UB hits 'undo' on a mistake in the making

Decision not to purchase McCarley Gardens is the right move for UB and the City of Buffalo

The people of Buffalo have spoken and in a surprisingly pleasant turn of events, they’ve been heard.

After years of emotional contention and unproductive discussion, UB has decided that it will not purchase McCarley Gardens, a low-income apartment complex within the borders of the university’s expanded medical campus. Mainly low-income blacks and Hispanics populate the 149 apartments, owned by St. John Baptist Church. The federally subsidized development had provided stable, safe housing for Buffalo residents since 1978.

When Reverend Michael Chapman, pastor of St. John Baptist Church, approached UB in 2009 and agreed to sell the land for $15 million, he did so in the hopes of revitalizing the area, and instead invited uncertainty and tension into the lives of the Gardens’ residents.

Had the sale gone through, and the apartments been demolished, all of the tenants would have been relocated to housing that was equal or better than their previous apartments at no extra cost. But the prospect of moving appeared daunting to residents, many of whom grew up in the Gardens and felt victimized by the sale.

The residents had every right to be upset, as their voices went unheard and their opinions deemed irrelevant to a decision that directly involved them.

No one from the neighborhood was invited when meetings were held and when St. John’s and UB developed an Economic Opportunity Panel to discuss the sale and its outcome. This lack of concern and apparent disinterest in hearing from the people impacted by the sale indicates a serious lack of respect for the Buffalo community on the part of UB.

The situation seemed too cliché to be real – a major institution stepping on the powerless, impoverished citizens without regard for their wellbeing. UB, in accepting the offer, was also accepting a tarnished reputation and inviting criticism.

Fortunately, the university has reconsidered and avoided making what would have been a devastating mistake.

The decision to let the Gardens survive, in lieu of demolishing the apartments despite lacking a specific plan for the site, is a relief not only for the residents of the Garden but for members of the UB community who questioned the ethicality of the purchase.

Demolishing the Gardens and forcing its tenants to relocate against their wishes would have demonstrated a complete disregard for the Buffalo community and further implied that the continuing development of the medical campus would come at the expense of local residents.

As UB expands its reach into Buffalo, respecting the opinions and the rights of the community need to remain a top priority. There’s no need for an antagonistic relationship to develop between two entities that have as much potential to help each other as they could to cause inconvenience and strife.

The medical campus holds enormous potential for Buffalo, bringing an influx of properties and employment opportunities and contributing to the overall development of the city’s downtown. But this potential can be fulfilled without steamrolling the people who deserve to benefit from the projects. UB’s choice not to purchase the Gardens after all reinforces that possibility.

This decision was a laudable move by UB, and reflects an admirable willingness by the university to reconsider their choices and recognize a potential mistake in the making. Such self-awareness and unselfish behavior should be the standard for the medical campus project and for the university’s administration as a whole.

email: editorial@ubspectrum.com