community gardens, to the public infrastructure of the future.
PUSH Buffalo is a community and place-based organization that was formed in 2005 to cultivate the strength of its own residents and neighborhood.
In the first years of operations, PUSH Buffalo focused its efforts on increasing neighborhood and resident engagement, reducing blight, and increasing access to quality, affordable, and resource-conscious housing. Although the organization’s namesake is in housing, engagement with residents to determine areas of severe distress lead to PUSH’s acquisition of a handful of ‘problem lots’ as part of their neighborhood’s stabilization plan.
At the time of acquiring these lots, PUSH Buffalo’s prior (and continuing) experience was in renovating housing with energy efficient building techniques while providing resident access to workforce training opportunities. After acquiring these lots, PUSH Buffalo began to experiment with landscape construction in their neighborhood, too. Through trial, learning, and eventually an informed strategy, PUSH Buffalo has transformed their neighborhood by initiating community gardens, a perennial nursery, pollinator gardens, pocket parks, and a range of scattered site lots improved by stormwater management techniques.
With more landscapes under their stewardship, PUSH Buffalo’s demand and appetite for landscape maintenance increased, and the organization formed a social enterprise landscape maintenance operation. Borrowing from the model and success of their housing oriented jobs training program, PUSH Buffalo uses each new landscape construction project as an opportunity to build skills and train members of their work crew, over time accumulating experience, proficiency, and professional expertise. This, in turn, allows their landscape jobs training program to bid on and pursue private sector and government contracts for landscape construction and maintenance opportunities in other neighborhoods in Buffalo. Any revenue generated from these activities is returned to their social enterprise and allows for improvements to equipment and tools, as well as the onboarding of additional staff.
After about five years working with vacant land, PUSH Buffalo is now a nationally recognized “placed-based model for achieving community transformation through community-engaged design and concentrated investment in green affordable housing, weatherization, storm water management infrastructure, community farms and gardens and next generation public infrastructure.”
Through time and experience, PUSH Buffalo has learned that residents with the best intentions cannot always commit to preserving and sustaining improved, formerly vacant lots. This gap has provided the opportunity to also address the need for jobs in the neighborhood they service. PUSH Buffalo’s social enterprise was established to connect the local need for resident employment with the ongoing requirement for maintenance of the properties.
For PUSH Buffalo, working with lots has been transformational for their community, their organization, and the city of Buffalo at large.
Visit PUSH Buffalo website