Right to the City: From Policing to Planning: Putting People in Charge

Can residents determine how their cities change? They can certainly have an impact, say Aaron Bartley and John Washington of People United for Sustainable Housing (P.U.S.H.) in Buffalo, New York. PUSH Buffalo brings people together to create sustainable neighborhoods with quality affordable housing, green jobs, and next-generation infrastructure. Could their model apply where you live?

Also in this show, Laura discusses the “great corporate buy-up” of our cities. Is that public plaza public, private or who knows?


Laura Flanders: Our next guests are waging a struggle in Buffalo, New York that is relevant for people living everywhere. Aaron Bartley and John Washington work with People United for Sustainable Housing. That's PUSH, Buffalo, which has been pushing, mobilizing residents to create sustainable neighborhoods with quality affordable housing, green jobs, and next-generation infrastructure. Aaron is the co-founder of PUSH, Buffalo. He grew up in the area and attended Buffalo public schools. John is one of the organization's community organizers.

Welcome, both. So glad to have you.

Aaron Bartley: It's great to be here.

Laura Flanders: Let's start with you, John. Describe Buffalo for people that have never been there. It's northernmost New York. It would take us, what, 8 to 12 hours to drive there from Manhattan. It's cold in the middle of winter.

John Washington: Very cold and very poor. Buffalo is the third poorest city in the country, sixth most segregated. If you go to Buffalo it has a downtown that is being reinvigorated by a lot of heavily subsidized investment. It has kind of a corridor of wealth that kind of branches out from a new medical campus that's been constructed in the past few years. On the west side, we have a very vibrant immigrant community that has kind of mixed levels of income and is being gentrified. Then, you have about a little more than a half of the city, the east side of Buffalo which is mostly black and is highly concentrated poverty.

Laura Flanders:  So, Aaron we first met when the Bali conference was held there and you took all of these business alliance, local living economy folks on a walking tour of Buffalo. We got a big chapter of history in that city too, industry, you name it.

Aaron Bartley: Right, it was first and foremost a canal town. It was the terminus of the Eerie canal and then it became an industrial powerhouse with steel and auto. Then, like much of the industrial heartland, it lost its factories in a very short period of time. A twenty-year period of time. We, to some extent, having recovered from it, that industrial decline, that de-industrialization which was an orchestrated process that hit cities like Detroit and Cleveland as well. So, our challenge really is to take what's left which are these really beautiful looking neighborhoods with old Victorian houses that are struggling without the number of jobs that are needed and especially living wage jobs. To take those assets, the vacant land, the vacant houses, and to conceive of a new economy that we then go out and build

First and foremost, I think PUSH is really building on two traditions: The community organizing tradition which is mobilizing folks, building leadership capacities at the grassroots, doing direct action around policy and advocacy issues like high-energy bills, high gas bills, lack of bank investment in neighborhoods. Then, the second tradition being the community development tradition where communities themselves can envision their own futures. What types of housing they need, what types of interest for structure, food systems, all of that.

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