From the Trust for Public Land - Lands & People Magazine - Fall 2004:

Excerpt from "Park Power!" by Paul M. Sherer

"...Residents of cities and towns across the country have learned that banding together to create a new park, garden, or playground can leave a community with a lot more than new swing sets, rows of vegetables and flowers, and green space. Neighbors become more willing to protect one another's families and properties from harm. They are more likely to accost or report teenagers spraying graffiti or harassing passersby and are more likely to mobilize to demand better schools and libraries.

To social scientists, what these residents are experiencing is the growth of "social capital" — the social ties, mutual trust, and standards of behavior that enable people to work together toward shared goals. Just as investment capital builds financial strength, social capital builds community strength. Researchers have found that, when compared to otherwise similar neighborhoods with weak social capital, neighborhoods with strong social capital enjoy fewer homicides and other violent crimes, fewer property crimes, reduced juvenile delinquency, better-performing governmental institutions, higher educational achievement, and lower rates of asthma and teen pregnancy. Where social capital is weak, neighborhoods fall into decline.

Some of the strongest evidence for the social benefits of parks comes from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods (PHDCN), a $50 million-plus interdisciplinary study on the roots of crime, substance abuse, and violence. The study is focused on a concept related to social capital called "collective efficacy"—social cohesion and trust among neighbors combined with their willingness to intervene for the common good. Collective efficacy can be built through activities such as working together on community gardens and holding community festivals in neighborhood parks.

As part of the study, researchers interviewed more than 8,000 residents of 343 Chicago neighborhoods. Questions were designed to measure collective efficacy, perceived levels of neighborhood violence, and actual violence experienced by an interviewee. Researchers also reviewed homicide reports for the neighborhoods. The project found that neighborhoods with higher collective efficacy experienced lower rates of crime and juvenile delinquency.

Simply having a park where neighbors can interact can increase social capital, says Professor Robert J. Sampson of Harvard University's Department of Sociology, a lead researcher on the Chicago study. "It's hard to develop trust and cohesion where you can't see people or interact with them," Sampson notes. And while isolation breeds cynicism and fear, neighborhoods with greater interaction enjoy "lower crime rates and a sense of social cohesion."


Thanks to West Villager Jeremy Maxwell and his Public Goods and Srvs for designing the new look for the JPRF!

Jeremy has great vision and interpretation skills. He was able to take off on our original logo and enhance it - a clean, crisp seguee.

Additionally, he produced a "leaflet" card that will be used for our future development projects. This card will be inserted into every fund request for Individual and Corporate Gift Campaigns, and describes the entire project - phase by phase.

Jeremy will continue working his magic on all other publications for the JPRF. His website is well worth viewing and can be found by clicking his company's name above.


The following is a list of various reports and studies on urban greenspaces and their impact on community and youth development. The Johnson Park Restoration Fund has utilized these reports as guideposts to its evolution.

The Benefits of Parks -
Why America Needs More City Parks and Open Spaces -

The Economic Benefits of Parks and Open Spaces -
How Parks Effect Positive Reinvestment to an Area
Part I - Growing Smart
Part II - Attracting Investment

The Health Benefits of Parks -
How Parks Keep Communities Strong and Healthy

No Place to Play -
The Need for Parks in Areas Where Children Live

Urban Parks as Partners in Youth Development -
Personal & Social Assets that Facilitate Positive Youth Development

The Public Value of Urban Parks -
A Broader View of Urban Parks

Partnerships for Parks
Benefits of Public, Private, and Nonprofit Partnerships in Building Urban Parks


This is the text of the informational brochure from the Rededication Ceremony:


Johnson Park is the first park in the City of Buffalo from land donated by our first mayor, Ebenezer Johnson in 1837. This historic parkland was a tremendous contribution to the community, providing respite for strolling, picnicking, and gatherings. It is with this in mind that the Johnson Park Restoration Fund presents the following outline for the future of this great public space.


For many years (1960’s to early 2000’s), Johnson Park was in disrepair and grounds for vagrancy, crime, drug-dealing and usage, and other illicit acts. It was not a safe place for the many low-income minority children in the area to play, even though, due to dependence upon public transportation, this park was the best resource for their outdoor activities. Needles, crack sacs, marijuana bags, “whippets,” and broken beer bottles were ever-present. Neighbors discouraged nearby nursery schools from bringing their children to the greenspace for play to keep them safe.


For the past five years, the West Village Renaissance Group (WVRG), a nonprofit community preservation organization and previously known as the Johnson Park Association, has maintained the park with litter pick-up and Spring and Fall Leaf-A-Thons, scheduled by residents throughout the Historic West Village to assure a healthy, albeit somewhat bare, turf. Three gardens have been planted and the park is now a feature on each year’s Garden Walk and a Buffalo In Bloom winner for the past four years.

The WVRG has worked endlessly with Councilmember Brian C. Davis, Buffalo Police Department, Erie County DA’s Office, Judge Henry J. Nowak, and many others to remediate the ills of the past and make this greenspace and neighborhood an area to be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike. It has taken five years to finally “take back the park” and make it that very special place for area children to play, for residents to use as a respite, and for the organizations to work together to rid the park of the crime it had become known for. In 2003 Johnson Park was nominated for “Great Public Space” recognition on the Project for Public Spaces. Later that year, the entire neighborhood was recognized by Buffalo Spree Magazine as one of “Western New York’s Great Neighborhoods.” In 2004, the seed organization (Johnson Park Association) of the WVRG was recognized with a Civic Empowerment Award for its work in neighborhood remediation. We’ve worked very hard to assure the safety and security of this parkland and now it is time to redevelop it for all the residents of the Lower West Side as well as visitors to our city.


Now it’s time for Johnson Park to experience the renaissance that reflects the vision of Mayor Ebenezer Johnson. On July 28, 2007 the Johnson Park Restoration Fund was launched as the lead organization for the restoration project of this historic site (noted on the National Register of Historic Places) and to raise the necessary funding for its two phases.

Johnson Park will, again, become a destination, recognized for its historic value, complimenting the current redevelopment of the Downtown, Delaware, Niagara Street, and Waterfront projects, and used by residents and visitors alike. The plans will provide for a “Green Environment” that will include projects by local schools.

In Phase 1, the addition of a jogging ring around the park will provide a safe place for current joggers from local hotels, schools, businesses, and the neighborhood, as well as invite future joggers from the loft developments that surround the area. Wheelchair access from all angles of the park will be implemented that will also include the corners located on South Elmwood Avenue. New curbs will replace the 170 year old Medina Sandstone curbs that are almost nonexistent due to wear and abuse from vehicles. The current pathway through the park will be revamped with 21 foot sections in dark gray for hop-scotch and chalk drawings the local kids have come to enjoy producing at record rate. A meditation labyrinth will be added at mid-park, and the turf, always an issue in the past, compounded by the wear and tear of heavy machinery during October Surprise Storm Clean-Up operations, will be reseeded. Enhanced lighting will provide adding security for those wishing to spend a quiet evening surrounded by nature in the middle of the city.

In Phase 2, we intend to request assistance from Hutch-Tech students in the design of a rain cistern system as well as solar power for the future re-installation of the park fountain that was taken out to be melted down for ammunition during WWI, and the covering conservatory. This phase extends the “Green Environment” with these projects utilizing the power of our local youth while also giving back to them. Children from the nearby Herman-Badillo School can use the covered conservatory to learn to plant various seeds and seedlings for their homes, school, and the park while also experiencing other learning pportunities regarding "community" and cultures. Many elderly neighbors will be able to sit in the Conservatory during cold winter months, warmed by the solar heat, enjoying the sun coming through the see-through panels, listening to the sound of the ever-flowing fountain. Other neighbors will be able to start planting for the growing season in early spring. This fountain will be ever-present and usable throughout the year and a youth docent program can be set up for tours for visitors to the area.

Additionally, the Johnson Park Restoration Fund has been established through the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and we hope to start an Endowment Campaign to guarantee the perpetuity of the park and this restoration project for future generations.


What makes a community? The coming together of old, young, well-to-do, impoverished, every race, every creed, contributing to a common goal – a safe, secure, clean neighborhood for them and those around them - creating an environment that addresses the needs of the present, looks towards the future, but forever remembers and learns from the past.

Mayor Ebenezer Johnson envisioned a gathering place for all Buffalonians to enjoy while reaping the benefits of communication and fellowship. We can recreate that vision in this little corner of our great city while reinforcing the slogan of “City of Good Neighbors.”


The Neighborly Way: Buffalo’s West Village Historic District
By Melissa Sandor - Buffalo Spree Magazine - October 2003

This nation’s cities and villages used to be a model of civil life. We were the experts at creating the gathering-places, the very architecture, that set the stage for democracy: the Puritans built their villages around common greens; the livestock grazed there, but, more importantly, the village green was where news was proclaimed, and where neighbors chatted or argued over the issues of the day.

-Remarks by Vice President Al Gore at Brookings Institution (Washington, D.C. September 2, 1998)

Plant neighborhood and Christian-like accord.
-Shakespeare (The Life of King Henry V)

On a recent visit to Western New York, I reminisced about the summers I spent growing up in Kenmore. It was a generation before “play dates” and driving schedules, when neighbors spent temperate evenings visiting on their porches and in their backyards, and kids rode their bikes exploring their neighborhoods or swinging on the swings at the local playground. Times have changed, as we are often, uncomfortably, aware. But there are some neighborhoods where community members band together to create a community that is not only livable, but one that offers a rich texture of cooperation and fellowship for each of its residents. Buffalo’s West Village Historic District community is one.

The West Village Historic District is a twenty-two-acre enclave of streets located northeast of Niagara Street and south of West Tupper. It borders South Elmwood Avenue and includes Johnson Park, West Chippewa, Cary, Tracy, Carolina, and Georgia streets as well as Rabin Terrace and Prospect Avenue. Located within walking distance of downtown Buffalo and the Lake Erie waterfront, the West Village retains many of the original architectural details that characterize its history and add to its old world charm, including tree-lined streets, slate sidewalks and stone carriage steps.

Johnson Park is the center of the West Village, and offers ample, manicured green space for residents and business owners from the surrounding neighborhood to gather. Named for former Buffalo Mayor Ebenezer Johnson, this subdivision was built by Johnson in 1832, and by 1845 it had evolved into a trend-setting and fashionable residential area. A series of disastrous fires in the City of Buffalo at this time forced City officials to pass an 1850 law requiring all residential buildings in certain areas of density to be constructed of brick. As a result, 83% of the buildings on Johnson Park have maintained their original brick structure.

After Mayor Johnson passed away, the site of his “Cottage,” a twenty-four room Palladian Villa on the Park, became the site for the Female Academy of Buffalo, the first institute of higher learning for women in the country. In addition, Frederick Law Olmsted’s 1876 map of parkland in the city of Buffalo indicates that he redesigned the Johnson Park Green, and this design was eventually incorporated into his overall plan for the City. Today, Johnson Park is the oldest residential neighborhood in Buffalo, and one of the few communities in the nation to have achieved triple designation as an historic district under the City of Buffalo and New York State’s Landmark and Preservation Ordinance and the federal National Register of Historic Places.

Over the past few decades, the socio-economic challenges that plague urban neighborhoods across the northeast, as well as throughout the country, have affected the West Village Historic District as well. However, concerned and committed residents work to face these challenges including The Johnson Park Association and The Cary Street Association, both of which are leading, member-driven forces in the neighborhood’s sustainability Established in the mid-seventies, The Johnson Park Association is led by Association President Marilyn Rodgers, a financial professional who lives on the Park with her partner Anne Gareis. The Association is composed of racially and economically diverse individuals from a variety of professions including attorneys, marketing professionals, gardeners, architectural model makers, students, writers, and many more. In fact, it is the diversity of this membership that Rodgers credits with the Association’s great progress this past year. For example, since August, 2002, members have worked “countless hours,” as Rodgers points out, beautifying the Johnson Park Green and making it safe for residents and their friends and families. In particular, members of the Association have been working with Peter BonSey, an internationally renowned garden designer, most noted for his work on The Learning Channel’s highly successful show While You Were Out. A resident of Snyder, BonSey is contributing his time to help Johnson Park create “an Old English park—a large center that is then delineated by wrought iron posts and chains into highly accessible sections of greenery, and one that is in keeping with the architectural integrity of the neighborhood.” BonSey depicted the Association’s approach in revitalizing the park as “family-oriented and not about high tech gadgetry. The community is so open to the public and tries very hard to promote the involvement of residents and neighbors. I appreciate their approach very much and have felt welcomed by them in our work together.”

Rodgers cites the importance of opening up the neighborhood to people who are not residents of the Park, but who truly make a difference in their small community. She cites making friends with local public workers such as policeman and sanitation workers as vital in the Association’s efforts to improve the quality of life in the West Village Historic District. She explains, “We offer them a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, especially during the winter months. And we always make sure to stop and say hello. It’s the kind of community we want to create in Johnson Park—one that cares about the people who live and work here each day.”

In addition, Johnson Park has developed a variety of public programs for neighborhood residents and the public including the “Walk With Me” program, which provides information on the architectural, social, and economic history of Johnson Park, and the “Neighborhood Relief Program” which grants assistance to neighbors who are in need of emergency financial assistance. Each year a number of houses on Johnson Park, as well as throughout the West Village, participate in Buffalo’s Annual Garden Walk.

The Johnson Park Association held a spectacular “Arts in the Park: Back to our Roots Day” on August 31 in conjunction with The New Phoenix Theatre On the Park and Spot Coffee. This day-long event offered a family festival of arts activities and games including an architectural and historical tour of Buffalo’s first park and a performance by the African American Cultural Center Drum and Dance Troupe.

When asked about this resurgence in the community’s interest in the Park, as well as the Association’s success, Rodgers explains, “The Johnson Park Association has used this simple equation: we have utilized Kellig’s “Broken Windows” theory along with Giuliani’s “Sweat the Small Stuff” and added common sense principles, foresight and responsibility to all that is around us as well as for future generations. This combination will create the renaissance of Buffalo.”

A West Village compatriot of Johnson Park is the Cary Street Association. Established in 1984, members of this group have worked steadfastly with public representatives and private individuals to assist in the quality of life issues affecting the West Village Historic District. Association President Laird Robertson emphasizes Cary Street’s work with City of Buffalo and agency officials to develop a common agreement on the design and/or reuse of buildings in the area. In addition, members have initiated discussions with area business owners, including those on West Chippewa Street, about neighborhood noise pollution and waste disposal. Robertson has characterized these discussions as “crucial” in making the West Village a desirable place to live for people from all walks of life including business professionals, blue collar workers, professors, and artists etc. as he explains, “The people who live on Cary Street come from all backgrounds—some have to get up at 6:00 a.m. to start their day, some work from home, others work well into the evening. It was just a matter of letting area business owners know that our community is a place where people come for entertainment, and it is also a place where people live. It has been tremendous for us to cooperate with business owners on the standard of living we want to promote. I think it’s worked out for everyone.”

One particular example of the Association’s work is their cooperation with AIDS Community Services on the successful renovation of their new historic headquarters at 200 South Elmwood Avenue, an 1854 Italianate Victorian next to the Roanoke Hotel, where ACS resides currently. Robertson describes the Association’s focus: “When the Association was first formed, we were dealing with aesthetic and design issues, and the way that people saw their own property. However, as we’ve grown, we’ve begun working on larger issues that affect the sustainability of this community—education, responsible use of energy, environmental design—these are the sorts of things that make our community an ideal place to live. We also work together to help each other out, snow blowing each other’s driveways and the street...We want to stay connected as a community as we work to change Elmwood Avenue back in to an avenue and not just a thoroughfare to reach the suburbs. We believe that this will help revitalize the tremendous infra-structure that exists in downtown Buffalo.”

In addition to the work that Johnson Park and Cary Street are accomplishing in their own vicinities, these associations also collaborate with one another and offer a place for individuals who reside on the additional streets in the West Village to gather and work towards the continued sustainability of this historic community with the newest effort to attain residential parking for the Village area.

Tonawanda native Melissa Sandor is a fiction writer and consultant living in New York.