Restore Our Community Coalition

Find out what is going on with our project.

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Paving Paradise

Article by Kerry Traynor, extracted from “Remembering America’s Lost Buildings” at

It might seem odd to lament the loss of a roadway; but Humboldt Parkway wasn’t just a road, it was an urban oasis of green parkland – a crucial component of a much larger park and parkway system.

In 1868, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted arrived in Buffalo, New York to design a park for the city. 

Instead, he created a Park and Parkway Systemthat consisted of six parks, seven parkways and eight landscaped circles. The brilliance of the plan, however, was in the parkways: over 200 feet wide, lined with elm trees and their canopies, they created a ribbon of green that wove its way through the city, connecting its parks and neighborhoods. Humboldt Parkwayconnected Delaware Park – Olmsted’s largest – with Humboldt Park.

Humboldt Parkway at Northland Avenue, c. 1953

But with calls for urban renewal in the 1950s and a growing dependence on the automobile, the city no longer saw the pastoral quality of Humboldt Parkway as an asset. 

To city and state planners, Humboldt Parkway was the ideal location for an expressway – a highway that could carry automobiles to and from the suburbs and the downtown core, while relieving congestion on neighborhood streets. 

In order to clear the way for the new highway – dubbed the Kensington Expressway – the state cut down trees, tore up the parkway and demolished homes. The new highway displaced families, divided neighborhoods by race and income and caused property values to plummet. As neighborhoods fell apart, businesses shuttered their doors. 

Olmsted’s parkway had, quite literally, been paved over. As Joni Mitchell sings in her hit song “Big Yellow Taxi,” “They paved paradise / And put up a parking lot.”

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Fruit Belt, 1957-58

Special thanks to Jason Howe for sharing these historic photos of the neighborhoods in and surrounding the Fruit Belt!

Taken in December 1957 and December 1958 before construction of Route 33 began, these photos give a glimpse of the natural fabric that once characterized Buffalo’s neighborhoods. Another indication of the important role trees played, the Fruit Belt was so named for the fruit trees and shrubs planted around the 130-acre neighborhood, predating modern day UrbanFood Forests.

Thousands of city residents would lose their homes, and many businesses and civic organizations would relocate or close altogether once the expressway came. The Francis J. Donovan American Legion Post, originally located at Cayuga and Grey Streets, would move to 3210 Genesee Street near the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

If you have any historic photos of Buffalo neighborhoods, share them for our growing Community Album!

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Freeways without Futures 2019

Routes 33 and 198 have made the 2019 list for the Congress for the New Urbanism’s Freeways without Futures!

As the name suggests, cities across America are working to remove the imprint of aging expressways from parks and neighborhoods that have long suffered from disinvestments.

Local Coverage:



Buffalo Rising

Buffalo News


Other cities that made this year’s list include:

  • I-10 (Claiborne Expressway), New Orleans, Louisiana
  • I-275, Tampa, Florida
  • I-35, Austin, Texas
  • I-345, Dallas, Texas
  • I-5, Portland, Oregon
  • I-64, Louisville, Kentucky
  • I-70, Denver, Colorado
  • I-81, Syracuse, New York
  • I-980, Oakland, California

Full Report:

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ROCC Article and Essay

We also accept essays and columns from our supporters!

Claire Castiglia of Canisius College shared with us her own views on Humboldt Parkway and the Kensington Expressway after attending our Humboldt Harvest in November.

Prior to coming to school in Buffalo, NY I hadn’t spent much time in the city. I truly hadn’t known too much about the city aside from the intense love for sports teams like the Bills or the correct way to eat wings. But that changed after spending my time here over my first year and a half of college. Even to the ordinary person the setup of humboldt parkway is strange. The highway is strange, the speed limit is strange, and the placement of houses along the highway is strange. Attending the ROCC Humboldt Harvest Celebration taught me a lot about the people from that area and why it looks so strange. The placement of the kensington expressway devastated an entire neighborhood and harshly affected the lives of the people who were living there. The highway rerouted traffic away from local business, bisected historic streets and neighborhoods, and caused unwanted pollution and noise for residents of the area. This expressway destroyed one of Buffalo’s largest parks, Hamlin park. It was saddening to hear of the tragedy faced by residents of Humboldt parkway at the harvest celebration. One kind woman informed me of the health concerns caused by the excess pollution. She told me that many people suffer from cancer, and that the leaves on the trees are dying due to this expressway. I cannot imagine my neighborhood being destroyed by an expressway. Personally, I would way rather raise children near a beautiful park rather than a dangerous highway. This expressway depressed property values and destroyed homes. It is sad that the city has shown that it values the automobile over the human being. I can only hope that we can work together to restore this community to the once flourishing, beautiful neighborhood that it used to be.

Highways Destroying Neighborhoods in America

            America loves its highways. Everywhere we look in a city we are bombarded by cars flying by, trying to get to the destination as quickly as possible. Americans love convenience. Whether it be our fast food, cell phones, or access to freeways we love being able to knock things off of our to do lists as easily as possible. It is this mindset that causes neighborhoods like Humboldt parkway to be destroyed by freeways. And this is not the only area affected, this kind of thing happens all over America, proving that we value the automobile over the human. We can only hope to reclaim our cities as a safe and comfortable place to live. We need to find solutions to these highways that allow for humans to transport themselves easily without tearing apart neighborhoods.
            Beginning with the 1956 Federal Highway Bill that allowed for over 41,000 miles of interstate fast travel, cities began placing highways wherever most convenient, sometimes decimating homes and historic communities. Urban freeways displaced communities and created air and noise pollution in downtown areas. These highways made it easier for suburban commuters to quickly get home after work, making suburban life more convenient. This could cause people to move out of the cities and get a suburban home, only contributing to suburban sprawl. These highways also cause traffic to bypass local business, causing, in some cases, business failure. These highways cause a reliance on the automobile, making the cities less safe for pedestrians and cause more pollution. They create many urban problems, they are highly detrimental the the urban fabric; creating physical and psychological rifts that are very hard to bridge. Cities all over America are affected by this reliance on the automobile and heavy freeway presence. So, what is the solution? How can we insure quick travel while still allowing for prosperous communities? Some suggest that we tear down freeways and replace then with boulevards and neighborhoods. In Birmingham, for example planners want to see sections of I-20/59 replaced. Many people in Buffalo, NY want to see the city’s Skyway torn down, and the Austin, Texas, city government has supported a resolution to submerge parts of I-35 and reconnect portions of city. Many urban cities are considering this try of solution in order to restore natural flow of urban life. Some cities have already completed freeway teardowns. Boston, for instance, got rid of sections of I-93 as part of the Big Dig, putting parts of the freeway underground and creating more than 45 parks and public plazas.
            If we are to consider tearing down freeways and creating more community friendly means of city travel, there are many positive aspects involved. This would create many jobs and allow for more traffic around local business, it would allow for bisected communities that now suffer from poverty to flourish again, and it would create a safer and more comfortable living space for our urban dwellers. Highway teardowns would allow for humans to reclaim their cities from the automobile once again.
            Some may argue that this is a costly project that would only increase traffic and cause longer travel time for people commuting to work. But overall, the benefits truly outweigh the costs. Tearing down highways can allow for economic prosperity in struggling areas. Many homes see the diminishing of property values of homes near highways, causing those neighborhoods to struggle financially. These people deserve to live in a prospering urban environment, and these highways are doing nothing but restrict that.
            If we truly want to restore our urban communities we need to find a way to combat highways and automobile dependence. Maybe we could consider highway teardown, or building parks over the submerged sections of the highway to reconnect the bisected neighborhoods. Either way, we need to find a solution to this issue. People are getting sick and struggling due to these highways and it is time that America puts its citizens first.

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I Remember Interviews

Tribute to Clarke Eaton
Interview with Florence Johnson
Interview with George Scott
Interview with Sheila Lynn Brown

The above videos were produced through partnership with the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor Commission and the generous financial support of the Community Foundation Of Greater Buffalo.  

Various Buffalo residents and business leaders sound off on the importance of a neighborhood parkway.

Albert J. Baxter Jr.
Patricia Baxter
Edna Gayles Kay
David Stieglitz
Maxine Herring-Hall
Melvin Parker
Bradley J. Bethel Jr.
Melvin Parker
Ina Johnson

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Expressway seen as symbol of racial inequity, health problems

  JAN 15, 2018

First in a series on environmental justice issues.

The scent of exhaust fumes fill the air on a mid-January afternoon. Cars, trucks and buses zip back and forth from downtown Buffalo on the Kensington Expressway, also known as the Martin Luther King Jr. Expressway.

This section of Route 33 was built in the early ’60s, wiping out a tree-lined parkway designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.  Today, the sunken, six-lane expressway cuts straight through an African-American community.

“It was like they were building the Erie Canal that’s what it reminded you of this big elongated ditch,” said 67-year-old Al Thompson, who lives nearby.

He remembers playing football with friends on the Humboldt Parkway’s wide median strip. He also remembers when the parkway was destroyed.

by ANGELICA A. MORRISON / Signage outside the Kensington Expressway Buffalo NY.

Thompson describes the expressway as a road built so that whites working downtown could quickly get to and from their suburban homes.

“You would look down on to the expressway and you can see into the cars, from the bridges going across,” he said. “It’s all white folks. During the rush hours leaving town.”

Thompson and others see the expressway as a symbol of redlining. That federal policy guided home loans for years after World War II. Experts say it led to racially segregated city neighborhoods and mostly white suburbs. 

“Now, it wasn’t until later when I got to be a bit more academically astute, that I understood how sinister the aspect of redlining was. And in my mind, that 33 is the Redline Express,” Thompson said.

Henry Taylor Jr., founding director for The University at Buffalo’s Center for Urban Studies, said the expressway changed city neighborhoods.

“They planned the design and construction of the 33, really before the African American population got there. So they had not yet started construction until the 1960s,” he said.  “So whites knew that the highway was coming through and they started to sell their houses to blacks.”

Highways were put in areas where there were fewer single-family houses, and more industry, he said. Lower income workers, blacks and Latinos typically lived in these areas.

“So they’re living on the lands that are most likely to be polluted. And they’re living on lands that are historically situated near your transportation linkages,” Taylor said.

Julian Marshall is a University of Washington professor and co-author of a report on one of those pollutants: nitrogen dioxide. It’s emitted from vehicles, and can contribute to asthma.

by ANGELICA A. MORRISON / Morning traffic rush on an expressway lined with residential properties, Buffalo NY.

The report showed that, across the nation, minorities face a much higher exposure than whites.

“There’s this enormous historic lag, to where people are and where pollution is,” Marshall said. “The forces from 50 years ago are still alive today. If we built a highway, that highway will very likely still exist.”

Experts have some ideas for reducing these disparities.

Marshall says government officials should continue to push to reduce air pollution. Taylor says solutions can start with changing the road system.

“So right now part of the problem with the 33 and the thousands upon thousands of cars, no green infrastructure,” Taylor said.

Thompson has some ideas, too.

He has a form of leukemia that some studies suggest is linked to vehicle emissions. The disease is in remission, and he spends much of his free time working with a group called Restore Our Community Coalition.

It aims to raise money to cover part of Route 33 and restore the lush, green Humboldt Parkway. Thompson thinks that could address old wounds from redlining.

“It will go a long, long way to the healing of some of the ills that plagued us,” he said.  “And it will be a physical example for all to see that ‘yes we were wrong we made a mistake,’ but we made it right… now.”

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Nation’s top transportation official sees benefit of revival of Humboldt Parkway

on May 21, 2016 – 8:47 PM

, updated May 21, 2016 at 11:08 PM

  • “This is particularly important now because we will be replacing or rebuilding so much of our infrastructure.” – Anthony Foxx, U.S. Secretary of Transportation

The nation’s top transportation official said Buffalo should consider resurrecting at least a portion of the grand, tree-lined boulevard that once stretched 3 miles from Delaware Park to Martin Luther King Jr. Park – before it was replaced by an expressway that split the neighborhood.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said it’s incumbent on Buffalo and other cities to explore how to revive neighborhoods decimated by the urban renewal projects of the 1950s and ’60s.

In April, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced $6 million to complete a Department of Transportation study on the feasibility of covering a portion of the Kensington Expressway, also known as Route 33, and return it to a tree-lined parkway and promenade.

Doing so won’t come cheap: The 2012 DOT study showed a $600 million price tag in 2018 dollars for what was named Alternate D. It would deck the highway and create green space over a three-quarter-mile portion between East Ferry and Best streets.


The Buffalo You Should Know: The slow death of Humboldt Parkway in building the 33 and 198


“I grew up in a neighborhood that was carved up,” Foxx told The Buffalo News. “The lingering effect of those kinds of decisions across the country was that there was poor connectivity in almost every way – from a neighborhood economic standpoint and from a community vitality standpoint.

“We have to help communities trying to reinvent themselves and reconnect themselves to find ways to do so,” Foxx said.

Foxx, who has been transportation secretary since April 2013, lived in a low-income, mostly African-American neighborhood in Charlotte, N.C., that was divided by a freeway. Transportation planners and community engineers routinely routed highways through minority and low-income neighborhoods as the preferred way to take cars off city streets, move people more quickly to airports and speed up the commute to and from the suburbs. As in Buffalo, it typically occurred over objections of the affected communities.

Foxx, who was Charlotte’s mayor before his current job and has eight months left in office under President Obama, said the issue of addressing the harm done by urban renewal also is timely.

“This is particularly important now because we will be replacing or rebuilding so much of our infrastructure,” Foxx said. “If we do it correctly, we can begin correcting some of the mistakes that were made, including to places historically underserved and neglected.”

Riding horses

Tanya Redmond, a retired phone company worker, remembers riding horses as a girl on Humboldt Parkway, surrounded by rows of Dutch elm and maple trees.

“There were beautiful trees that were straight on one side, and straight on the other,” Redmond said. “It was in the middle where the activities would take place. It was just a peaceful place. We always called it ‘the Park.’ ”

An estimated 300 trees were cut down to make way for the highway on the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed parkway. Hundreds of families were forcibly relocated by the time the green respite from urban living disappeared by the mid-’60s and the below-grade expressway, with five bridges, divided the community.

“I feel angry that such a beautiful area was taken away from us. It was gorgeous,” Redmond said. “It split this part of our community up.”

Redmond’s father, Clarke Eaton Jr., was one of the first to advocate restoring the parkway as a way to make the community whole again.

“It was my father’s vision for 40 years, and he’s 81 now,” she said. “I pray he lives long enough to see a groundbreaking.”

Don Hill, who grew up on Humboldt Parkway, said the parkway’s destruction coincided with the flight of Jews, Italians, Germans and others to the suburbs.

Hill has many fond memories of the parkway, like walking to school in the wintertime.

“It was like walking through an Ansel Adams photo,” Hill said. “That’s why many of us who grew up in the area were just devastated. It was a spectacular parkway.

“They said it was ‘for the sake of progress,’ but it was just to get people from downtown out to the suburbs, and it didn’t matter to them what it did to the people living here.”

But Hill, 70, remains hopeful. “I’m happy for the movement to make this a Frederick Law Olmsted city, and to restore his vision to what it once was.”

Completing the study

The DOT study announced by Cuomo is the follow-up to the department’s preliminary engineering feasibility report issued in August 2012. It is expected to provide a more complete environmental assessment and detailed cost analysis.

Both studies came about as the result of community advocacy, including efforts by the Restore Our Community Coalition and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes.

Karen Stanley Fleming, ROCC’s executive director, said the study will point the way to the best course of action. That could mean supporting the decking and green space between East Ferry and Best streets, Fleming said, or another approach that reconnects the entire span between Delaware and Martin Luther King Jr. parks.

Fleming said more than the sheer economic cost needs to be weighed.

“You have to look at the investment and the repairing of a community that was destroyed,” she said. “This is going to bring back a neighborhood and improve property values.”

A 2014 economic study prepared by the University at Buffalo Regional Institute’s Urban Design project found there would be a significant economic impact from an increase in property values along the parkway, higher tax revenues and hundreds of construction jobs.

“We think the time is now to move on this, and we are very excited that this is exactly the type of project Secretary Foxx is speaking of,” Fleming said.

Peoples-Stokes, who pushed for both DOT studies, said the waterfront’s resurgence gives her confidence the parkway can also come back to life.

“Urban areas don’t thrive when you take everything out of them,” Peoples-Stokes said. “They thrive when you put everything in them.”

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, said it took years and many incremental steps to turn the waterfront around, and suggested it may be necessary to start with a smaller area such as Northampton Street to Best to get things going along Humboldt Parkway.

“Projects like this need a start, not a finish, and I think the Best Street corridor is going to be very, very important,” Higgins said, noting its proximity to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, the Buffalo Museum of Science, City Honors School and the Johnnie B. Wiley sports complex. “If we could get that done in a decade, I think it would demonstrate tangible progress, and be a major contribution to righting that historical wrong.”

Higgins said there’s a reasonable chance that a massive investment will be made in the nation’s aging roads, bridges and rail in the coming years, with the prospect of federal funding for large infrastructure projects like this one.

When Cuomo announced the $6 million study on April 6 at the Buffalo Museum of Science, it was met with loud cheers from the audience.

“Most places have reversed their mistakes, and that’s what we are going to be doing here,” Cuomo told them.

Later, the governor told The Buffalo News it was possible for the state to provide significant funding for the project.

“These transportation projects – you bond them, they’re done over time, and they’re doable,” Cuomo said.

Foxx said there are federal dollars that could be of assistance, pots of money that Higgins said he’s looking at.

Fleming said having the federal transportation secretary recognize the importance of what happened in places like Buffalo means a lot.

“We understand Secretary Foxx’s personal experience, and we very much appreciate his vision for reconnecting communities,” Fleming said.



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Cheers greet Cuomo on goal of reviving Humboldt Parkway area

Source: The Buffalo News

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announces local funding at Museum of Science. Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News

The state’s new budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year revives an old idea that eventually could reunite a historic East Side neighborhood torn apart by the 1950s construction of the Kensington Expressway.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo elicited a chorus of oohs and aahs during his appearance at the Buffalo Museum of Science on Wednesday as he unveiled a $6 million effort to study covering a three-quarter-mile stretch of the Kensington between Best and Ferry streets, transforming it into a tree-lined parkway.

“It was originally the Humboldt Parkway, it was beautiful, and it was part of the Olmsted design,” Cuomo said. “In the mid-’50s, we had a better idea and it turned out not to be a better idea, which was to move vehicles in and out of Buffalo faster by building a highway. This was not just in Buffalo; this was all over the United States.

“Most places have reversed their mistakes, and that’s what we are going to be doing here,” the governor said to cheers from the audience.

The state Department of Transportation has estimated that the cost could surpass $500 million to fully restore that stretch of the East Side neighborhood. A community group, Restore Our Community Coalition, has been advocating for a study since 2012.

In fact, state transportation planners were considering the idea back in 2009. The area’s transportation planning organization took initial steps then toward a $2 million study of the idea, which was proposed years before that by former State Sen. Antoine M. Thompson when he was the Masten District member of the Common Council.

Cuomo told The Buffalo News editorial board later Wednesday that it is possible for the state to come through with significant funding for the project.

“These transportation projects – you bond them, they’re done over time, and they’re doable,” he said.

Cuomo also reiterated plans to spend $30 million on turning the Scajaquada Expressway into an urban boulevard, with $54 million more to support the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. An additional $4 million will be spent for the next phase of returning cars to Main Street in downtown Buffalo.

An additional $4.5 million also is being invested in Niagara Falls State Park and two other state parks upstate.

“With these investments, Buffalo will really start to be restoring the very fabric and restoring community,” Cuomo said.

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Funding Is Step Forward for Kensington Expressway Revamp Effort

Source: Buffalo YNN

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Before it was cars and concrete, the view for people who live along this part of the 33 in Buffalo used to be much greener.

“It took $45 million back in 1954 to destroy Humboldt Parkway, which today would accumulate to up to $400 million so, the state certainly had the money to destroy the parkway, so now they most certainly have the money to repair the parkway,” said Restore Our Community Coalition Research Associate Bradley Bethel, Jr.

“This was all over the United States, this type of urban development was being done. Most places have reversed the mistakes, and that’s what we’re going to be doing here,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday during a media event in Buffalo.

The coming year’s budget includes $6 million for environmental and design assessments to study restoring one-third of the original Humboldt Parkway. ROCC supports a design that would cover a mile of the expressway.

“The covering will completely leave the freeway alone,” said Bethel. “People will still be able to commute from downtown to the airport as they wish.”

Those in favor of the project say reconnecting the neighborhood can help spur economic growth on the city’s east side, an area some say was left behind while the rest of Buffalo experienced a so-called renaissance.

“We’re envisioning a completely rejuvenated east side, bringing a part of the city that has been disenfranchised for about 50 years, brining it into the fuller narrative of the city’s redevelopment,” said Bethel.

Bethel says that could include increased property values and may help attract businesses to the area.

Next up, he says the environmental study will take a look at air and soil quality. He says the design and build phase could take up to five years.

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Neighbors react to news of $6 million Humboldt Pkwy study

Source: WGRZ

BUFFALO, N.Y. – A $6 million study will look at the possibility of covering the part of the 33 that runs from Ferry Street to Best Street.

“This is an example of how all aspects of the city should be included whenever investment is made,” says Karen Stanley Fleming.

Stanley Fleming is the Executive Director of the Restore Our Community Coalition, an advocacy group pushing to restore Humboldt Parkway. Coalition members say $4 million would fund a study of design alternatives and an environmental assessment. That would take three years.

“To restore this parcel of land does a lot to lift the spirit of a community whose spirit has died because of what’s happening with this wall,” says Stephanie Geter, ROCC Board President.

Then, it would take an additional two years and $2 million to create construction drawings and manage the bid process. Shovels could be in the ground in four to five years.

The state funding means a lot to Richard Cummings.

“I got roots here. My grandparents grew up on Girard Place, and my parents right now live right across the street from the park,” says Cummings.

But by the time Cummings moved here in 1969 from Chicago, the trees were already gone.

“I remember seeing the construction and the dirt and hearing the pounding,” he says.

The result ended up dividing the community. A U.B. study done previously showed the investment of this restorative project would pay off with businesses coming back and homes rising in value.

“All of the homes that we see here around Humboldt have lost their property values incredibly because of this chasm in front of us. But in addition, there have been serious detrimental environmental and health damages to many homes in this parkway,” says Stanley Fleming.

“So to restore that, to us, means everything. Just brings back to life. It’s our restorative kind of branch happening in this whole reborn Buffalo movement,” says Geter.

The current estimate for the total cost is $570 million, but the work the NYSDOT does with the $6 million will give us a more accurate number.

If ultimately approved, the project would be paid for with a mix of state and federal funding, as well as private donations.