All the talk about neighborhoods (click here for map) prompted me
to write down something that I do a lot of thinking about, the places, names,
spaces, neighborhoods, communities in and around Buffalo. It has been kind of a
hobby for me for years. What defines Buffalo, Kenmore, Tonawanda and Cheektowaga?
Where are the walkable urban areas in the city or region?
I always thought it
was an interesting contradiction that Kenmore, along Delaware Avenue, was far
more urban and appealing than the city itself, but the city was the ‘urban’
area. I remember doing some searching into our region’s history, until I finally
understood why things are created the way they are. Things do not just happen
randomly but instead often are simply following a pattern and domino effect of
development based on certain rules. Well, maybe more like guidelines.
The place we live in, its history, name,
function, and feel all influence us as individual, our city and our culture. I
often find myself asking questions about boundaries, the ones you can see all
over the city. Some are blatant in your face; others are more subtle, like the
boundaries between neighborhoods. After
all, I constantly feel the need to correct people when they confuse the
University Heights with Downtown… or Riverside with Black Rock or Allentown
with Downtown. Is North Buffalo all just one big neighborhood or is it a
collection of communities and, if so, what defines them all?
There is certainly a generational aspect to
this question as history changes what people call one place or another, and
boundaries move. A perfect example is the 33/Humboldt Parkway. Once a focal
point for a larger neighborhood, it has now become a multigenerational boundary
between increasingly divergent neighborhoods. Should it be or should we still
consider the now divided neighborhoods one whole? It has been an intriguing
question for years and what are the boundaries as they exist today?
But first, I should give one more example to
shed light into the thinking that I put behind the graphics. Historically, Black
Rock once was roughly all the lands north of Porter, quasi centered around the
mouth of the Scajaquada Creek. Now I feel that Black Rock really is bounded to
the south by the creek and the 198. Most people south of the Creek today, consider themselves residents of the West Side. Or when problem kids from south
of the creek would cause trouble in Black Rock or Riverside… they were
definitely from the west side, not Black Rock; things change.
Over the years I have searched for a
neighborhood map for Buffalo, an easy answer to these questions, but none of
them seemed to satisfy what I felt where the communities and cultures in the
city. Some maps lumped everything together into big chunks. Like the East and
West Sides. Others draw too heavily on census tracks, or roads as boundaries, to
make their statistic-gathering life easier. To me those are the wrong metrics
on which to define ourselves. Roads are the connective infrastructure of our
city and never should be thought of as divisive. Sometimes they are reinforced
to the point where they do become boundaries and it makes sense, but it should
not be outright rule. Richmond and Porter Avenues are perfect examples of this; Richmond is certainly of one place, but the streets to the west distinctly
another. The line falls behind the buildings along Richmond.
All of this led me to create my own map for
Buffalo neighborhoods. I focused on historical residential clusters, natural
boundaries and architectural or stylistic shifts. This means historical,
predominantly industrial areas, like the outer harbor or the exchange street corridor, do not show up as a part of a neighborhood – neither do parks, as they are
connected to all neighborhoods around them. Although maybe it should not be
that way. The only exception to this is the inclusion of
Downtown. I feel it is important to include this as a reference point for the
city, and because of the movement to repopulate it as a new neighborhood.
I also attempted to balance between what is historically defined a neighborhood and what exists today. Railroads, creeks and quarries
are strong boundaries and often create distinct neighborhoods around them. The East Side is a great example of this, where Babcock, Kaisertown and Lovejoy are all close, but relatively independent communities.
I also had to stop at some point and
conglomerate some areas together that may be considered independent. The
Hydraulics exemplifies this; without a strong commercial district to bind
everything together, there exist three distinct but very small clusters within
The Hydraulics, so it didn’t make sense to call them each out as individual
neighborhoods. Maybe someone from those areas would see it differently.
Well, what does everyone think? I feel there
is some merit to for this discussion about city neighborhoods, as it breaks down
the barriers and could make tackling problems more manageable. I would love to
hear from people around the city about what community they associate themselves
with and why.