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PUSH Buffalo's Green Development Zone: a Model for New Economy Community Development

Date: Jun 29, 2017
Author(s): Sam Magavern, Skye Hart
Topic(s): Environment: Buildings and Housing, Environment: Land Use, Environment: Parks, Gardens, and Green Spaces, Housing / Neighborhoods: Green Housing, Housing / Neighborhoods: Neighborhood Renewal
Type: Report

2008 marks the year that PUSH Buffalo founded the Green Development Zone in Buffalo’s West Side. Encompassing 25 square blocks, the Green Development Zone (GDZ) is an area that PUSH is making more environmentally and economically sustainable. PUSH stands for People United for Sustainable Housing, and it is a non-profit corporation that uses a unique combination of community organizing, policy advocacy, and neighborhood redevelopment.


The West Side is a racially diverse neighborhood with a large immigrant and refugee population. The median household income of those living within the bounds of the GDZ is roughly $20,000 with 40% of residents and 60% of children living in poverty. This is the type of community that city planning processes often do not serve successfully, which makes PUSH’s presence in the neighborhood all the more important.

PUSH ultimately aims to create a “resilient and regenerative community” in the West Side. The goal is to make a “just transition” from the old, fossil-fuel driven economy, toward the “new economy,” which values people and planet over profit. By creating green, affordable housing, PUSH not only helps the current West Side community to stay in their homes but also creates new job opportunities in green construction.

PUSH started its work by addressing two concerns of neighborhood residents: vacant properties and high utility bills. To address these concerns, PUSH ran successful organizing campaigns to compel government action. But PUSH also took matters into its own hands as a community developer: it purchased vacant lots and buildings and redeveloped them into green spaces and green, energy efficient housing, while also working to weatherize existing homes.

PUSH concentrates its green development efforts within the GDZ. This 25-square-block area was chosen because of its high concentration of vacant properties, the relatively low cost of these lots and homes, existing assets such as the Massachusetts Avenue Project and the Boys and Girls Club, and the proximity of gentrifying forces. Through its work in the GDZ, PUSH demonstrates that environmentally sustainable development can benefit low-income residents. The savings on energy and utilities bills outweigh the upfront costs of green projects and make the housing economically, as well as environmentally, sustainable. And the work of greening lots and buildings provides living wage jobs for neighborhood residents and other disadvantaged workers.