Wednesday 20 July 2016 at 18:21100% Buffalo: A Renewable Future
by Sean Watkins, GreenFaith
Until last week, there wasn’t much I could tell you about Buffalo, New York. Growing up in downstate New York, I can’t even really recall people talking about the city, other than maybe for sports. All I could tell you was that it’s about a 10 hour drive or 70 minute flight from New York City, where I live.
Last week though, I had an incredible opportunity to not only see the city, but meet some of the local climate warriors who are working to create a better world — a world where 100% renewable energy is accessible to 100% of people.
Now I can’t stop telling people how amazing Buffalo is.
A 27-family community garden on Buffalo's West Side. Credit: Johanna C. Dominguez/PUSH BuffaloCan we scale climate solutions that generate community wealth?
This was the question The Solutions Project posed to us before the start of our time together for their 100% Buffalo tour; I was participating on behalf of GreenFaith along with about 10 other climate professionals. Before the tour began though, it was time to celebrate Buffalo style, with an energetic welcoming party hosted by The Solutions Project and Hip Hop Caucus.
Surrounded by local artists, activists, and other Buffalonians who care, we got a chance to hear from some of Buffalo’s renewable movers and shakers while getting down on the dance floor to DJ Biz Markie. Oh, and did I mention the “Think 100%” custom hats we all received thanks to the event’s hosts, Buffalo’s own New Era Cap Company? It was an exciting way to celebrate Buffalo’s commitment to renewable energy for all.
The second largest city in the state of New York, Buffalo is situated in the “Rust Belt” of the United States.
Since 1950, it has seen a population loss of more than 50% due to the near obliteration of the once powerful steel industry. With many of the people who left Buffalo being those who could afford to do so, Buffalo has seen a huge decline in their economy which has resulted in some of the state’s highest poverty levels. Upon learning all this, it became clear why people of Buffalo are making 100% renewable energy a priority. By making clean renewable energy accessible to the most vulnerable, everybody wins.
Our tour began with Aaron Bartley, Buffalo native and Executive Director of PUSH Buffalo, bringing us to the city’s West Side where the majority of our (mostly walking) tour would take place. Since 2005, PUSH Buffalo has been mobilising West Side residents around creating quality, affordable housing, expanding local hiring opportunities and advancing economic justice. After getting a historical context of the area from Aaron, we were then introduced to Maris Grundy of PUSH, who along with her team, helps a community greenhouse that also serves as a stormwater management center.
Maris Grundy at the PUSH Buffalo community greenhouse. Credit: Johanna C. Dominguez/PUSH BuffaloFrom there, we went to a 27-family community garden (pictured above) that PUSH Buffalo helped bring to life from an abandoned lot. Having all local grocery stores within a mile closed, this garden has become a staple for the community, which is comprised mostly of low-income people of colour and refugees.
In a span of just about 4 hours, I saw the power of what community-led climate solutions look like that don’t just focus on those who have money.
From the Massachusetts Avenue Project that has four urban farms in the city to create access for youth & families to have healthy local food to PUSH Buffalo’s training house that teaches residents skills needed to build green housing and business units, to the city’s first total net-zero home which uses geothermal and solar energy for power — I saw firsthand what I was never able to envision for frontline urban communities: a green renewable future.
But more than all of what we saw, it was who we met along the way that inspired me the most.
Maxine (pictured in yellow) outside her Buffalo net-zero home. Credit: Johanna C. Dominguez/PUSH BuffaloEvery person we met had a passion for their community that I could feel in their eyes. Many told us about how they lost faith in Buffalo’s government until PUSH gave them a chance to let their voices be heard. As a person of color in America, I know what that feels like, so it’s incredibly empowering to see so a city find a new way to thrive economically that’s inclusive of all voices.
If you’ve never visited Buffalo before, I urge you to go. If more people see the great work being done there, we can truly start a green revolution. And to Buffalo, thank you for showing me a new side of my state and for showing me that a future of 100% renewable energy for 100% is possible!
Header Image: Johanna C. Dominguez/PUSH Buffao