Document Image

Community facilities in a redevelopment area: a study and proposal for the Ellicott District in Buffalo, New York, 1955

Author(s): Robert Traynham Coles
  • Type: Thesis
  • Researcher: Other Researchers
  • Timeline: 1950s
  • Affiliation: Alum


This thesis deals with the problem of community facilities in a redevelopment area, with specific research on the Ellicott District in Buffalo, New York, a typically overcrowded and congested urban area. Research for this study was collected through interviews with and material gathered from various social agencies and planning officials in Buffalo.

The author traces the growth of the city from its medieval origin and analyzes the factors which cause urban slums and blight, phenomena that tend to expand with population increase. Grow­ing recognition and concern over the plight of the city-dweller led to the enactment of the federal housing acts in this country, the first of which, in 1937, created the U.S. Housing Authority, a public corporation empowered to loan funds to local housing agencies for the building of low-rent public housing. Between 1941 and 1946, 20 states had adopted urban redevelopment statutes for the renewal and rehabili­tation of their cities. State laws were only moderately successful, and in 1949 an act was passed which provided a broad legislative base for a national housing program of urban redevelopment through local agencies for land acquisition and subsidization. On August 2, 1954, important amendments to the 1949 Act were embodied in a new Housing Act which broadened the scope of the old Acts and widened the range of federal aid. All of the Acts place the basic responsibility for formulating workable renewal plane upon local agencies.

Buffalo, New York was established by Daniel de Chabert in 1758. Strategically located on the eastern tip of Lake Erie at the Niagara River and on the western terminus of the Erie Barge Canal, it has maintained its position as a key commercial and in­dustrial center in the nation.

In the 1950 Census, Buffalo ranked as United States' fifteenth largest city, population, 580,1)2. Even though Buffalo's land area has remained virtually static since 1854, its Standard Metropolitan Area has continued to expand. Mixed land uses, over­crowded dwellings and inter-group tension are some of the factors which have contributed to the blight and alums prevalent in the Ellicott District and give the area the city's highest incidence of crime, delinquency, disease and mortality. The existing social agencies serving the District have good but inadequate facilities and do not reach enough of its inhabitants. In addition, suitable community and recreational facilities and park space are lacking. 
The author proposes that a workable plan be dev eloped in conjunct­ion with the Ellicott District Redevelopment Plan, now in the appraisal stage under Title I of the Housing Act of 1949. The Redevelopment Plan sets aside a 28-acre tract in the center of the renewal area as a recreation space, but to date no concrete proposals for its detailed development have been made.

The author proposes that the Department of Parks and/or the City of Buffalo make available to the Buffalo Urban League a par­cel on the recreation site to be developed by it as a new community building, and that the Department of Parks develop the reminder of the park as a passive park and recreation area with supporting out­side facilities in conjunction with the new center. 

The project of this thesis is the design of a facility to house the industrial, recreational, and group work facilities of the Buffalo Urban League, together with a small health clinic. The building-centered program would be supervised by the Urban League Executive, the personnel supplied by the League, the city, and vol­unteers from the community; the personnel for the recreational elements supplied by the Department of Parks. The proposed facility will be created with the hope of providing the most economical structure consistent with good contemporary design, and it is in­tended that it my serve as a model for the future development of parks in other sections of Buffalo. 


About the Author

Robert Traynham Coles earned a Master of Architecture from MIT in 1955. He battled racial discrimination throughout his career, leading him to commit to "an architecture of social conscience" and making his profession "look more like the society it has to serve."

Coles' continual goal was to create more humane, inspiring urban spaces. His buildings ranged from small, residential structures to major, public, developments. Some, including his home, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011, and his MIT master's thesis on the John F. Kennedy Recreation Center in Buffalo, have been described as gems of mid-century modern architecture. Other commissions ranged from transportation complexes, to schools, to municipal administration buildings.

He was the first AIA Vice-President for Minority Affairs, a founding member of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), and the first African American Chancellor of the AIA's College of Fellows. His efforts won Coles numerous awards, including the AIA's Whitney M. Young, Jr. Citation for service to the profession and the AIA 2019 Edward C. Kemper Award.

Coles, Robert Traynham. Community facilities in a redevelopment area: a study and proposal for the Ellicott District in Buffalo, New York. MArch Thesis. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1955. <>