Extreme Makeover – Buffalo Edition

Here are some photos I took last night visiting the “set” for ABC TV’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition, here on the west side of Buffalo, roughly walking distance from my house.

Lit up like a Hollywood production, work goes on around the clock.

On Saturday, Ty Pennington surprised the owners of the (now dismantled) house with the news they were getting a new house in a week. The winner here is a 20-year resident, single mom, originally from Jamaica, that has been a community activist, trying to help clean up her neighborhood, help others get into housing, and is a founding member of PUSH Buffalo (People United for Sustainable Housing). She’s battled to keep her own home safe and up to code, but not always financially able to keep on top of it with two jobs and four kids at home (seven total!) as well. The family was shipped off to Disney World and the house was dismantled (in only 15 hours!) to its basement on Sunday & Monday morning by our local construction reuse non-profit group, Buffalo Reuse. The house started to take shape by Tuesday and this is how it looked on Wednesday evening.

Empty lots nearby are being transformed into community gardens.

It’s in an area of the city that desperately needs the help. It’s just spittin’ distance from my first home. It’s an old Italian neighborhood that now has more immigrant Asians, Africans & Hispanics than Italian-Americans. It’s an area that’s been shamefully ignored by the city for generations. There’s crime, crackhouses, absentee landlords, vacant lots and boarded-up homes and lots of unemployment. There’s also big-hearted, hard-working, devout, people of modest means that deserve a boost in life when they can get it.

City officials weighed in early and asked that the house fit into the existing lot, and also fit in with the neighboring homes — hopefully to use as a model for future urban in-fill housing. It is going to be made with as many earth-friendly, sustainable features as is possible. I’m told it will have a green roof — although I’ve yet to see that in anything published.

Last night when I was there, the siding and corrugated metal siding on the front of the house was being installed. Among hundreds of other tasks. The house is designed to fit in a typical, narrow, urban lot.

And the best thing about this project? They’ve had so many volunteers, by far the most volunteers the TV show has ever gotten (more than 5,000 — average number of volunteers for each Extreme Makeover episode is between 700 and 800) – so many that the volunteer companies and citizens are renovating the neighborhood. They’re replacing sidewalks and driveways up down and around the block (and around the clock). They are painting, roofing, raking, siding, gardening, and adding gutters, creating murals, adding fences and hundreds more projects for the adjoining blocks. Judges are cutting through red tape to allow derelict properties to be cleaned up. Buffalo ReTree is planting 120 trees. To me, this is the greatest thing they could have done – even more than building a house in a week for a deserving family.

While I stood there, a neighbor who’s been volunteering since 6 a.m. this morning ( I was there at 6:30 p.m.) was jazzed because he was going to be interviewed by a local TV station. This is a big deal for him, one of the biggest events of his lifetime.

Another community garden takes shape.

Another neighbor stopped by, she and her crew of volunteers, not all spoke English, were going from house to house for blocks around replacing light bulbs in porch lights that didn’t work. A local electrician, volunteering his time & services, heard that streets weren’t safe because people didn’t sit on front porches because their porch lights didn’t work. He took it upon himself (and the expense) to make sure porch lights for blocks around worked. There are literally dozens and dozens of stories like this — caring people, in positions to help, finally paying attention to homes & people they would never come across in their daily lives, and making an immense difference in those lives — and this neighborhood for the coming generations.

The entire neighborhood is being transformed. Here, volunteers repair and paint a house almost two blocks away.

I’ve watched the show in the past. There are rumors of “quick” craftsmanship, cutting corners, things left undone, more expenses for the homeowners afterward than anticipated, and so on. But I am most impressed with US though. The energy and enthusiasm of the thousands of Buffalo volunteers is exciting and humbling at the same time. It’s Buffalo contractors, construction workers, police, gardeners, electricians, landscapers, interior designers, stores, painters, roofers, restaurants, radio stations, and hundreds more, in addition to more than 5,000 volunteers that have stepped up to the plate to make this happen. The show is just a catalyst. It’s Buffalo that is making this happen. Not our city leaders, mind you, but a TV show and ordinary citizens.

By the end of this (Saturday, for the reveal) there will be new gardens in front of neighboring houses and a couple new community gardens. I’ll get back over there sometime to photograph them. I’ll be avoiding the neighborhood on Saturday. If they got more than 5,000 volunteers to work on it, I would assume they may be a crowd of as many as 10,000 there Saturday when they get yell, “Move that bus!”

Oh, and you can be sure I’ll be approaching the owners of the new house to be on Garden Walk this year, and encouraging the neighbors to be on as well!

I have a long-time garden blog, a popular garden on America's largest garden tour, and have co-written a book on garden design titled, "Buffalo-Style Gardens: Create a Quirky, One-of-a-Kind Private Garden with Eye-Catching Designs" When I'm not doing all that, I am an advertising designer always out looking to design things to promote your business. Look me up at #jcharlier.

0 comments on “Extreme Makeover – Buffalo Edition

  1. What a lovely story, Jim (and its true!). I hope the community continue to work together long after the cameras have gone. I am sure that open gardens help to keep the momentum going from year to year, so I hope they take part. I look forward to part two.Best wishes Sylvia (England)


  2. Excellent post…What a wonderful show of force in your city and how exciting that the surrounding neighbors are also getting an assist. Thanks, gail


  3. Interesting story! I've always wondered about the quality of the houses and am curious about how the yard will turn out.


  4. Anonymous

    We've had Ty and crew in our neck of the woods too although I wasn't aware of it until they were finished. I drive by the house a few times a week. It's beautiful and the community really came together in a big way. The TV show seems a bit formulaic but the work they do is phenomenal.


  5. Anonymous

    I think it should be the opportunity to that neighborhood think about friendship, kindness, community, integrity, and better lifestyle for themselves. I hope that this event does not change only the facade of the houses, but also the lives of people living there.May God bless all the Extreme Makeover team, as well as those who readily volunteered to help in any way!


  6. What a positively inspiring story. Imagine if we could harness that power on a regular basis. What a wonderful world that would be!


  7. I love how it sounds like the community really came together and all the other neighborhood improvements that got accomplished while the house got made over. It would be great if more people could come together like this. I think everyone feeds off the excitement of it and wants to join in and help as well. I hope you show more of the neighborhood after things are finished.


  8. With each post from you, I like Buffalo more and more! It is so nice to see this so close to home, isn't it! Great stuff!


  9. Anyone who reads this is seeing a good side of our City. The negative side of it, would be the jerks who post comments on the coverage put in the Buffalo News. Believe it or not, there is a segment of our city who truly believe what is going on here is shameful.


  10. wcwk,Um, thanks dude.Sylvia,I'm hoping stuff keeps going after the cameras are gone. I'll be mighty peeved if the city doesn't go in and start re-doing sidewalks, replacing disintegrated curbs, gets absentee landlords to clean up their properties, start enforcing housing codes, and demolishing unsafe abandoned houses. Gail,I think the show of force and the improved neighborhood properties are a better story than even the single new house for the deserving family.How it grows,We're all curious about the quality of the house. Much was constructed before hand, off-site and brought in. There are many issues including new city assessments and how that impacts their taxes, increased cost for utilities and so on. The show consults with them financially for the next year. There are many options available to the owners to make the house more affordable for them.Grace,This house will attract crowds too. It's in a poor section of the city – I hope it makes these streets more approachable for folks that would not normally be going down this street.Anonymous,Most residents are friendly, kind and are involved with the community. The “bad” element aren't the majority, they're a minority, but they're bolder and brazen. There are plenty of organizations and block clubs that are addressing the problems in the neighborhood. It's ten times tougher when the city isn't responsive or responsible.Helen,It'd be hard to maintain this momentum, but done the right way, it could turn a neighborhood around – even if it happened just once a year.Pam,Buffalo is a great city – come up next July for the Garden Bloggers meet-up, or two weeks later for Garden Walk. You'll be amazed what a beautiful city we have here.Teddy,I know! I read some of those negative, ignorant, scare-mongering, fact-devoid, race-baiting reader comments posted after articles, and was appalled. Apparently, so was the Buffalo News — they scrubbed them from the site. Read BuffaloRising.com posts on the rehab. The comments are much more inspiring and positive.


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