Unveiling the Hidden Gems: Exploring Buffalo's Road to Equitable Development

Written by Kia Johnson
Equitable Development Manager, 11th Street Bridge Park


Step into a world of captivating mystery and transformative potential as we embark on a journey through Buffalo, New York. Join me as I recount my recent visit to our CityWorkforce partners at The Riverline, led by the visionary Jeffrey Lesback. This unique opportunity allowed me to witness firsthand the challenges faced by Buffalo in its pursuit of equitable development. From abandoned buildings to a community longing for revitalization, this trip revealed the untold stories and hidden wonders of a city on the cusp of transformation.

The week of May 20th marked a milestone in my exploration of urban landscapes as I set foot in Buffalo, a place I had never before visited. Uncertainty mingled with curiosity as I drove to the hotel, observing the apparent lack of movement within the city. My eyes fell upon numerous abandoned buildings, and a sense of disbelief washed over me. Little did I know that this trip would provide profound insights into the history and struggles of Buffalo.

The following morning, Jeffrey Lesback, the Director of The Riverline, picked me up from the hotel, and our adventure began. Over breakfast, we discussed our itinerary and my initial observations of the city. It was during this conversation that I learned about Buffalo’s population decline over the years, which shed light on the apparent stillness that had puzzled me. We set out to explore downtown Buffalo, where rapid development was taking place, primarily targeting the younger generation. Notably, a new grocery store had emerged, aiming to address the food desert issue in the East District. However, I would soon discover that its location did not align with the community’s needs—an unfortunate oversight.

Our journey took us to the awe-inspiring Niagara Falls, where the sheer magnificence of nature left me in awe. It was here that I learned of Jeffrey’s dedication to beautifying the city. Having led a park beautification project nearby, he demonstrated a true passion for transforming spaces and uplifting the community. Subsequently, we engaged in meetings with partners of The Riverline project, where I witnessed the tireless efforts being poured into the community. BCAT, an organization focused on youth development through the arts and workforce training for adults, stood out as a testament to their commitment.

On a memorable evening, I had the privilege of attending a presentation on the “African American Corridor,” a project led by Tery Ford to rebuild and uplift Michigan Street on Buffalo’s East Side. Tery’s eloquent account of the project, its historical significance, and its impact on the African American community left an indelible impression. As I sat there, inspired by the vision of revitalization, I couldn’t help but wonder how such initiatives could be implemented in my own city, Washington, DC.

My final day in Buffalo brought me to the East Side District, coinciding with the tragic anniversary of a shooting that had shaken the community. This experience laid bare the stark contrast between predominantly white neighborhoods and the despair that enveloped the East Side. Abandoned homes and businesses served as haunting reminders of a forgotten community, a stark reminder of the pressing need for change.


My visit to Buffalo proved to be an eye-opening and transformative experience. I left with a renewed sense of purpose and determination, driven to share the untold stories and advocate for equitable development in forgotten communities. The city’s rich history, resilience, and the commitment of individuals like Jeffrey Lesback and Tery Ford demonstrated the potential for transformative change. As we unravel the mysteries and hidden gems of Buffalo’s past and present, let us come together and strive for a future where every community can flourish.

Kia Johnson

Equitable Development Manager, 11th Street Bridge Park