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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!