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Buffalo, you are not alone

Some news from elsewhere. And why it sounds familiar:

- Pavement to Parks Allison Arieff/The New York Times
   Last Friday, cities and towns throughout the world celebrated Park(ing) Day, an event created to bring awareness to the importance of using and enjoying public space.

- Why not turn vacant lots into gardens? Donn Esmonde/The Buffalo News
   Buffalo’s full-bore demolition policy has left in its wake thousands of vacant lots. Next to many of them are homeowners like [Roxanne] Chase, who would gladly turn an eyesore into a lawn for kids to play on or a garden to brighten the street.

- Jail conditions violate rights of prisoners, feds say Laura Maggi/The New Orleans Times-Picayune
   Conditions at the Orleans Parish jail "violate the constitutional rights of inmates," according to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice released Tuesday that focused on inmate safety and mental health care....
   Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who runs the jail, lambasted the report, saying it doesn't reflect the current reality at the complex or take into account difficulties his agency has faced since Hurricane Katrina. "This report is a terribly dated, fundamentally flawed work done by people who obviously have little appreciation of the tasks facing a city in recovery from the greatest national disaster in this country's history," Gusman said in a statement.

- State sues county over jail conditions Matthew Spina/The Buffalo News
   The State Commission of Correction charged in a lawsuit Tuesday that the Erie County Holding Center consistently violates state standards and that jail managers have failed to correct the problems, despite their claims. ...
   "This lawsuit is a blatant political attack in an election year to cast negative aspersions on the good work done by the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office,” said [Sheriff Timothy] Howard, the Republican incumbent.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News 

What's that deafening sound on Buffalo' streets?

   Buffalo: the "noise wagon" capital of the Niagara Frontier.

   It has a ring to it.

   A deafening ring, if you ask Buffalo Common Council President David A. Franczyk.

   He's convinced that vehicle owners with souped-up sound systems are far more likely to shatter neighborhood tranquility in the city than they are in the suburbs.

   "You don't get many people doing this in Clarence. Why is it acceptable in Buffalo?"

   Franczyk poses an interesting premise. Are folks who play their music at ear-splitting decibels more likely to do so in the city than in Amherst, Cheektowaga, Tonawanda or other neighboring communities?

   The Buffalo Police Department insists it has been cracking down on what some brand "rolling noise." Of the 2,350 noise summonses issued in the city since 2006, motorists were slapped with 1,732 of the tickets.

   What do you think? Is Buffalo a lot noisier than its suburban counterparts? And how would you rate law enforcers in your community when it comes to dealing with noise nuisances?

   -- Brian Meyer

Holding out hope for city's poverty plan

   The city's poverty plan was formally unveiled Wednesday, with the heavy lifting to be done by a task force of four working groups charged with developing five-year plans.

   (The complete report can be downloaded here; it's long and may take a minute or two.)

  The plan holds out the possibility of promoting better collaboration and coordination among  agencies, a necessary first step, service providers say, in boosting effectiveness in tackling problems.

   At the same time, the plan did not have policy recommendations, or offer new, big ideas to combat poverty.

   What are your thoughts about the city's new poverty plan? Is it a good first step in significantly reducing poverty?

   -- Mark Sommer

East Side lots: For housing or farming?

They are two clashing visions for vacant lots on Buffalo's East Side.

City officials said they've worked for years to string together 27 parcels on Wilson Street in hopes of seeing new homes built in the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood. It's all part of a long-range plan, Mayor Byron W. Brown insisted Tuesday. The city has been working with Habitat For Humanity, which has built about 100 homes in Buffalo since 2002.

Mark and Janice Stevens have a different vision. The Fillmore Avenue residents want to buy the two-acre site and set up an urban farm. They've been trying convince city officials to sell them the land since last fall.

Habitat's local president said he only learned about the proposal for a farm when he a read a Sunday story in The Buffalo News. At the urging of Common Council President David A. Franczyk, Ronald G. Talboys said his group is willing to look at other sites for new homes.

But Brown and his chief development adviser, Brian Reilly, said they're convinced new housing is the best use for one of the city's largest tracts of residential land. The mayor said more than a dozen homes could ultimately be built on the parcels. These would be homes that generate property taxes and lure more residents into Buffalo's Fillmore District, Brown argued.

Which vision for these vacant lots do you think makes the most sense?

  --  Brian Meyer

Read the full story.

Johnnie B. Wiley: a case of extreme neglect

The underutilized Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Athletic Pavilion has been the victim of significant neglect over the years. 

That extends to an unused $2 million grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development that was approved in September 1992 and became available in March 1995 after paperwork was completed.

There are now plans to refurbish the baseball and football/soccer fields, and running track.

Some critics charge the facility's historic neglect is because its located in the heart of the predominantly African-American East Side.

   -- Mark Sommer

Read the full story.

Playing with fire

   Fireplaces are beautiful additions to any home, and wood-burning fires bring in warmth and conjure images of family togetherness and holiday celebrations. But as today's story in The News indicates, wood-burning fireplaces can lead to life-threatening house fires.

   Firefighters routinely handle chimney fires from creosote build-up, and investigate house fires from improper fireplace installation, overuse or improper disposal of ashes. Lots can go wrong, but the expense to maintain and improve a fireplace and chimney can be extraordinary.

   So calling all current and former fireplace users. Ever had a close call? How good are you at maintaining your own fireplace? How about your friends and neighbors? Share your story here.

  --- Sandra Tan

Rare disease claimed a Buffalo legend

   After all of these months, we finally know what caused former Mayor Jimmy Griffin's death --
Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease, an extremely rare and always fatal disease, that kills its victims within just months.

   His family made the sad and shocking announcement Wednesday at a news conference at the Dent Neurologic Institute in Amherst.

   They chose Wednesday because it was International CJD Awareness Day. Maureen Tomczak, who acted as the family spokesperson, also took the opportunity to thank the public for its support in the six months since her father died. She choked up at times as she spoke.

   The family also e-mailed a letter to The Buffalo News addressed to the public, naming some of the people and institutions who had supported the family during the former mayor's last days, including everyone at the Father Baker Manor in Orchard Park, the City of Buffalo, Mayor Byron Brown, the Buffalo and Lackawanna Police Departments, the Erie County Sheriff's Office, The Buffalo Fire Department, the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne, the Rich family, Mike Buczkowski and the Buffalo Bisons and ECC President Jack Quinn.

   "Our father loved this community and you continue to show us why," the letter read.

   The family has started the Mayor James D. Griffin Fund for CJD Research at the Dent Neuroscience Research Center. For more information, go to

   -- Maki Becker

One massive leap of faith for shuttered church

   On its face, the proposition seems fantastical: Take a giant church apart, stone by massive stone, then cart all of the pieces some 700 miles and build all over again.

   But that's just what a Catholic parish in Norcross, Ga., is hoping to do with St. Gerard Church, a massive Roman basilica-style church currently at Bailey and Delavan avenues on Buffalo's East Side.

   Someday the church's home address could be somewhere in the 6000 block of The Corners Parkway.

   But to the Rev. David M. Dye, administrator of Mary Our Queen parish in Norcross, about 20 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta, the idea doesn't seem so out in left field -- not given
demographic patterns the past several decades.

   "A lot of the sons and daughters of the immigrants who built that church are now in Atlanta," said Dye. "I've got people from Buffalo in my congregation who know the area and know the church."

   There are multiple ways to look at this latest wrinkle in the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo's "Journey in Faith & Grace" restructuring effort.

   Some people will view the idea of moving St. Gerard as one creative solution in the area's huge vacant buildings problem. Others will point to it as further symbolism of just how far Buffalo has fallen.

   Feel free to weigh in.

     -- Jay Tokasz

A shocking stat on African-American unemployment

   It's not a list that we should be proud of topping.

   Buffalo has the highest jobless rate for African-American men  among the nation's 35 largest cities, according to a study by Professor Marc V. Levine of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

   A shocking 51.4 percent of black males in Buffalo are unemployed.

   Mayor Byron W. Brown said his administration has been trying to deal with the problem through the city's summer and winter youth programs.

   What other things can be done to increase the employment rate among African-American men?

Has the Square gone over the edge?

   Thursday at the Square is a Western New York institution, now as much a part of summers in Buffalo as Chiavetta's chicken, Old Man River hot dogs and fried dough.

   The free outdoor concerts in Lafayette Square are a weekly excuse to meet your friends, schoolmates or co-workers for some cold beer and good music and warm weather.

   The people watching isn't bad, either. I should know; I've been going since I was a University at Buffalo student in the mid-1990s.

   But I, and other veteran concertgoers and observers, have noticed that the crowd at and around the square is changing. It's younger, it seems to be made up of fewer professionals and it's drawing more people who aren't going for the music.

   Buffalo and Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority police say serious crimes are rare at the square and at the Metro Rail stations and on the cars. But a melee that occurred on a subway car last Thursday - and was recorded and posted on YouTube - may make some people think twice about coming downtown for the square.

   So, what do you think of the concerts? Do you agree that the crowds are changing? What do you think of all the young people who hang out along Main Street?

   Should Buffalo Place bring back more oldies bands, or move the start time back to 5 p.m. from its current 6 p.m. start time, or provide more security?

   Is alcohol too much a part of the concerts these days? And is all of this making you reconsider going downtown for the concerts?

  --- Stephen T. Watson

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