The Rust Belt Revival: What's Happening in Buffalo, New York

Meet a major Midwest bicycle booster and the folks behind PUSH—People United for Sustainable Housing.

Green Options Buffalo T-shirt logo, courtesy of Facebook

Green Options Buffalo T-shirt logo, courtesy of Facebook


TV viewers first learned about Eric Walker and Aaron Bartley, both 35, during a special two-hour Extreme Makeover: Home Edition in 2010, when the duo led more than 4,000 volunteers (a record for the show) in fixing up more than 50 rundown homes on Buffalo's blighted West Side. But the upstate New York natives have been winning fans in the City of Good Neighbors ever since they founded PUSH—People United for Sustainable Housing—after meeting at a gathering of community activists seven years ago. The nonprofit purchases, green-furbishes, and weatherproofs houses, then rents them to low-income residents. It scored a major coup last year when it persuaded state regulators to shift $19 million in funds to make affordable housing more energy-efficient, and even got National Fuel Gas Co., the local utilities behemoth, to divert more than $600,000 from advertising to insulating homes. "The people who actually live here are rebuilding this neighborhood, Thurman Thomas–style," Walker says, evoking the legendary Bills running back. "If you keep your legs moving, you're gonna get the first down."



Long before bigger cities like Paris and Montreal put their much-publicized bike-sharing programs in place, Buffalo was already offering a fleet of free cycles for commuters. Launched in 2004, the signature metallic-blue two-wheelers and racks were the brainchild of Justin Booth, 33, a six-foot-nine Brooklyn native who came to the city on a basketball scholarship at Buffalo State. Now, as executive director of the alternative-transportation advocacy group Green Options Buffalo, he's overseeing a comprehensive overhaul of the city's cycling infrastructure that will include 150 new racks and a protected bike-parking facility.

FACT: Buffalo is an architectural paradise, with iconic buildings by Louis Sullivan, H.H. Richardson, and Eero Saarinen and numerous houses by Frank Lloyd Wright.


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