Andrea Salvini is is a co-curator for Artfarms and a Brooklyn-based architect with a growing reputation for his work in sustainability. In this guest post for Urban Times, he explains the ideas behind the project.
In 2007 Ken Belson wrote an article for The New York Times entitled “Vacant Houses, Scourge of Beaten-Down Buffalo,” describing the post-industrial conditions of the city, where economic depression, brought about by the loss of its industrial base and subsequent declining population since 1950, had translated into a large number of vacant land in the inner-city. Since then, not a lot has changed on the streetscapes of East Buffalo, the largest area geographically and often least-known part of the city. However, there have been new ideas generated about how to respond to urban vacancy and “zombie cities” – a topic on which there is no shortage of literature.
Artfarms, a pilot project that came out of Terrains Vagues, an organization started in 2011 by architect David Lagé, focuses on design strategies for vacant urban places. It began with a simple observation: the East Side of Buffalo feeds a widespread negative perception that discourages urban redevelopment. Terrain Vague’s belief is that cultural concepts can succeed where conventional approaches have not. Artfarms is a collaboration with local artists and urban farmers, the latter group having transformed these once-residential, abandoned lots into small farms. Artfarms takes the farming concept a step further by using the farmers’ land for outdoor art installations, which will become part of the landscape both as a cultural layer and a destination within the neighborhood.
Terrain Vague’s belief is that cultural concepts can succeed where conventional approaches have not.
The project has chosen artists Ethan Breckenridge, Kyle Butler, Michael Beitz, Megan Michalak and the collaborative team of Millie Chen, Joan Linder, and Warren Quigley to create site-specific pieces for vacant lots around the East Side of Buffalo. Each artist will design pieces that invite the community in, while coexisting with the partnering urban farming groups Farmer Pirates and Wilson Street Farms on their lots. In September 2012 the official fundraising campaign will begin and the artwork will be installed during the spring of 2013.
Buffalo is demolishing an important part of its own architectural identity if no initiative is taken. Artfarms addresses this important issue, and others, on a social and cultural level, using art as a means to an end. The success of this initiative is aimed at making this project a precedent for other places. There are similar programs afoot, but Terrains Vagues’s approach is considered creative and replicable in other contexts.
Artfarms’ contribution to a new perception of the neighborhood’s environment will hopefully bring a number of visitors who will, in turn, attract creative entrepreneurs and translate into economic activity. As an improvement strategy in general, the project will lead to the perception that the East Side of Buffalo may have a future. Artfarms is not intended to be a remedial action, but it’s still a positive stimulus to the community and revitalization of a place.
Artfarms have also produced a short video about the project, which you can watch below: