Center for American Progress

It’s Easy Being Green: ReUsing Buildings in Buffalo
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It’s Easy Being Green: ReUsing Buildings in Buffalo

Buffalo ReUse puts young people to work while recycling demolished building materials back into the community.

Widespread urban abandonment has created thousands of unwanted buildings in Buffalo, New York. The city is planning to demolish 1,000 buildings a year for the next 10 years, which will cost taxpayers over $100 million and produce unthinkable amounts of waste. However, one local resident has used the demolition as an opportunity to create jobs, reuse the waste, and contribute positively to the community.

Michael Gainer started Buffalo ReUse in 2006 in response to the city’s plan. The nonprofit’s full-time crew employs hybrid deconstruction as an alternative to demolition. In this process, a combination of human labor and a telescopic forklift carefully disassembles an entire structure in the opposite order from the way it was built. The building materials, including lumber, fixtures, and architectural detail, are removed and reused. What isn’t removed is recycled. The remaining material goes to the landfill in much smaller amounts than with demolition.

“If you take all this building material and you think of all the things you can do with it, it creates opportunities for artisans. There is also a business side, a marketing side, and a need for graphic artists and bloggers. Young people can be involved in that and learn marketable skills. We provide something tangible and meaningful for them to do in their community, so that now they’re invested in something,’’ says Gainer.

In its first year and a half, Buffalo ReUse has achieved an impressive amount. They’ve deconstructed 10 houses, diverting nearly 30 tons of debris from landfills. They’ve obtained seed funding of nearly $250,000 from government and private sources, developed a board of directors and a growing volunteer staff, and opened a retail store to sell the reused building materials from their deconstructions.

The organization is also supporting LEED building credits for developers to encourage more “green-minded” development and accepting donations from homeowners of new or used building materials to keep more reusable material out of landfills.

Spreading the wisdom they’ve acquired from their experience is important to Gainer and his team. The organization is currently educating the Buffalo community about the potential value of materials locked in abandoned buildings.They’ve also teamed up with the Building Materials Reuse Association and are sponsoring the first Great Lakes Deconstruction Conference in Buffalo in November of this year. The conference will explore the use of deconstruction, building materials reuse, vacant lot management, and other creative solutions to address issues unique to abandoned housing and vacant lots in Great Lakes urban centers.

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