Complete Communities Strategy Theme 4: Get better at doing good

“No revitalization effort can be executed without adequate capacity at the community level…”

complete communities strategy set 4

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 there was a general acknowledgment by the team that the system, as a whole, does not have the capacity to meet the very large quality housing need in Buffalo Niagara.

Though staffed by committed and industrious people, the resources for community development work have been steadily dwindling, exemplified by a vast reduction in Community Development Block Grant funding at the federal level.

Other regions have reorganized and revamped their community development systems on a broad scale to provide for skill specialization and scalable capacity.

Though Buffalo Niagara has studied the issue in depth and implemented portions of the resulting recommendations, additional work needs to be done by the groups on the ground and the agencies and organizations that fund and support those groups, to reconceptualize how the pieces of the system work together.

At the same time, resistance to housing assistance is too common throughout the region, from the city neighborhoods to second ring suburbs and places in between. Though studies have repeatedly shown high quality affordable housing can positively influence neighborhood conditions and housing values, resistance to new projects, and resistance to seeking help is widespread. There is a collective need for public education regarding the role that workforce housing can provide in changing lives and improving neighborhoods.

Similarly, code enforcement is often viewed as a punitive tool for going after unscrupulous property owners. While code enforcement is certainly a powerful tool for dealing with problem property owners, it can also be a tool for helping well meaning but struggling homeowners connect with the resources they need to improve their houses. Here, again, greater coordination and collaboration is the key.

complete communities WEDI City Roots participants

Many thanks to the Complete Communities stakeholder group for their honest and critical analysis of the field. Their willingness to examine what’s working and what could be improved has been a crucial step to moving One Region Forward, and rounding out the strategies to improve housing and neighborhoods across Buffalo Niagara.


Complete Communities Strategies

A. Reconsider the scope and scale of the housing support system, increasing region-wide capacity and remain responsive to local concerns.

B. Better protect renters and home buyers. Develop better opportunities, supports and protections for renters and home buyers, particularly from traditionally vulnerable groups.

C. Cultivate a positive image of housing program to improve participation and community acceptance.

D. Improve the code enforcement system and link it to housing education and support programs.

complete communities strategy set 4 action steps

The full Complete Communities for a Changing Region report is available here.

See also:

Complete Communities Strategy Theme 1: Data for Informed Decision Making

Complete Communities Strategy Theme 2: Anticipate, Accommodate and Embrace Demographic Shifts.

Complete Communities Strategy Theme 3: Know Your Neighborhood


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.”

complete communities strategy set 3
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 in Buffalo Niagara, and across the country, we have seen the disastrous results of that mindset.
Thankfully this dominant 20th century approach is in steep decline. In order to successfully plan for our neighborhoods, we must be sure that we are planning with and not for communities.
At its core, Complete Communities for a Changing Region, emphasizes this fundamental shift in how to build and rebuild neighborhoods.
Guiding advice along the way — like that from the Legacy Cities initiative to build from strength, change the investment climate, invest in human capital and promote density — provides neighbors and planners  a solid framework for identifying their local assets and putting together action plans to improve their communities according to their shared vision.
Highlighting another best practice for resident engagement and community control, Clean Air has been promoting and practicing Participatory Budgeting throughout the region. This effective tool for direct democracy has been used throughout the hemisphere to dramatic results.
With communities first hand local knowledge and planners technical skills, neighborhoods can make tremendous progress even in the most unlikely circumstances.
It is an exciting time to be rethinking planning in Buffalo Niagara and striving to build opportunity-rich neighborhoods for all.
Complete Communities Strategies:

A. Emphasize community based planning with residents and stakeholders to maximize participation, leverage diffuse resources and focus on quality of life improvements.

B. Focus and coordinate public investments in neighborhoods with strategic assets and coordinate public policy and capital investment priorities with local plans to create complete neighborhoods.

C. Leverage the energy of new demographic groups. Neighborhood planning should embrace the potential for immigrant communities, artists, or other groups to lead regeneration efforts and use unique ethnic, cultural or occupational identities to leverage investment and economic development.

D. Design alternative long-term strategies for areas where disinvestment has left few of the assets, anchors and actors that are needed to power successful neighborhood revitalization. These neighborhoods need active management of community change, driven by local residents and a firm understanding of the existing market potential.

complete communities strategy set 3 action steps

The full Complete Communities for a Changing Region report is available here.

See also:

Complete Communities Strategy Theme 1: Data for Informed Decision Making

Complete Communities Strategy Theme 2: Anticipate, Accommodate and Embrace Demographic Shifts.

Complete Communities Strategy Theme 4: Get better at doing good

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…”

complete communities strategy set 2

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 has not always come easy to Buffalo Niagara. For more than a generation, the only large scale change the region knew was negative: the deep hardship caused by the onset of industrial decline and a dramatic loss of residents as a result.

However, change is once again coming to the region – this time creating new opportunities for individuals and communities alike.

Neighborhoods, municipalities, non-profits and developers, however, will have to change they way they have done business in order to benefit from these new realities.

For instance,”though only 28% of single-family homes in Buffalo-Niagara are now occupied by families with children, 75% of all building permits issued in the region from 2000-2010 were for single-family homes. This proliferation of a housing stock not necessarily reflective of the current or future population’s needs may have profound implications for the housing market and for communities that do not have diversified residences for new household types and for shifting resident needs across their lifespan.” population changeMarket trends suggest a large shift in the preferences of younger adults. The millennial generation now represents a large and growing segment of the home buying and renting population and across the country. This cohort is driving less and seeking walkable, bikeable neighborhoods with amenities close at hand. At the same time, Buffalo Niagara is diversifying, with more people of color in the region offsetting a substantial decrease in white population. This increase is both domestic and foreign born. Communities that have become stressed by decline can find new opportunities for revitalization in this changing population, if steps are taken now to anticipate, accommodate and welcome these residents with open arms.

Complete Communities Strategies:

A. Develop a housing toolbox for municipalities, developers, non-profits and residents who need models and precedents for designing and producing sustainable housing types and neighborhoods.

B. Deploy new housing models to meet the changing needs and preferences of residents. This would include housing tailored to the needs or preferences of senior citizens, the disabled, artists, immigrants, students, young professionals, empty-nesters, and others.

C. Relieve regulatory roadblocks to housing innovation. In many cases zoning codes or other housing regulations may need to be amended to allow some new types of housing or forms of tenure.

strategy set 2 actionsThe full Complete Communities for a Changing Region report is available here.

See also:

Complete Communities Strategy Theme 1: Data for Informed Decision Making

Complete Communities Strategy Theme 3: Know Your Neighborhood

Complete Communities Strategy Theme 4: Get better at doing good

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.
• Improving the Housing Support Delivery System.

This blog will continue to delve into each on of these goals a bit further, starting at the top with data and analysis, which are fundamental to any community development strategy.

complete communities strategy set 1“Data is foundational to making sound, forward-thinking decisions about investment in neighborhoods…”

Given the importance of baseline and trend data for successful neighborhood development efforts, the Complete Communities stakeholder group raised this as a priority and pointed to a current analysis of housing supply and demand as an essential starting point for neighborhood-level strategies and as the starting point for development of a Regional Property Information System.

To see what regions were excelling at making property and neighborhood data available to governments, neighborhood based organizations and individuals, the Complete Communities stakeholder team looked at a host of best practices from around the country.  UPenn’s Neighborhood Information System and the Northeast Ohio Community and Neighborhood Data for Organizing (NEOCANDO) system were pioneers in the data field and have since been joined by a network of data providers across the country in the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership.

These systems generally include data on housing, land, neighborhoods and municipalities to support ongoing planning and policy-making around housing and neighborhoods. Many of the most successful regions have created open source portals to engage tech communities and provide data tools and apps that can have direct engagement opportunities for neighborhoods.

Though work needs to be done to link the disparate data held by the various local and state entities, the private sector and others, in recent years cloud and GIS based systems have made that task dramatically easier and more effective.

Setting a High Bar for Buffalo Niagara’s Communities

Buffalo Niagara NeighborhoodsChoice, 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 of an extensive outreach and engagement effort coordinated by the University at Buffalo Regional Institute, a series of stakeholder committees were formed to build upon a legacy of planning in the region. Together, these stakeholders examined the trends, current conditions and future projects using the tools of statistical analysis and on-the-ground knowledge amassed through direct daily interaction within neighborhoods across the region.

Complete Communities CommitteeThese stakeholders generously volunteered their time, effort and expertise from a cross-sector perspective, representing local government, non-profits, community groups and private sector representatives. In addition the general public was invited to participate in the conversation both at the periodic Community Congresses as well as on-line where all meeting presentations and minutes were posted along with a series of feedback tools for joining the discussion.

The resulting overarching goals put people first, creating a vision of the region in which all residents are able to obtain quality housing in a neighborhood of their choosing and in which all communities have high-quality amenities while providing access to opportunity. At the same time, the vision created through these goals also sees a community that both respects the unique housing stock and traditional neighborhoods that exist throughout the region and preserves and enhances this legacy for future generations.


Housing Choice and Accessibility.

Goal: Expand choices for distinctive, high quality neighborhood environments in the city, the suburbs, village centers, and rural hamlets

Goal: Provide equal opportunity for all to choose from a full range of housing types, tenures, locations and prices throughout the region.

Goal: Employ inclusive design and supportive housing to accommodate all residents regardless of ability or means.


Vibrant and Connected Communities. 

Goal: Design neighborhoods to be safe, healthy, accessible and walkable appropriate to central city, suburban, or rural contexts

Goal: Create mixed-use neighborhoods where daily needs are accessible on foot, bicycle, or transit as well as by automobile.

Goal: Focus housing investments where residents will have easier access to employment especially by transit and other modes.


Respect for Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.

Goal: Preserve and revitalize our existing housing stock to preserve history, embedded energy, and neighborhood integrity.

Goal: Design new housing and retrofit existing housing for energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy production.


In a later post, the Make Communities blog will outline how we worked with the team to transform these goals into actionable strategies for Buffalo Niagara. In the meantime, the full Complete Communities report is available here.

Goals and Strategies for Complete Communities

Percent Change in Population by Muni 1990-2010Despite 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 even these trends are shifting, with those communities experiencing the most growth from 1990-2000 slowing markedly from 2000-2010. Ten years of redevelopment in Buffalo’s downtown core has increased property values and built additional demand in certain central city neighborhoods. However, other neighborhoods continue to decline and suffer abandonment.

In a region where neighborhoods are facing such different trajectories, the One Region Forward Housing and Neighborhoods working group put together baseline goals for the region’s approach to building healthy and complete communities:


• Housing Choice and Accessibility.
• Vibrant and Connected Communities.
• Respect for Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.


Building on these goals, the working group fleshed out strategies and best practices — some of them local, some of them national — to help guide these on the ground efforts. Some of these are centralized support activities and others are envisioned as providing specific tools to communities. Though this lens there is a great amount of respect for local knowledge on how to actually hone these tenets into actions driven by the people who live in each neighborhood.

In broad strokes, these strategies include:


• Providing Data and Analytical Resources for Informed Decision Making.
• Anticipating, Accommodating and Embracing Demographic Shifts.
• Pursuing Neighborhood-Specific Asset-Based Strategies for Redevelopment.
• Improving the Housing Support Delivery System.


This blog will continue to delve deeper in to each of these goals and strategies going forward, but as always, the full strategy document can be downloaded here.

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:

Complete CommunitiesQuality housing lays the foundation for the vibrant and connected communities that are central to the task of making a better Buffalo Niagara for everyone. Where we live impacts how we live, and respecting our history, embracing existing neighborhoods and preparing for the communities of tomorrow will ensure all residents have access to housing choices throughout the region.

[Complete Communities looks] at a suite of tools, best practices and initiatives that the region can employ to build neighborhoods of lasting value. This report does not serve as proscriptive set of actions and directives. To the contrary, it was compiled with the support of regional housing stakeholders and experts to begin to inform and help guide decisions that carefully consider local context and local knowledge. It is a first step in providing planning departments, non-profit organizations, community groups, foundations, private developers and additional stakeholders in community improvement and revitalization the resources they need in order to make targeted plans and investments that reflect an inclusive and multi-faceted approach to fulfilling our region’s vision.

Starting with an acknowledgement of the vast potential created by profound changes now underway, including an aging and diversifying population unlike anything the region has ever seen before, Complete Communities suggests that an integrated cross-sector approach, a higher lever of resident engagement and a shift in the way housing support is delivered within the region will each be key in realizing the shared prosperity we envision for Buffalo Niagara.

Keep checking back with the Make Communities blog and we’ll start to highlight the goals, strategies and tools we put together to help move One Region Forward.  The full report is also available here.

Make Communities Road Trip: Puerto Rico

PR skylineThe 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 chosen through a competitive process to lead long term multi-stakeholder and cross-sector initiatives focused on building local civic capacity and impacting local policy. In addition to having direct local impact, however, the Baltimore model has also shown how local success can lead to national momentum. The school discipline restorative justice work that they pioneered, for example, has now spread across the country as a way to begin to reduce school “push out” rates and lessen the racial disparities in education outcomes between white students and students of color.

Throughout 2014, the three new Open Place Initiatives sites – Open Buffalo, Open Places San Diego and Espacios Abiertos Puerto Rico – began to build the initiatives’ architecture for social, racial and economic justice efforts in their communities. All of the sites first came together in Buffalo in the summer of 2014, and Open Society Foundations brought the three sites together in again this past week in San Juan. In Puerto Rico, the sites had a chance to share their experiences and learn from experts in the field how to sharpen and focus communications efforts, and to delve deeper into emerging strategies in economic justice — from community benefit practices, to workforce development and community-based capitalism.

Make Communities has been playing a role in these efforts with Open Buffalo, advising on organizational development issues and helping lead strategic planning efforts. It was exciting and energizing to see the progress that has already been made in each of the sites and to see the energy and enthusiasm build as staff, board members and partner organizations reflected on these successes and planned even bolder actions for 2015.

Throughout the week I’ll be sharing some of the highlights of the convening and what they may mean for Open Buffalo and its partners in the year ahead.