Planning for Neighborhood Vitality

It is no secret that one of the greatest challenges facing Buffalo is what to do with the vacant land in our city. Buffalo’s long history of loss of industry and flight to the suburbs and Sunbelt is something we still live with. But we are making a transition to a new economy based in higher education, health care, and knowledge-based industries. And for that, vacant land is a resource as well as a challenge.

Some neighborhoods have been harder hit by vacancy than others. Indeed, some areas of the city are fully intact while others struggle to fill the empty spaces. It makes sense, then, that development opportunities should expand with the amount of vacant land.

The Buffalo Green Code is creating a Future Development Plan that sets the development direction for each part of the city and a Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance that sets the rules for future development consistent with the plan. The Green Code Team has completed a careful analysis of vacant property in the city and categorized each block according to how much land that is vacant (see the map to the right). From this analysis, we have begun to develop different strategies for each level of vacancy.

Strategy: Preserve

In areas where less than 30 percent of the property is vacant or distressed, the Buffalo Green Code would encourage the preservation of existing character. The City would reinforce this strategy through strict building code enforcement, upkeep of public spaces, and programs to promote home ownership and housing upgrades. Neighborhoods would stay the way they are - only better.

Strategy: Revitalize

In areas where between 30 and 60 percent of property is vacant or distressed, the Buffalo Green Code would work over the long term to restore the original look and feel of the neighborhood by maintaining lot sizes, setbacks and other regulations. In the meantime - until market conditions can support large scale infill housing development - the code would encourage residents to buy and keep adjacent lots, create community gardens, plant trees, and manage vacant lots - all as a way of stabilizing neighborhoods until there is enough demand for new investment.

Strategy: Transform

In areas where 60 percent or more of the property is vacant or distressed the Green Code would allow a range of new development opportunities. The City might lease or manage land that it owns for “Open Space Reserves,” where an overwhelming proportion of residential parcels have become vacant, to help manage storm water, grow trees or food, or produce energy .

The City might encourage clustered, mixed-use development or “Urban Villages” where a concentration of good housing may serve as a neighborhood anchor. In some cases the “Open Space Reserves” and “Urban Villages” may work together as linked strategies.

Buffalo will remain the center of the urban region. But we need a practical way to deal with vacant land while we work to create new market demand for that land and the homes, shops, offices, and factories that might be built there.

What do you think? Do these strategies make sense as ways to deal with the varying degrees of vacancy in our city? What lessons can we learn from your experience? What concerns you most about any of these approaches? Let us know by e-mail at [email protected].

Want more information? visit the Buffalo Green Code website at

Mayor Byron W. Brown
City of Buffalo
Office of Strategic Planning