“Tour de Depression” of Buffalo’s slow-moving Katrina
BUFFALO, New York – Pulling up in front of a derelict home in the Broadway-Fillmore district of this post-industrial Rust Belt city, Anthony Armstrong points out what he describes as “Katrinaesque” yellow and red markings spray painted on the front wall.
“A yellow square means that the house is vacant, as if that isn’t obvious from the condition it’s in,” said Armstrong, a program officer at the Local Initiatives Support Coalition, where he provides technical assistance, planning and support to local community development corporations. “A yellow cross in the square means ‘do not enter.’”
“The red markings mean that the property has been designated for demolition,” he added.
Other red markings denote specific structural problems. A “C” on a building, for instance, indicates that the chimney is unsound. Visually, the markings recall the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 where homes were marked by authorities to show where the bodies of people killed when the city flooded were discovered.
Armstrong gave us his “Tour de Depression” of this area to show us the problems this city faces and what local community groups are doing to stop the blight from spreading to other areas.
Buffalo has lost 300,000 residents — more than half of its population — since 1950. There are between 14,000 to 25,000 vacant homes in the former industrial powerhouse.
Neighborhoods like this have been devastated. On one block alone we count seven homes that are slated to be torn down. There are many empty lots where homes once stood. The homes that are still occupied are in varying stages of decay and a school nearby by the corner of Clark Street and Kent Street – referred to as Superman Corner – has closed down.
Armstrong said that perhaps 20 percent of the homes that once made up this district are now occupied.
A telling statistic from the U.S. Census Bureau is the number of “other vacancies” which have essentially have been abandoned for long time. Buffalo’s 12.3 percent ranks fourth nationwide behind Flint and Detroit in Michigan, plus St Louis. New Orleans was in sixth place with 11.5 percent.
“For a long time I resisted comparisons of what we see to what happened to New Orleans because of the enormity of the tragedy there,” Armstrong said. “But the parallels are unavoidable.”
“It’s just that this happened over 30 years here instead of three days<” he added. “This is our very own slow moving Katrina.”
Photos by Brian Snyder