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Camp Teaches Buffalo Middle Schoolers How to Improve Perry Neighborhood

Many of the children attending the Academic Summer Camp on Neighborhood Development live in the Perry neighborhood. Photo: DOUGLAS LEVERE

By MARCENE ROBINSON

Published August 16, 2012

As part of a five-week Academic Summer Camp on Neighborhood Development, 23 middle school students from across Buffalo have been working on projects to improve the Perry Street community—home to nine of the campers.

The camp, which ran July 9 through Aug. 10, will operate every summer through 2017. It is supported by a federally funded grant for planning the redevelopment of the “Perry Choice Neighborhood,” so designated by project director Henry Louis Taylor, UB professor of urban planning and director of the university’s Center for Urban Studies.

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Campers work on a model for a new design of the Lanigan Park campus, which includes a pool and play area for children. Click on the image to see a larger version. Photo: DOUGLAS LEVERE

Campers spent their time working on their reading, writing, communication and problem-solving skills. They used those skills when in groups working on projects that tackled issues confronted by Perry residents.

One group considered the large number of vacant buildings in the neighborhood and created decorative boards with which to cover the windows and doors of an empty apartment building in the Commodore Perry Homes. Essentially, they reimaged the abandoned building as a piece of children’s art.

Another group built a model of their proposal for a new design of the Lanigan Park campus, one of Buffalo’s oldest parks. It includes a pool and play area for children.

The third group studied food security and created an urban gardening model that employs aquaponics and other strategies to grow food, even when yard space is limited or non-existent. With the nearest grocery store two miles away, the children learned that they can supplement the family food budget with home-grown vegetables.

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A detail of the Lanigan Park model. Click on the image to see a larger version. Photo: DOUGLAS LEVERE

Camp staff members also encouraged future entrepreneurship by teaching students how to cultivate fish that can be sold, along with surplus vegetables, to family, friends and neighbors.

“A lot of people think city planning is a magic process handled by somebody else, somewhere else,” says Gavin Luter, camp program coordinator and a graduate assistant in the Graduate School of Education.

“We are making sure the children understand that the process of building neighborhoods requires the involvement of those who live in those communities,” he says, adding that he and Taylor hope that the number of children in the camp grows to 500 in coming years.

The camp is a joint venture of the UB Center for Urban Studies, the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, the Boys and Girls Club of Buffalo and its principal funder, UB Liberty Partnership.

It is a larger version of the Community as Classroom Initiative, an in-school program the academic camp staff has run at P.S. 37 Futures Academy for almost a decade.