Over the past week, we were made aware of a months-old Facebook post from a local development company unaffiliated with Slow Roll promoting our rides as a way to scout its rental properties. This post serves as obvious evidence that by being free and open to all – which our rides will remain – Slow Roll can be used as a tool for gentrification. With this in mind, we would like to state our perspective on the purpose and potential of Slow Roll, and its relation to gentrification.
The purpose of Slow Roll is to present a free and open event that encourages people to get together on their bikes and see the city at a slower pace, enabling a better appreciation of our people and places. In the process, we connect with countless community stakeholders to share the ongoing story of our city. As part of this, we pass the bullhorns to such stakeholders at our stops.
Gentrification is often the subject at these stops, as it’s an increasingly urgent issue in Buffalo. It’s terribly complicated – those who haven’t felt its effects often struggle to accept their place in it. In can be a relatively quiet process in the form of a displaced renter of a flipped property, and it can be loud and violent as in the case of Humboldt Parkway’s homes and parkland being demolished to create the Kensington Expressway. As Open Buffalo states in describing its Anti-Gentrification Summit this Saturday – more info on that below – “this grapple for space intensifies racism, classism, and sexism: values clash, and the wealthy displace the vulnerable.”
As we’ve stated all along, Slow Roll has always been about more than just riding bikes – it’s a vehicle for connection, albeit an inherently confrontational one. Although we come in peace and without fear, the city-mandated police escort that we never wanted and had been operating effectively without gives a false impression that can be difficult to overcome – this is not the kind of confrontation we seek. While the privileged among us may never truly relate to this sentiment, we seek to use said privileges to help those without them.
We realize that confronting underlying social issues that affect our neighbors and neighborhoods makes some riders uncomfortable, and we feel such discomfort is a step toward understanding and reconnecting. Some might choose to cover their ears, or worse, stop riding with us – we are comfortable with such attrition, as we’re committed to confronting issues we encounter across our community.
Upon Slow Roll Buffalo’s founding in 2014 as an extension of the global Slow Roll movement founded in Detroit, as a mostly-white squad of volunteers we were naive in thinking we could expect a diverse ridership by simply, humbly and personally extending invitations throughout the community that all are welcome to participate in our free event. The more our ridership grew as predominantly white, the less welcoming we looked to people of color – such is a reality of life in one of America’s most segregated cities, as Buffalo has for generations been plagued by racist, classist, predatory practices including urban renewal, white flight, redlining, mass incarceration and more.
Once we realized that we needed to work harder to earn trust and participation among people of color – even more so given the ways we’d grown – we admitted mistakes in our outreach, sought stronger bonds, and soon started to see results in diversity and equity. While we still have a long way to go in this regard – especially in connecting with our immigrant and refugee neighbors – this remains a primary purpose that we approach in many ways.
One such way has been partnering with neighborhood organizations such as the Community First Alliance (CFA) in the Fruit Belt, where residents are mobilizing in arguably Buffalo’s most urgent battle with gentrification. A few of our volunteers live in the Fruit Belt, and we’ve partnered with the CFA to bolster each other’s events there with bike and helmet giveaways, pop-up mechanic sessions, and promotion of our mutual missions.
A statement from Fruit Belt resident and CFA leader India Walton: “The fight for equity in Buffalo has no clear line of demarcation. It is neither black nor white. We must come together to ensure safe, affordable, healthy housing for all. Slow Roll has invited us on multiple occasions to educate and inform the rollers regarding the challenges we face in the Fruit Belt. It is reaching across boundaries, actively understanding and courageously challenging societal norms for positive change.”
Longtime local activist and Trinidad Neighborhood Association President Charley Fisher addressed Slow Rollers before and during our June 5th ride hosted by the African-American Cultural Center, saying, “We’re concerned about preservation and homeownership. A real big issue right now is the sustainability and the protection of the neighborhood against gentrification and housing deterioration – it’s important that residents improve their property. We’re working on formation of a community land trust. People who wanna help Trinidad need to encourage elected officials who represent citizens of our city, county and state, to come together to support all neighborhoods with plans like inclusionary zoning, land banking, and the emergence of community land trusts.”
As a free and open event, what we seek and can be seen every week is the kind of fellowship that breaks down barriers. We’ve inspired the founding of the East Side Bike Club, with whom we work on separate rides, tactical urbanism projects such as painted lanes and planters in MLK Park, and a new community workshop at 2516 Bailey Avenue where this week more than 40 kids earned a bike by graduating from a Junior Mechanics program, with considerable support from the Buffalo Police Department. On the West Side, we’ve inspired the founding of Urban Bike Riders, whose call we answered last week to partner on a ride to collect donations for Hurricane Relief in Puerto Rico.
In effort toward equity, we also seek ways to support local minority-owned businesses, including host venues such as the only black-owned bowling alley in New York State in Kerns Avenue Bowling Center, along with The Oakk Room, Groove Lounge, Olivencia Community Center, The Historic Colored Musicians Club and African-American Cultural Center, plus many food trucks and musicians.
Perhaps Slow Roll’s favorite minority-owned business is the African Heritage Food Co-op (AHFC), with which we created a unique weekly program – in the past we’d encouraged kids on streets where we stop to setup lemonade stands, which didn’t always work out; going into this year, we partnered with AHFC to create the Kiddie Kickstand, whose weekly sales of drinks and snacks at our stops have been one of this year’s clear highlights, as these excitable kids earn money and love in their first entrepreneurial experience.
A statement from AHFC leader Alex Wright: “We believe community businesses and entrepreneurship destroys gentrification, by putting the power and destiny in the hands of the people who currently live in that community. We agreed to the partnership with Slow Roll to create a legacy and a true ownership experience for youth. It has never been about serving white people riding through the city, but about honing a skill that will last them a lifetime and creating revenue for these young people – many of whom purchased or were able to help purchase school clothes and school supplies this year.”
We understand it’s possible for people to participate in Slow Roll with unjust intentions – this is a downside of being free and open to all, which again, we will remain. These issues sure won’t be resolved in the vacuum of social media, where objectivity is overrated and sensational statements spread faster than facts. We believe in the power of gathering in person; in turn, we’re always eager to meet with anyone interested in a constructive conversation about serving the greater good through Slow Roll – please feel free to email us here, or even better, show up for a ride.
Further, we encourage everyone to attend this Saturday’s Buffalo Anti-Gentrification Summit presented by a partnership of Open Buffalo, PUSH Buffalo, Coalition for Economic Justice, Citizen Action of Western New York, and Partnership for the Public Good – register here.
Topics will include:
– School-to-prison pipeline
– Racial Dynamics
– Developing a City-Wide Community Benefit Agreement
In closing, Slow Roll Buffalo stands with Fruit Belt resident Dennice Barr, who closed her op-ed in The Buffalo News yesterday with this statement – “Gentrification is not on our agenda, today or any day, but partnership is.”