Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The History of Hamlin Park Finale: The Legacy of Model Cities and Hamlin Park in the Present

This information comes directly from the National Register nomination that Preservation Studios completed. Check back for additional installations in the series in the coming weeks. Stay up to date with all things Hamlin Park by liking the Hamlin Park Historic District on Facebook.

As a whole, the Model Cities program is remembered fondly by participants, not only for vestiges like the Build Academy, which survived the end of the program, but for achieving some of the less quantifiable goals of the program regarding power and agency, noted this in the documentary Model City:

Buffalo is a great example of the level of agency created for citizens by the Model Cities program. Aside from larger projects run by the Model Cities Agency, dozens of other programs were enacted through the Model Cities funding, often collaborating with other groups in the city. Two programs were run in junction with the Buffalo Library; the Readily Accessible Materials Van (RAM Van) brought magazines, books, and films to areas without access to a library, and the Bars Beautyshops and Barbershops (The Three Bs) program provided encyclopedias to areas where residents typically congregated. In August 1972 a Model Cities Expo was held to highlight all of the different projects made possible by the program, around 36 in all.


Tangible results of the program are more difficult to evaluate, though the effects of the funding on Hamlin Park seem apparent. Though much of the area east of Main Street suffers from poverty, Hamlin Park fared better than most. The seven census tracts that encompass all of Buffalo’s Model Cities area have dropped by over 50 percent in population and are now largely impoverished African American neighborhoods. Indeed, beginning with the topmost portion of Hamlin Park, the census tracts increase in poverty the deeper you get into the Model Cities program areas. Tracts 52.02 and 33.01 (the boundary of the Hamlin Park historic district) have poverty rates of 26.27 and 25.5 percent, whereas the tracts immediately to the south (within the remainder of the Model Cities area) have rates of 30.2, 37.3, 29.9, 37.05, and 44.7.


In many ways, the goals of Model Cities were far too lofty: broad, sweeping programs that combated blight, poverty, health, recreation, and education. Based on its own criteria, the program utilized in Hamlin Park was actually highly successful, largely because it was unburdened by the full program’s expectations. Indeed the city’s only expectation for rehabilitation programs was to prevent conditions from getting worse:

While code enforcement projects represent the least costly of the available urban renewal activities, they are also capable of the least amount of change. Consequently the areas which have been selected for code enforcement action have been drawn primarily from residential areas which are presently stable with the object of maintaining this stability. - Model Cities Pamphlet


A variety of factors contributed to Hamlin Park’s maintaining building integrity, population density, and low poverty rates compared to the remainder of Buffalo’s East Side. The establishment of the Hamlin Park Taxpayer’s Association in 1965 enabled a largely middle class neighborhood to mobilize against the issues of poverty spreading throughout Buffalo’s East Side. Working with city officials, they helped qualify the area for a project that would eventually be folded into the Model Cities program, enabling families the tools to help improve their neighborhood and fight off blight. Hamlin Park was chosen initially because of the neighborhood’s proximity to impoverished areas, a buffer community against blight and poverty, and the Taxpayer’s Association was pivotal in maintaining that integrity after Model Cities ended, not only by assisting homeowners with subsequent state and federal assistance programs, but helping to establish the local historic district in the 1990s. 


While Hamlin Park demonstrates neither the unqualified success nor failure of the entire program, it does demonstrate that with successful targeting and implementation, rehabilitation programs can succeed in stemming or counteracting the effects of blight. Unlike the lofty goals for much of the city, the code enforcement program, run simultaneous with and then through the Model Cities program, was highly successful at preventing the effects of poverty that spread through Buffalo’s East Side, particularly in comparison to the surrounding neighborhoods today.

1913 4-24 Buffalo Express

While Urban Renewal funding enabled the rehabilitations that maintained the neighborhood’s integrity, Hamlin Park’s success in the Model Cities program is tied to the Taxpayer’s Association that formed to facilitate the dispersal of those funds. The involvement of the group in the district did not end with Model Cities but continued in the following decades, whether implementing “Watch Dog Programs” to battle building deterioration, or assisting residents in applying for subsequent HUD program funding. In this way, Model Cities was successful in Hamlin Park by providing important funds for the community, but more importantly, by prompting the development of an organization shaped the neighborhood long after the program finished in 1975.

Northland Avenue

In the course of 153 years, the area known as Hamlin Park has been influenced by a variety of individuals, ideas, and movements, and the effects of those influences can be seen in the physical features of the district itself. The earliest stage of its history is traced in the curving streets of the northeast corner. Designed by August Hager, but inspired by Frederick Law Olmsted, it captured the dilemma of the nineteenth-century urbanite attempting to create the flowing, open spaces of the rural environment within the bustling crowded cities they occupied. The second period of development, at the turn of the twentieth-century, epitomized much of Buffalo’s streetcar neighborhoods: small, narrow lots with rows of identical houses, offering thousands of families the ability to relocate “home” to quiet, secluded neighborhoods only a transfer or two from their workplaces in the industrial and manufacturing parts of the city. Finally, the neighborhood epitomizes Buffalo’s, and the nation’s, attempt to combat the poverty and blight creeping into areas that seemed so idyllic only a generation before.

Driving Park
Back in the days of the Driving Park

Hamlin Park emerged from the 1970s as one of the city’s only Urban Renewal success stories and, coupled with Allentown-Lakeview, could be used as an example for future revitalization programs. When Buffalo applied for Model Cities funding in the 1960s and began outlining its plan for Hamlin Park, it saw that neighborhood as a vanguard against the poverty spreading through its East Side neighborhoods. Though the concentrated code enforcement program, and the Community and Taxpayer’s Association that emerged because of it, were successful at mitigating the effects of poverty in Hamlin Park, the remainder of Buffalo’s Urban Renewal programs were largely failures. Today, Hamlin Park is one of Buffalo’s last intact historic East Side neighborhoods.

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