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Building Community with Borrowed Tools

MUP grad and social entrepreneur Darren Cotton shares experience in starting University Heights Tool Library

Darren Cotton

Darren Cotton (MUP '12) started the University Heights Tool Library to help other UB students fix up their homes. Cotton, now a staff member with the school's UB Regional Institute, continues to expand and enhance the program. PHOTO BY DOUGLAS LEVERE

Published April 29, 2013

“It’s amazing to see the different projects this helps facilitate.”
Darren Cotton
MUP '12

Darren cotton was an undergraduate student living in an apartment on Lisbon Avenue and was frustrated by his landlord’s slow property upkeep. He decided to take matters into his own hands – but first he had to find the tools to put into those hands. 

His search laid the groundwork for the University Heights Tool Library, a lending place for home-improvement and gardening tools. Cotton, now an MUP graduate and staff member of the school's UB Regional Institute, began researching grassroots community development efforts and the idea of tool libraries surfaced.

After many long hours and support from fellow studens in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Cotton opened the tool library to the community in May 2011 on Main Street in University Heights, right in Cotton's neighborhood.

In its first year and a half of operation, it has attracted over 150 members and evolved into a catalyst for civic engagement and neighborhood reinvestment. In addition to loaning everything from extension cords to circular saws, the tool library is a frequent community gathering spot where ideas are exchanged and small-scale revitalization projects are planned.   

Just last spring the Tool Library moved into a new location at 5 West Norhrup Place, an old movie theater just off Main Street that Cotton and his crew of community volunteers are working to restore.

Cotton recently shared his story of social enterprise and entrepreneurship in a major feature article on UB entrepreneurs.