Saturday, January 10, 2015

School Closings and Real Estate Speculation: Buffalo in the Crosshairs

Wherever a small or medium sized city is targeted for massive closure of its public schools- as Buffalo New York is now- one needs to look at the larger economic forces that may be at work behind the scenes. If experience is a guide, one should not be surprised to see real estate investors and developers strongly supporting such a move, because in every city where public schools have been closed en masse and replaced by charters, especially New York Chicago and Washington, there has been massive displacement of longtime residents from working class communities of color, and huge profits made
by real estate developers in the most heavily targeted neighborhoods.

At a time when the logic of the market is pushing more and more poor people into the suburbs, one has to examine what closing neighborhood public schools will ultimately do to Buffalo's demographic profile.  If Buffalo is being targeted for new investment, who will benefit from it? Is the city building new affordable housing? Creating new community centers to anchor and stabilize depressed neighborhoods. Or is the closing of schools and opening of charters an invitation to private developers to raise rent levels in the affected neighborhoods and push long time residents out?

Buffalo has great community development strategists, like Professor Henry Louis Taylor of SUNY Buffalo, who seek to uplift neighborhoods by improving schools and business districts simultaneously while promoting democratic participation of community residents in all phases of planning.

But when it comes to education policy, voices like Dr Taylor's are disregarded and community voices smothered in favor of those of the city's economic elite. And the result it top down planning which will not only destabilize communities, but is likely to drive long time residents out.

This is the same impending catastrophe that we are seeing in other small cities like Camden, Newark, York PA, Benton Harbor Michigan, Huntsville Ala and scores of others around the country.

That this is being done in the name of reducing educational disparities and helping young people of color makes it all the more cynical- and criminal.