Center for Urban Studies Help Futures Students Document History of the Fruit Belt

By Charlotte Hsu

Published June 13, 2013

“We want to teach students that cities are made not by happenstance. Instead, cities are a product of the decisions that city leaders make.”
Gavin Luter
Center for Urban Studies member and PhD candidate in educational administration

With guidance from a pair of UB graduate students, seventh-graders from Futures Academy made a documentary this spring on the history of the Fruit Belt, the neighborhood in which the school is located.

The young filmmakers screened their work on June 13 at Futures Academy on Carlton Street in Buffalo. Their audience included classmates, teachers and community partners from Locust Street Art and the Buffalo Federation of Neighborhood Centers, who were featured in the 20-minute documentary.

The project was part of the UB Center for Urban Studies’ Community as Classroom initiative led by Henry Louis Taylor Jr., center director and professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning in the School of Architecture and Planning.

Through the initiative, Futures Academy students learn about urban planning and solve real-world problems through hands-on projects during school hours. Examples of past activities include the community art installations, urban gardening and a nationwide competition that challenges students to design cities of the future.

The goal is to help some of the city’s youngest residents understand that cities can and do change, and that citizens do have the power to stimulate improvements.

“We want to teach students that cities are made not by happenstance. Instead, cities are a product of the decisions that city leaders make,” says Gavin Luter, a UB PhD candidate in educational administration, who worked with fellow UB student Kimika Hudson to lead the documentary project. “The documentary was really about making sure the students understand the past so they can understand the future.”

Both Luter and Hudson, who has since graduated with a master’s in urban planning, completed their work as members of the UB Center for Urban Studies.

During the spring semester, they guided the Futures Academy students in a number of tasks: choosing people to interview, conducting the interviews on camera and editing the final piece.

The result is a 20-minute documentary that explores the Fruit Belt’s heritage, including its past as a hub for German immigrants. Community leaders who were interviewed also talked about how the building of the Kensington Expressway (Route 33) affected the neighborhood, slicing it in half and altering its once-intimate nature.

“The ‘33’ was a road that needed to be planned and constructed,” Luter says. “We want students to understand that there can be unforeseen consequences to things like this and that they as citizens can organize to make sure their concerns are heard when it comes to future decisions.”

Futures Academy students on the documentary team included Antone Weeden, Johnathen Nelson, Marquez Hampton, Jahlelle Suttles, Tatania Tart, Jenesis Rodriguez and Myron Pritchett.