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Confusion at the Buffalo News

extraSeveral people have pointed me toward today’s opinion piece in Buffalo’s daily paper, “Confusion at McCarley Gardens.” Unfortunately, by relying on the party line handed down by UB’s public relations folks, the editorial staff at the Buffalo News are the ones who come off sounding confused. 

From the editorial:

Charges that the University at Buffalo and Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus officials have not properly communicated with McCarley Gardens and some East Side residents should be met head-on, and finally resolved.

Charges should be met head on? Fruit Belt residents have asked for fair representation on a panel that was named by UB and Oak-Michigan Housing Development Corporation—a panel that includes no one from the Fruit Belt or McCarley Gardens. The only way to meet such a challenge head-on is to grant them that representation on a reconstituted panel, right? Or by “meeting that challenge head-on” is the News saying it’s time to really dig heels into the ground and squash this impertinent request? Back to the editorial:

So far, that has been a challenge.

University officials make a strong case that they have, for the past couple of years, made a concerted effort to communicate with residents, sometimes individually and other times in groups. That doesn’t change the perception of a few residents, who protested to The News that their voices have not been heard.

McCarley Gardens is the low-income apartment complex owned by St. John Baptist Church with 149 apartments on 15 acres bound by Michigan Avenue and Oak, Goodell and Virginia streets. It is located within the borders of the Medical Campus.

A few residents? What about the petitions collected throughout the neighborhood calling for representation? What about this webpage at Change.org that has 125 signatures since last Friday, in support of these neighbors and their struggle to be heard?

And this bit about McCarley Gardens being “located within the borders of the Medical Campus.” Really? Are you kidding me? What borders? Some developers sit down with a Sharpie and a map and suddenly there are “borders” that we all have to recognize? On top of that, the implication that McCarley Gardens is now some sort of rogue population within these arbitrary, recently imagined “borders” is bizarre-o world. McCarley Gardens was built in 1978. Back then, the only “stakeholders” UB had to deal with were the wild deer in the woods of Amherst as they went on their relentless construction agenda.

Let’s all remember that these grandiose medical campus plans will be financed primarily with our state and federal public money, no matter how much grandstanding and credit-taking is done by UB and Kaleida Health. Shouldn’t the public have a say? Just because these “players” own podiums from which to hold press conferences, and just because they have the ear of the News editorial board they act like they are Pharaoh: “So let it be written—so let it be done.”

As told to The News, there was a misconception that people from the neighborhood should be on the panel, when the purpose was that the people on the panel would go out and interview neighborhood residents. The panel conducted more than 70 group meetings or individual interviews – ranging from Fruit Belt leadership groups to individuals identified as leaders to those in economic or work force development.

So what? Meetings don’t have to be effective or productive to still count as “meetings”—especially when the only reason you are holding the meetings is so you can turn around later and say, “Look, we held meetings. Don’t ask us why everything’s screwed up.” On December 13, Fruit Belt residents asked this very panel to share with them the contract that was signed between the UB Foundation and Oak-Michigan Development Corporation three years ago for the purchase of McCarley Gardens. Residents followed up several times with this request. To this day, the request has been ignored. That’s an example of how effective this panel is at representing the interests of UB and Oak-Michigan, while giving lip-service to residents.

In conclusion, the editorial reads:

This has been an uphill experience for everyone. There are numerous issues and numerous leaders, some recognized and others self-appointed. Neighborhood residents need to have an opportunity to voice their opinions and know that they are being taken seriously.

Efforts have been made, but even university officials recognize that, regardless of how much they may believe they are doing and perhaps are doing, they will have to continue to work even harder.

Of course it’s been an uphill battle. You float a plan that looks and smells like gentrification, and you’re shocked when things don’t go smoothly? Yes, when you want to build something in Amherst, all you have to do is reclassify some designated wetlands and start digging. Screw the ducks and beavers. On the south campus, you only need to unearth hundreds of corpses left there a century ago when it was the site of the old county poor house. But in the Fruit Belt, see, you have all these people living there, right in the middle of your plans, and it’s like, hard.

And let’s see…aren’t some of the “recognized leaders” in fact the members of this self-appointed panel? So the solution is to give the unrecognized residents “an opportunity to voice their opinions and know that they are being taken seriously”? Come on. The record shows that this panel has been effective at ignoring residents’ opinions thus far.

In talking with various members of the community who are finally becoming organized and gaining a bit of traction in their quest for inclusion in this development process, it’s my sense that there is less and less confusion among residents of the McCarley Gardens/Fruit Belt neighborhood. They are learning about and coming to grips with the forces working against them.

The confusion seems to be among the editorial board of the News. But that’s what you get when you only listen to spokespeople who are getting paid to promote just one side of the story.

When it comes to covering this issue, the Buffalo News needs to do a better job—”regardless of how much they may believe they are doing and perhaps are doing, they will have to continue to work even harder.

 

 

 


  • Let’s remember, too, that the reconstruction of McCarley Gardens “…will be financed primarily with our state and federal public money…” So that process should be as transparent as you would have this one.