By Ryan Kozey, PhD
As one navigates the geography of the city of Buffalo, there are a dearth of different expressions and views of the city. One that is perhaps the most intriguing to me, because of my proximity to it, is the University Heights area of Northeast Buffalo. Through my myopic set of lenses, I see a great community in this area of Buffalo. Granted, a look at this area is a representative microcosm of what is happening as a whole in Western New York. The population in this area is decreasing (approximately 8,100 people, down 5.0% from the prior US census, with expected negative loss projected for 2015) . The household concerns of most residents include the much of the entry level to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs - affordable housing, employment opportunity, parenting skills, help with educational objectives, to name a few. The median household income in this neighborhood is just a smidge over $35,000; with the likelihood ratio of family units having two workers in the home (this to point out the living wage is low in this context in many situations). Sixty-six percent of households make $50,000 or less in this geography . Like any urban context, these things present themselves as challenges in many places.
However, it’s not all bad news- quite the contrary, in my opinion. In many situations, dynamics such as gentrification (not exclusively racial; socio-economic as well) can assert itself. Given the influx of young professionals and the higher levels of education in this context, this idea must not be ruled out. Within this context, diversification is present and does serve as a potential impetus to stave off a full blown onset of said gentrification. The fastest growing minority group in this area is African American (32.7%), and there is a significant increase in the presence of an Asian Indian population in this context as well . One also must consider the infrastructure makeup of the area. There is a very good “set of bones” to this community. The influence of block clubs and things like the University Heights Community Blog are open places of communication for those who have a vested, neighborhood interest in the area . Awareness to problems with rental property, crime, etc., can be dialoged about and are very much an open part of discussion in a number of forums. Along those lines is the reality of relatively affordable housing (own or rent) within this context. For instance,the median level of rent is $580 and the median price of a home in that area is $75,185 . Comparatively, these levels are higher than in other portions of the city (excluding Elmwood Village), but they are still a manageable ask for those inhabiting such a context (as reflected in median income earning). I drive through this area extensively, and have quite enjoyed the options available. From LaSalle to Kenmore and over to Bailey, there really appears to be a respectable infrastructure to choose from.
In terms of transportation and logistics, the metro rail and bus have a very nice hub right at the South Campus of The University at Buffalo (UB). As someone who has taken both rail and bus in that context, I’ve personally enjoyed the mass transit in that area and to other parts of the city. Obviously, it is not without its problems, but I see this community as a great place to live in the city.
The anchor in the community, without question, would be UB. There is a significant presence of employment and residential living in the area, and the geography of the campus serves as a veritable sort of economic stalwart for the community. As someone who has focused research in the areas of organizational communication, sociology and social psychology, having an educational hub and presence like this is something that likely helps residents in the area to have a sort of confidence that the neighborhood will not radically dissipate or face neglect.
Likely my favorite part of University Heights is the food. The Steer, Lake Effect Diner, Amy’s Place, Sal’s, Zetti’s, Famous Donuts—if you live in this area, you likely have partaken in one of these places. If you haven’t, I recommend them highly. Granted, we’re not talking bourgeois eateries, but we are talking about a good representation of mom and pop food in this great city. One is also not far from the Hertel strip of restaurants as well.
In sum, I truly am drawn to the University Heights Community. It is a place that has its challenges, as is the case with many areas in an urban context. However, with a draw like the education center of UB South Campus, I see this community as something that has much to offer for the resident, and for the suburban folk who would like to perhaps partake in something more local.!
Percept Report: Ministry Area Profile, 2010- Polygon Report of University Heights, Buffalo, NY (retrieved 12/21/11).
Abraham Maslow, Motivation and Personality (New York: Harper, 1954).
Percept Report: Ministry Area Profile, 2010.
University Heights Community Blog; www.buffalouniversityheights.blogspot.com; (Information retrieved and examined on 12/21/11).
Percept Report: Ministry Area Profile, 2010.