Idea Summit to celebrate latest class of regional change-makers

Champions for Change program connects university and citizens to translate community-building ideas into action

The 2019 class of Champions for Change. The course is offered through the School of Architecture and Planning to build citizen agency in regenerative development.

The 2019 class of Champions for Change. The course is offered through the School of Architecture and Planning to build citizen agency in regenerative development.

Published May 7, 2019

New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman once quipped “The standard answer is that we need better leaders.  The real answer is that we need better citizens.”

As our communities face the sweeping challenges of climate change, economic inequality, and a broken criminal justice system, it is citizens rather than policymakers who are pushing for bold and innovative solutions.

Nowhere is this more apparent than through Champions for Change, a program offered by the School of Architecture and Planning to help local citizens turn their community-building ideas into action. This Saturday, May 11, 2019, the Champions for Change program will host its fifth annual culminating “Idea Summit” (10 am – 12 pm, Hayes Hall 403, UB South Campus, parking available in Townsend Lot).

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Focusing on the theme of regenerative development, this year’s class of eight Champions for Change have germinated action plans for initiatives as diverse as a tiny house movement on Buffalo’s East Side, a greenhouse to grow food year-round in Niagara Falls, and a community action group in the village of Springville. The course is part of the Citizens Planning School developed by the One Region Forward sustainable development plan for Erie and Niagara Counties.

Champions develop their ideas through a series of hands-on workshops with UB faculty and students and community leaders with expertise in marketing, design and planning.

This year’s program was directed by Darren Cotton (MUP ’12), director of community development and planning for the University District Community Development Association. "It's truly been an honor working with and learning from such a passionate group of people this semester," he said. "As a University Heights booster who has seen firsthand the power of small changes and the impact that one person can have, the investment these Champions have made over the past four months will pay dividends to their communities for years to come."

According to Dean Robert Shibley, the Champions for Change program embraces the School of Architecture and Planning’s ethos of Buffalo as a learning laboratory. “Our goal is to connect the resources and knowledge of our program with the community, to provide on-the-ground learning opportunities for our students and build meaningful relationships with community members.”

Drew Canfield, a student in the Master of Urban Planning program, says the course allows him to apply his studies in the community: "Champions for Change has definitely been the most rewarding class I've taken at UB. It has been really great to embed the work I am doing in the Buffalo-Niagara community and contribute to a project that has a real impact.”

This year's Champions for Change.

This year's class of Champions for Change.

Saturday’s Idea Summit will feature presentations from project leaders and this year’s Champions for Change. A keynote address will be given by Flip White, a member of the Wolf Clan of the Seneca Nation, addressing the region’s legacy of regenerative development as it relates to Iroquois Great Law of Peace.

“Regenerative development,” the theme for the past two years of the Champions for Change program, recognizes the efforts of the Haudenosaunee, the Native American confederacy that has championed the symbiotic relationship with the land for hundreds of years.

“We live in a region that has a rich legacy of regenerative development that’s based on building the capacity of communities to renew, thrive and evolve,” explains Elizabeth Walsh, who directed the Champions for Change program in 2017 and 2018 as a visiting professor of urban planning at UB.

Faculty and community mentors: Hadar Borden, director of UB’s Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars program; Eve Holberg, planner and project manager at Joy Kuebler Landscape Architect; Will Becker, project manager for Sinatra Development; Beverly Newkirk, founder/executive director of It Takes A Village Action Organization; Stephanie Bucalo, community development coordinator of the University District Community Development Association.

Champions for Change student leaders: Brian Kwong, Nina Zesky, Drew Canfield, Avery Sirwatka, Ari Billy, Alex Dombrowski, Kylie Milliman, Tyler Madell, and Joseph Buttino. Additional support was provided by five community mentors, many of whom have shared their time, talent, and gifts with the program for multiple years.