Snowfighting at the Grassroots

Jon Lewis of the PUSH property management team, ready to battle the storm
Jon without his snow goggles

Our goal at PUSH is to show that communities can effectively manage resources in ways that make them more resilient, powerful, and prosperous. We can plan for a 100% renewable energy future in which community-owned solar and wind facilities put power in the hands of everyday residents and reduce the extractive influence of energy corporations. We can build our own green, affordable housing and put community members back to work in the process. With partners like MAP on the West Side, we can grow food on vacant urban land and build community wealth in the process.

Energy, housing, water and food are the key components of our Green Development Zone model, but they’re not the only ones. There’s also snow storm readiness. For years, we’ve been working to build the infrastructure we need to plow and shovel our own sidewalks and streets.

At the risk of reinforcing a leading stereotype about our region (the truth is we’ve had almost no snow this year, really!) it’s a fact that Buffalonians can weather a storm like nobody else. But, while we’re ahead of most regions when it comes to snow preparedness, we still have a lot to figure out. Big storms are a big impediment to neighborhood resilience and community health. Snow on sidewalks reduces pedestrian access, with disproportionate impacts on the elderly, infirm and low-income residents, who drive at a much lower rate than wealthy urban residents. When snow hits the West Side, it means fewer people walking to local businesses and more people living the shut-in life, with obvious adverse impacts on health. Creating community capacity to manage snow creates local jobs and improves community economy and health indicators.

Eddie Padilla, PUSH Director of Operations, who leads PUSH’s snowfighting efforts

So what would it take for a neighborhood to develop its own snow-removal capacity? Our experience in managing the 110 parcels of property PUSH owns in the 30-block Green Development Zone is some indication. Our snow fighting team includes Eddie, Ricardo, Diego, Jon and Noel. Eddie “Ice Cream” Jones is an ancillary member of the crew, in that snow removal is not part of his paid PUSH work, but he is a devoted snow removal specialist who clears bus stops throughout the West Side. When a storm rolls off the lake, the team mobilizes at the crack of dawn and hits the streets.

Eddie Padilla, PUSH Director of Operations, oversees the crew, with property manager Diego Carasquillo, and maintenance workers Jon Lewis and Ricardo Gonzales clearing sidewalks with shovels, salt and PUSH’s Bobcat. Noel Cotton, the organization’s heavy equipment operator, plows about twenty driveways and lots owned by the organization. PUSH’s snowfighting equipment includes two trucks outfitted with plows, a Bobcat and lots of shovels and salters.

The PUSH snow crew is emblematic of how community control of resources can yield benefits at the grassroots. All five of our snow fighters live within the Green Development Zone, so their wages (which start at $15/hr) stay in the neighborhood. And because the team is West Side to the core, they go beyond the call of duty, routinely plowing streets and driveways throughout the GDZ.

One caveat: a danger of localism is to think that we can do EVERYTHING ourselves, without the help of the state, a liberterian tendency that can feed into the privitazation plots being hatched by big business. Our goal with PUSH’s snowfighting is to not to replace the city’s snow plows, but rather to supplement them, tackling sidewalks and driveways that the city doesn’t have the capacity to clear.

The PUSH plow in action
Noel Cotton, who drives the PUSH plow

If, in partnership with the city, we could scale up our community-based snowfighting across the city, it would mean dozens of decent jobs in the winter months and more accessible sidewalks enabling stronger, healthier communities.

A snowy day in Buffalo
Diego Carasquillo, PUSH property manager
The PUSH Bobcat