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Long Story Short: Flower power!



Garden of disillusion

There’s a small plot of city-owned land at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Shields Street that has served as a community pocket park for years. The lot contains benches, trash cans, and a central clocktower as well as plantings. Once the location of Ganci’s Super Deli, there is no clarity about the exact status of the parcel today—and who’s responsible for maintaining it. So the community has stepped up, enhancing the lot with flowers and trees, and picking up trash. These caretakers have asked the city to mow the lawn when the Massachusetts Avenue Park across the street is mowed, but no luck.


Recently, the neighbors appealed to their council member, David Rivera. Rivera is known for his genuine concern for the residents of his district. He agreed to arrange for the Mayor’s Impact Team to mow the lawn.


Quite an impact

It was presumably city workers that finally came to cut the grass. In the process, they dislodged stone blocks from garden retaining walls, cut down a newly-planted tree, and chopped sunflowers to the ground. Community members are shocked and angry. “Looks like a rage trimming,” says Kevin Brown in a Facebook post. “What? Why? OMG,” adds Nicole Jacobs. “Lazy,” opines business owner Gabrielle Mattina. “Disrespectful,” says Erik Chase, adding, “This should be made public through other media…The city’s apathy should be exposed and remediation demanded.” Several posts laid blame at the door of Mayor Brown. The predominating opinion is that a similar affront would not have occurred in one of the more affluent neighborhoods, like the Elmwood Village or North Buffalo.


Is this another example of the city’s disregard for communities in impoverished neighborhoods? Or is it spite for being too demanding? Or just blatant disregard for the efforts of community-minded citizens? Someone owes these West side residents an apology, and some remedial work. Community members are already at work. They want the park—and their neighborhood—looking good for Garden Walk Buffalo.



Gardens of WNY delight

Most people have heard of Garden Walk Buffalo, which celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary this July 27 -28, with over 400 private gardens open for public viewing. Less well-known is the newer Tour of Open Gardens. This month-long event should be on every gardener’s—or garden lover’s—to-do list.


The details:

On Thursdays and Fridays throughout July, seventy select gardens throughout the Buffalo/Niagara region are open to the public. This extends well beyond the boundaries of Garden Walk Buffalo, and includes a wide variety of gardens, from tiny spaces to multi-acre estates—all hand-selected by the Open Garden team.


The gardens are open during specific hours by region and day. Thursdays feature gardens in Hamburg, Orchard Park, Boston, Eden, Amherst, Cheektowaga, Williamsville, Kenmore, Snyder, Tonawanda, Lancaster, Townline/Alden, Buffalo's Delaware District, Elmwood Village, Allentown, and Parkside. Fridays spotlight gardens in Hamburg, Derby, Orchard Park, Eden, Lockport, Gasport, East Aurora, Holland, South Buffalo, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lakeshore, Pendleton, Buffalo's Cottage District, and the Kleinhans neighborhood.


You’ll need a guide

There are several ways you can learn what gardens are open, and when.  For a $20 donation, you can have a guide book mailed directly to your home. Books can also be purchased for $10 at many nurseries and other venues. Or you can get a phone app (Google Play only) for $4.99 by searching “Open Garden.”


The great thing about this tour is you can go when you have time and the weather cooperates. You can keep the book in a glove compartment and visit any Thursday or Friday. You can view a single garden or dozens in one day. There’s no rush, because the tour continues all month. There are no crowds either, and gardeners are friendly and happy to answer questions. If the open garden sign is out, you’re welcome (occasionally emergencies cause individual gardens to be closed). People are already visiting the region from other states to see these gardens.



Union busting hits the Spot

True to our name, we’ll keep this short; it seems likely that Spot Coffee is engaging in anti-union tactics. What’s the evidence? Three longtime employees were fired without explanation, after they shared an article with co-workers about Rochester Spot Coffee employees, who had unionized. One of the three employees got an apologetic call from an assistant manager, saying the Chief Operations Officer made her do it. Another got a call from the COO, sniffing around about union activity, two days before being fired with the others. The three employees say they were illegally terminated and their co-workers agree. They staged a protest July 3, asking for reinstatement.


Charges filed

The union that represents Rochester Spot Coffee workers filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board. It’s calling Spot management’s approach  toward unionism a “scorched earth policy.” Spot coffee is well known for its poor working conditions. There are no raises, and employees say they do not get legally required breaks. As a result, turnover is high.


Union-busting is against the law. But some businesses still engage in it. Rochester organizers say they unionized without much trouble, after some initial pushback. Buffalo needs to get its act together.



No news is not good news

Sunday, July 30, about 1 p.m., my wife and I were stopped in a line of cars at a red light on Niagara Street, near the Busti thruway entrance going south. With no cars parked on this part of the street, the parking lane became a de facto empty third driving lane.


Suddenly, there was a thunderous engine roar to our right, as a sports car sped by at what must have been well over 100 miles per hour. For reasons I can’t recall (adrenalin surge?), I began to turn my car into the “open lane.” Fortunately, I stopped, because a police car materialized in pursuit, its siren and lights reaching our brain less than a second before it sailed past.


The chase moved onto the thruway, which is where we were headed. I commented to Renee that high-speed chases usually end in accidents. Soon after entering the 190, we saw how prophetic this was. The speeding car had taken out fifty yards of guide rail and chain link fence, knocking over a light pole, which fell across the parallel railroad tracks.  The car must have careened off the wall of the Porter Avenue overpass, coming to a halt just on the other side. Police had already diverted traffic, and officers were peering into the totaled vehicle through shattered windows. The whole thing lasted for maybe four minutes.


On our return trip, three hours later, a passenger train was stopped where the light pole still blocked the tracks. This was no small incident.


When was the last time you heard a busy signal?

Seeing no mention of the accident in the paper, or online, I called the local police precinct the next day. They directed me to headquarters, which connected me back to the local precinct. The desk receptionist said she had no information, but she would ask a lieutenant to call me. No one called. The next day I called the local precinct again, and this receptionist made an effort to look up the report. She said that a 911 call had come in regarding drag racing on Niagara. Police responded. When the car entered the thruway, it became a state police matter, with Buffalo police assisting. That’s all she knew, but she gave me the state police number. I made numerous efforts to call, getting a busy signal each time.


It was largely out of curiosity that I wanted to know what occurred. Who was this speed racer? What was his alleged crime? High speed police chases are controversial, since they often harm other drivers or pedestrians, or damage property. I had been one split-second reaction away from a catastrophic accident involving a police car, for which I undoubtedly would have been blamed.


I wanted to know why.


Self-reporting the news

My daughter-in-law Stephanie Adams understands the frustration lack of information causes. She co-admins the Facebook page West Side Alive partly to keep the public apprised of crimes and other vital information that might be useful. “People are turning to neighborhood networks and in particular social networking groups to get information,” says Adams. While it’s noble that the public is willing to “build connections around significant issues,” she’s concerned that these groups lack the investigative skills to “truly discern accurate and relevant information.”


“Even with a team of experienced administrators—Including people with political and community organizing experience—making sure people are posting useful information, and not spreading dangerous rumors, has become a time-consuming part of the job,” says Adams, “and not one we are trained or compensated to do.”



Adams cites the recent spate of shootings—including some near her Grant Street office—as prime examples of the failure of mainstream media to report important information. “As far as I have seen, many of these events have gone unreported, or underreported” she says. “This means people are using Facebook and other informal channels to get real, and potentially life-saving, information.”


Where’s the info?

Why can’t the police find ways to be more transparent about daily occurrences? Among other things, this could diminish distrust. Is there, or could there be, an online source for such information? If not, why not?


Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.


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