BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Many Buffalo leaders are questioning why there is North and South Buffalo, but only the East Side and the West Side.
Common Councilmen Ulysses Wingo proposed changing the names to East and West Buffalo respectively to match its North and South counterparts. This proposal is moving to public comment. Some community leaders say this change is symbolic and a smoke screen covering the real root problems that remain.
“Rather than change the name, let’s change the game in terms of how we develop the Eastside,” Henry-Louis Taylor, professor at the University at Buffalo and director of the University at Buffalo Center for Urban Studies, said.
The ‘East Side’ is embraced by community members, according to Professor Taylor. He said residents he knows are proud of their community and hold the ‘East Side’ name in high esteem.
Mayor Byron Brown and Governor Kathy Hochul have begun using East Buffalo, saying it in some of their press conferences and writing it in their news releases.
Local experts question if the name change will create systemic change or if it is merely symbolic.
“Not a single one of those projects will radically transform the East Side, especially since none of them are accompanied by comprehensive planning and how that comprehensive planning will inform development,” Professor Taylor explained.
Buffalo Common Council President Darius Pridgen said he thinks there needs to be a change on the ground before the name change. He compared the East Side to a company, saying there needs to be a change in the product’s contents before a change in branding.
“If you change the name first and the content second, then the question is what does the name simply do?” Council President Pridgen said.
On-the-job training, developing vacant lots and creating livable housing are issues Professor Taylor hopes are addressed. He said, historically, these problems have been overlooked by leaders at all levels of government.
While the Northland Workforce Training Center provides job training to residents, Taylor said it is not enough. There needs to be expanded programing to help residents who live in East Buffalo, according to Taylor.
“It’s okay. But okay is not good enough when most of the Black workers are locked in the low-income job market,” Professor Taylor added.
Similar to the development of Canalside and Larkinville, Taylor says there needs to be a development plan with community input. However, he cautions that plans from past development should not be used in East Buffalo. The neighborhoods need their own, unique development process.
“The very fact that these folks think you can cookie-cutter developmental strategies and impose them on the East Side is part of the problem,” Professor Taylor continued.
He called out city leaders and said they are not focusing on the root problems.
“Byron Brown and others are saying the same thing except not so honestly. They view the problems on the East Side as too complex to solve,” Professor Taylor said.
Mayor Brown responded to Professor Taylor’s comment with the following:
Unfortunately with my brother Dr. Taylor, we have a University at Buffalo professor that states the obvious, but misses the point. The problems suffered are complex and a product of several hundred years of oppressive racial discrimination. We absolutely can uplift the Black community in Buffalo and across the nation, but it will take significant financial resources, participation from all levels of government, faith based organizations, higher education, organized labor and the people themselves, all working together.Mayor Byron Brown, (D) Buffalo
Leaders at the local, state and federal levels are calling for change. The vision is to restore East Buffalo and Jefferson Avenue.
“For me, as a resident of this community, my end goal is flourishing businesses, especially those that are owned by people in the community,” Council President Pridgen explained.
There is no scheduled date for the Council’s public hearing on the name change. Council President Pridgen hopes to hear from residents directly about what they want to see in their community.
Both Professor Taylor and Council President Pridgen used East Side and East Buffalo in conversation.
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Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native and Emmy-nominated reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.