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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Buffalo: Reinvention in a Shrinking City


Buffalo, New York, has lost half of its population since 1950. Once a booming manufacturing town, the city's economy collapsed when owners moved their factories out of state or overseas in search of lower production costs. Today, nearly one in six homes is vacant, much of the abandonment concentrated on the city’s east side.

This 11-minute video examines how the city of Buffalo is dealing with its overwhelming vacancy problem. The piece opens with Tracy Krug, one of Buffalo’s two building inspectors, as he makes his daily rounds inspecting vacant buildings in the severely blighted east side neighborhood. Next are scenes showing the city’s two main strategies for combating vacancies: a demolition site and the annual foreclosure auction, where properties sell for as low as $500.

The video also follows three groups of Buffalo residents who have found opportunity in the blight. Keith James, a Buffalo native and 18-year veteran of the fire department, has started a small investment group that buys up cheap properties at the city auction, rehabs them, and sells them for a reasonable price to existing renters, making them owners with a stake in the neighborhood’s recovery. Kevin Hayes runs Buffalo Reuse, a green demolition company that salvages parts from demolished buildings and sells them to rehabbers instead of throwing them into a landfill. Janice and Mark Stevens, and their seven children, are Christian homesteaders who moved to Buffalo from a rural part of the state four years ago, attracted by the abundance of arable vacant land and the low cost of living. They cultivate two acres behind their house and homeschool their children. When the family needs money, Mark works in construction.

The end of the piece contrasts the city’s long-term vision for jumpstarting its economy out of a decades-long slump with the immediate challenges facing a young Buffalo native who, unable to find work, is weighing whether to stay in the city or move away.

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