Community Power Building: Buffalo

Written by Maritza Martinez Fellowship Program Manager, Green For All

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Last week, I joined Green For All’s Director of Education and Outreach, Julian Mocine-McQueen on a trip to Buffalo to meet with the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York. Our goal was to bring together allies from around the city to explore how we could collaborate.

We visited some of Buffalo’s environmental justice hot spots, including the Tonawanda area, where toxic industrial polluters burn coal and refine petroleum across the street from homes and playgrounds. Not surprisingly, this area has an extremely high rate of asthma and other respiratory illnesses.  After much effort on the part of the Clean Air Coalition, air monitors were placed downwind of the industries to record the different pollutants that the surrounding community is breathing. The monitors found an unusually high percentage of the carcinogen Benzene in the air. I personally experienced the noxious odors that residents encounter daily.

Neighborhoods around Buffalo face environmental and economic injustice issues on a constant basis. It’s not just in Tonawanda. We learned of a local school on the Buffalo’s west side, where thousands of trucks idle all day, waiting to go through customs and enter Canada.  In this area, fresh air must be pumped into the local elementary school, because the air outside is too toxic for the kids to breathe all day. A playground and a small grass mound is all that stands between families’ homes and massive trucks blowing out toxic fumes.

With these experiences for context, we met with fifteen leaders from throughout Buffalo’s diverse neighborhoods to discuss the problems in their communities, share resources, and form new personal and organizational connections. We were joined by Green For All fellows Natasha Soto from Clean Air Coalition of Western New York and Clarke Gocker from PUSH Buffalo, as well as representatives from the NAACP, The Coalition for Economic Justice, Citizen Action of New York, Buffalo Car Share, Environmental Justice Action Group, Hispanic Heritage Council of Western New York, and Grupo Ministrial.

The most pressing issues they identified in Buffalo include poor air quality, inadequate housing stock, lack of youth investment, and insufficient jobs. Community groups are tackling these issues one neighborhood at a time, but more cross-neighborhood conversations, collaborative work, and resource sharing would help the city and its residents meet these challenges. Together, our group developed a vision of what Buffalo could look like if the community groups achieved their goals, and we identified milestones to help get there.

We can’t wait to see this vision unfold and to lift up Buffalo as a partner and a model for other communities around the country who are facing similar challenges.

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