Thursday, October 9, 2008

A living laboratory

Flint and Buffalo have a few things in common — cold weather, deindustrialization, and vacant houses, to name a few. So it's worth noting when some urban planners and local housing leaders in Buffalo propose turning the city into a "living laboratory" dedicated to solving the country's vacant-housing crisis.

“What are the alternatives?” asked Joseph Schilling, an urban affairs professor at Virginia Tech and founder of the National Vacant Properties Campaign, in an interview with Phil Fairbanks of The Buffalo News. “At some point, we have to realize traditional economic development approaches don’t work when you’re facing blight and abandonment that has become intractable.”

The idea that Buffalo could become a national laboratory dedicated to solving the vacant-housing crisis has its roots in Blueprint Buffalo, a two-year-old report developed by a team of experts and now touted by City Hall and local leaders.

Schilling gave new life to the proposal last month with a published article, “Buffalo as the Nation’s First Living Laboratory for Reclaiming Vacant Properties.”

Despite that endorsement, city officials see the living lab as just another well-intentioned idea without the money to make it happen.

“Good ideas are not enough,” said Brian Reilly, Buffalo’s commissioner of economic development, permits and inspections. “We’ve got a book of good ideas, but you can’t win a war with concepts.”

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Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at