It may be hard to believe, but Buffalo, New York, was once a pinnacle of high-tech innovation, even dubbed the City of Light for being one of the first electrified towns in America. But today, with the century-old houses in the city’s low-income East and West Side neighborhoods standing in disrepair, a new organization called Buffalo Basics is hoping to reenergize the city with a low-tech approach—hands-on training.
At the heart of the efforts are Megan McNally and Whitney Yax, two Buffalo natives who met in 2008 through Barnard College’s Centennial Scholars Program, which awards students funds for a project of their choice.
An environmental policy major who will be graduating in 2010, McNally originally envisioned creating a community garden but quickly learned that the neighbors needed solid roofs more than homegrown radishes.
“I thought, Why don’t I just rehab a house and through that teach people how to fix up their own homes?” McNally says. In October 2008, McNally and Yax, an urban studies major who graduated last spring, purchased a foreclosed 1,500-square-foot home at auction. Since January, the pair, joined by local trade professionals, have hosted free workshops nearly every weekend, teaching skills from painting to installing windows to fixing leaky pipes.
One of the biggest surprises has been the number of women in attendance and witnessing their transformations from cautious to confident renovators.
“Because we are two young women doing home repair, other women show up,” McNally says. “They walk out saying, ‘I used a circular saw today.’”
In the future, McNally and Yax plan to open their site, Buffalo Basics, as a community show house highlighting renovation techniques and green technologies to further reelectrify Buffalo, one resident at a time.