Report brings new value to the region's older structures

Feb 16, 2017

New research released by the National Trust for Historic Preservation shows the city of Buffalo's older, smaller buildings and neighborhoods are "irreplaceable assets."

Jessie Fisher is Executive Director of Preservation Buffalo Niagara
Credit Chris Caya/wbfo

Even though Buffalo is the 78th largest city in the U.S., it was among the first five highlighted by the National Trust's Preservation Green Lab initiative which  seeks to  show the economic and social benefits of preservation and reuse.  

"We actually have the oldest building stock in the U.S. We narrowly edged out Boston and Philadelphia. 85 percent of our buildings are pre-World War II buildings," said Jessie Fisher, Preservation Buffalo Niagara's Executive Director.

"So, that creates a wealth of opportunities."

In reviewing the report, Fisher says the findings show that older, smaller buildings have 72-percent greater population density than newer larger buildings. They house nearly 70 percent more women and minority-owned businesses, more startups and more employees. Older city neighborhoods and business districts Fisher says create better transit opportunities, a closer sense of community, and they attract a younger population.

"That's really what's fueling a lot of Buffalo's rebirth...younger people who may be grew up in the suburbs but are discovering that they want to live in the city," Fisher said. 

"They're not necessarily drawn to those new spaces. They are drawn to the older character rich places. And then once you've got people living there you have businesses that are going to automatically follow them."  

Fisher sees a troubling trend in the report. Compared to other cities across the nation, Buffalo is lagging behind placing buildings on the National Register.

"The average is about seven percent and we're under five percent. So even to catch up to the average we have a ways to go. And when you consider how much more fabric we actually have than most cities we really need to get serious about protecting and investing in our existing built environment."  

The city's new Green Code, Fisher says, is silent on that topic. She's hoping Preservation Buffalo Niagara can work with City Hall on improving protections for Buffalo's historic structures.

"Right now only about five percent of our buildings actually are protected through local ordinance. And so if we really take this data seriously and take to heart what it says in terms of these buildings really being the building the blocks of a strong sustainable vibrant community we really need to make sure we're protecting that existing fabric."  

Fisher says the new data will also be helpful in showing developers the value in Buffalo's character-rich neighborhoods, and in seeking funding to get more buildings on the National Register.