how we help make communities...


We facilitate new ways for our partners to transform places, systems and operations to be more open, responsive and meaningful for their communities.


We build processes and target outcomes that are inclusive and representative so initiatives will have the organized support needed to improve communities with the people who live there.


We help design plans, policies, programs and projects that turn local knowledge into actionable power, helping people, organizations and communities deliver tangible results.

Recent Work

Make Commmunities blog...

The Racial Equity Dividend: Buffalo’s Great Opportunity

This week the Greater Buffalo Racial Equity Roundtable released a report called The Racial Equity Dividend: Buffalo’s Great Opportunity. Make Communities was fortunate to partner with the UB Regional Institute on this report and serve as lead author. You may have seen the Buffalo News article about the report, but that doesn’t cover the full story. The report

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Why I’ve stopped threatening to move to Canada (and so should you).

Fellow Well Meaning White People, As the rising tide of bigotry and white nationalism emboldened by the new inevitability of a Trump presidency threatens the core foundations of a just and free society, it is hard for those among us who hope for a more equitable world to not be overwhelmed by the wayward bend

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A Vision for Black Rock Harbor – West Scajaquada

Did you ever wonder what could happen if the 198 Expressway weren’t looming over precious waterfront land, dividing communities, thwarting investment, and destroying sensitive ecological habitat? The Western Scajaquada Coalition asked Make Communities, in partnership with Brad Wales Architecture and Jason Knight, professor of Geography and Planning at Buffalo State College, to help them develop

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Creating Healthy Schools and Communities by Deb Everts

Creating Healthy Schools and Communities in Salamanca

Make Communities has partnered with Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) and Healthy Community Alliance (HCA) in Cattaraugus County on a “Creating Healthy Schools and Communities” initiative. This long term and cross-sector approach appreciates and responds to the many inputs and obstacles to creating healthier, happier and more livable communities. Together we are

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Stella Niagara Vision Plan

Unveiling the Stella Niagara Preserve Vision Plan

On Thursday January 21, at the Lewiston Senior Center, the Western New York Land Conservancy will unveil the Stella Niagara Preserve Vision Plan. To create the Preserve, the Land Conservancy purchased the property — the largest privately held undeveloped tract of land along the Niagara River — in June 2015 after a $3 million capital

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The Unaddressed Challenge of Regional Segregation

The Obama administration released new requirements for those receiving federal housing support that, essentially, instruct these local governments to make an honest effort to end policies and practices that reinforce housing segregation. Coming nearly 50 years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, it’s hard to fathom this is being framed by some as

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bike master plan

Bike Month Rolls On…

May is Bike Month, and it has been an active one in Buffalo. Mayor Brown announced the installation of 110 new bike racks and last week celebrated bike to work day. The city has also seen a successful bike to school day, the launching of a bicycle ferry to the outer harbor and merchants throughout

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Groundwork Buffalo hiring Executive Director

Groundwork Buffalo, a local environmental organization focused on improving urban land and water and affiliated with a national network of Groundwork Trusts, is hiring an Executive Director. Each Groundwork’s purpose is to build sustainable communities through joint environmental action: empowering people, creating better places and helping to bring about prosperity. The Groundwork USA network is

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CPH fountain

Happy Friday! But how happy?

The World Happiness Report was released last week, and it seems that Scandinavia and northern Europe have quite the lock on the top slots. Though Switzerland sneaks in at #1 and Canada at #5, the rest of the top eight happy countries are filled out by Iceland; Denmark, Norway, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden. (The

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A Public Advocate for Buffalo?

This week the City of Buffalo Common Council Legislation Committee held a public hearing on a resolution to establish an elected position of Public Advocate. Rather than being a critique on the current office holders, the establishment of a Public Advocate would, essentially, help to codify and solidify mechanisms that put and hold people first.

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Another 5 for Friday: NYC edition

“It’s not like ‘Kumbaya.’ It’s really a meaningful exchange.” City and State’s Gerard Flynn recently published “5 Challenges to de Blasio’s Promise of Inclusive Planning“ which includes feedback from notable planners and practitioners around New York City (including Tom Angotti, a professor I was fortunate to study under at Hunter) with tips and critiques for

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Tax Day

April 15: It’s the day we’ve all been procrastinating for. But if you’re looking for a way to avoid thinking about your own taxes for a little longer, then take a look at this article referenced by Brookings earlier this month about a successful regional tax base sharing program in Minnesota. While we realize that

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this old housing stock

This old housing stock…

Is Buffalo’s peculiar housing stock in part responsible for its own decline? If you hang out in community development circles (and, let’s face it, if you’re reading this you most likely do), then you’ve heard Buffalo has among the oldest housing stock in the nation. In fact, Buffalo actually has the oldest housing stock for

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Grassroots Gardens of Buffalo

Grassroots Gardens has long been Buffalo’s community garden support organization. Community Gardens are an incredible reuse of vacant or underutilized land in the city, and create neighborhood assets out of liabilities. In addition, they can provide fresh, healthy food in “food deserts” – communities where it can be difficult to access fresh produce. With more

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Think Spring: Urban Roots

Posting will be light this week as Make Communities takes a very non-MTV-style spring break. In lieu of regular updates, we’ll be posting links to some of our favorite places and organizations that make us think of spring – even if the snow is still flying. First up: Urban Roots. Urban Roots Community Cooperative Garden

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5 ses st

what are your five?

In addition to Monday’s reference to Simran Noor’s  five actions the bike movement can take to advance racial equity, two other articles came across the screen this week with five points of advice for people-focused urban regeneration. The first, from Bloomberg Philanthropies Tommy Pacello who served as the Director of the Mayor’s Innovation Team in Memphis, TN.

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Fair Housing Month

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“…where one lives determines how one lives, influencing quality of life factors such as education, employment, transportation options, public services, safety, recreational access, and a general sense of community.”                      – CHICAGO METROPOLITAN AGENCY FOR PLANNING FHEA In last Thursday’s post on redlining, I touched on one of the major practices that has historically kept

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Buffalo’s Best Google Pac-Man Maps

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If you haven’t yet played the Google Maps Pac-Mac mash-up, then do yourself a favor and play it now before it’s gone. Just don’t expect to accomplish much else today… Here are some great places to try out in Buffalo, with thanks to both Ellicott and Olmsted, click the maps for the direct link: Niagara

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humboldt pkwy with trees

Triptych Tuesday: A Legacy of Inequitable Infrastructure

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If the people centered-transportation movement can become a champion for racial and economic equity, it will play a direct an important counter-point to 20th century infrastructure decisions. A major feature in Slate last month, the past and present of auto-centric infrastructure pockmarks nearly all U.S. cities with the brunt of the externalized consequences being shouldered

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US Biking Boom

The Bike Movement & Racial Equity via the Center for Social Inclusion

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“We define racial equity as both an outcome and a process. A racially equitable society is one in which race no longer determines one’s life outcomes and in which we recognize that when we address inequity, we all share in the benefits of increased fairness and justice.” For today’s post, Make Communities is going to

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CPH trampoline4

Complete Streets Plus ____(?)_____

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Forgive us if the mind wanders a bit on a chilly spring Friday morning… but this is one of those posts about Copenhagen. We spend a lot of time thinking about Complete Streets here at Make Communities. Not only is it part of the day job to work to help communities make their streets safe,

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HOLC redline map

A Legacy of Segregation and Discrimination: Redlining

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…the housing sector is a prime example of the confluence of influences, often working together, to tilt the playing field away from communities of color. In Tuesday’s post, we alluded to the multiple institutions, agencies and individual actors that contributed to the development of racial and geographic segregation and discrimination in the Buffalo Niagara region.

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PB March-25th-postcard

Today It’s All About You

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If you’re in Buffalo, then hopefully you know about the great work that Clean Air Coalition and the Common Council’s Participatory Budget Committee have been doing to bring direct democratic control to the people of this city. For those of you who have been following this exciting progress, tonight’s open house is a great opportunity

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An On-the-Ground Explanation of Segregation
East Ferry (above) One Block East of Main Street
West Ferry (below) One Block West of Main Street

Separate and Unequal in Buffalo Niagara

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“The consequences of racial and ethnic segregation and discrimination directly impact individuals, neighborhoods and the region as a whole.” In the 120 years since the case of Plessy v. Ferguson — which established the doctrine of separate but equal — morality, experience and, eventually, the law have proven time and again that separate can never

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change in racial composition by muni

Mapping Western New York’s Changing Population

Since 1990, Buffalo Niagara has seen a marked increase in diversity, but, at a macro level, the region remains more homogenous than New York or the U.S. as a whole. At a micro level, the diversification is not uniform across municipalities or throughout Buffalo Niagara’s communities.   As noted in the regional FHEA, Buffalo Niagara

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outer harbor to downtown

Friday Finances: Buffalo’s City Inequality Rank

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Buffalo ranks very low in income at the top and the bottom ends of household earnings, ranks high in inequality. Though it may not have been big news in the mainstream press, if you run in policy wonk circles, you’ve probably seen the recently released Inequality Rankings from Alan Berube and Natalie Holmes at Brookings.

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Implementing Complete Streets in Rural Upstate NY Communities

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 I spent St. Patrick’s Day in the Adirondacks working with the North Country Healthy Heart Network implementing Complete Streets training. This was not the first time visiting, in fact I was in Malone, NY back in 2010 helping them develop a complete street policy. It is exciting to see the progress that the North Country

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racial and ethnic distribution in buffalo niagara

Defining an Equitable Community

Buffalo Niagara will be an equitable community when all people – regardless of how they look, who they know or who they love, what language they speak, what they believe, whatever their level of means or ability, when or where they were born, where they live, where they go to school or why or how

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FHEA Opportunity Areas

Expanding Opportunity in Buffalo Niagara

  Yesterday’s post asked what the present holds for the residents who can’t wait for tomorrow. The question looms large in Buffalo. For all the promise in Buffalo’s revitalization, it is clear that we have much work to do to overcome the deep divisions within our region. Make Communities recently partnered with the University at

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Joshua Lott for NYTimes

Scrapper vs. Sergeant

  Sunday’s NYTimes features an article on the rise of metal scrapping in Detroit, and the measures that the city is taking to end — or at least limit — the practice. There are basically two kinds of scrapping: one that picks up various discarded metal objects (left on the side of the road, in

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complete communities WEDI City Roots participants

Complete Communities Strategy Theme 4: Get better at doing good

“No revitalization effort can be executed without adequate capacity at the community level…” The region’s housing support system — those groups and agencies working together to provide quality housing and strong neighborhoods — can do a better job. The vast majority of the groups around the stakeholder committee are integral parts of the system, yet

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complete communities PUSH map

Complete Communities Strategy Theme 3: Know Your Neighborhood

“Just as there is no one-size-fits all neighborhood, there is no single solution to creating quality communities.” PUSH Buffalo says it best: “We know what we need where we live”. For too long the planning profession imposed “solutions” on communities from the position of a detached outsider that allegedly “knew better” what communities needed. Here

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Complete Communities Strategy Theme 2: Anticipate, accommodate and embrace demographic shifts.

“Buffalo Niagara now and in the future will look radically different from the region of the last 60 years…” As the region continues to age and diversify, actions taken now to accommodate demographic change and promote equity and opportunity will have a profound impact on the success of the region for decades to come. Change

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1RF web GIS

Complete Communities Strategy Theme 1: Data for Informed Decision Making

As mentioned in last Tuesday’s post, Complete Communities for a Changing Region developed four high-level strategies for turning our shared goals for quality neighborhoods into action in Buffalo Niagara : • Providing Data and Analytical Resources for Informed Decision Making. • Anticipating, Accommodating and Embracing Demographic Shifts. • Pursuing Neighborhood-Specific Asset-Based Strategies for Redevelopment. •

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Complete Communities Goals

Setting a High Bar for Buffalo Niagara’s Communities

Choice, inclusion, quality, connections and sustainability underlie a region-wide vision for Complete Communities throughout Buffalo Niagara. In the midst of  major demographic and economic change, a team of regional stakeholders came together as part of the One Region Forward regional planning project to set a vision and a course for Buffalo Niagara’s communities. As part

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U3 advisors keynote

Anchor Institutions and the New Economy in Buffalo

Last week, Make Communities was on hand as a host of national and local partners convened to discuss how anchor institutions and local communities can partner to improve outcomes for both sides. The timing for this conversation is certainly ripe given the large scale public investment in these anchors here in Buffalo. Read more about

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Percent Change in Population by Muni 1990-2010

Goals and Strategies for Complete Communities

Despite a recent surge in development in the downtown core, the city of Buffalo and the region have experienced a long trend of overall population loss, yet this has not been uniform throughout the region. In fact, many municipalities have experienced dramatic population growth while others have contracted measurably in the last 25 years. But

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Complete Communities

Complete Communities for a Changing Region

Make Communities partnered with the One Region Forward team and the University at Buffalo Regional Institute to lead a group of regional stakeholders, chaired by Buffalo-LISC and Belmont Housing Resources, to chart a course for Buffalo Niagara’s communities. As we state in the introduction to the report: Quality housing lays the foundation for the vibrant

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Tynan & Estolano

Lessons from LA’s New Economy

A definite highlight of the Open Places convening in Puerto Rico last week was an incredibly dynamic and engaging session with Cecilia Estolano of Estolano LeSar Perez Advisors and Roxana Tynan of LAANE. Together they describe the unlikely partnership between community and bureaucracy [actually not a dirty word…] that they forged during Ms. Estolano’s tenure

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Combating Swampy Thoughts and the Man in the Hole

Susan Nall Bales is the Founder and President of the Frameworks Institute [@FrameWorksInst] – a team of social scientists who have developed an award winning process they have trademarked Strategic Frame Analysis that develops communication strategies through a rigorous examination based in cognitive and social science. At the Open Places Initiative convening in San Juan,

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Touring San Juan with Espacios Abiertos

The Espacios Abiertos team put together an unforgettable tour of communities throughout San Juan for the Open Places Initiative last week. Lucilla Fuller Marvel (EA Community Outreach Liaison) and Deepak Lamba-Nieves (EA Research Director) led a bus tour from the Peninsula La Isleta de San Juan through Old San Juan, Santurce, Hato Rey and Rio

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Triptych Tuesday: Calle Cerra

Today’s three images are from Calle Cerra in El Gandul neighborhood in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where artists work with community members to create murals, many with political messages, on abandoned or dilapidated building. The neighborhood now hosts the Santurce es Ley festival, which is gaining international prominence. These images were taken on an incredible

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PR skyline

Make Communities Road Trip: Puerto Rico

The Open Places Initiative is a new program of Open Society Foundations, which takes the foundation headlong into place-based philanthropy within the United States. Building on their experiences in Baltimore, where the foundation has directed Open Society Institute Baltimore in a broad reaching effort to increase opportunity and equality within the city, three sites were

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TO City Hall Skating

Happy Family Day!

As the U.S. celebrates Presidents Day today, our neighbors to the north celebrate Family Day in the province of Ontario (and Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan). My wife and I first discovered Family Day quite by accident in 2009. With our six-week-old first child in tow we headed up the QEW

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Vote for GObike Buffalo today!

  GObike Buffalo is no small point of pride for us here at Make Communities. Both of us were at the actual kitchen table the day that GObike was launched, and it’s been an incredible journey to be involved in the organization ever since. GObike is now a finalist for Bicycling Magazine’s People’s Choice Advocacy

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A New Way To Plan For Buffalo Niagara

Tonight a broad coalition of regional agencies, local governments, non-profits and individual citizens will be celebrating the culmination of three years of unprecedented outreach, engagement and planning in Buffalo Niagara. The One Region Forward Community Congress will celebrate a broad based effort to establish a regional plan and implementation network for creating stronger, more opportunity

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It’s not always about Copenhagen, but sometimes it is.

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The NYTimes recently ran an article about public interventions to reduce risks for children. Pediatrics Professor Aaron E. Carroll highlights the too common disconnect between program funding for the greatest public health risks and those that may be more sensationalized. Carroll references a recent Journal of the American Medical Association article that focuses on Denmark’s

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