Mark Zuckerberg tells his people at Facebook, “Done is better than perfect.” The same can be said about the newly approved new set of zoning regulations in the city of Buffalo known as #thegreencode. More than six years, 230+ public meetings and thousands of voices heard led to what many urban planners, and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, are calling one of the most progressive plans in the country.
The #greencode plan replaces a 63-year-old, 1,802 page document with a visually-rich 300 page guide to show what fits and what doesn’t zone by zone. Yet even as the gavel fell to proclaim it law on December 27, 2016, while most community voices stood in agreement, some still believed the code could do better. Many in city hall agreed but felt the best path to improvement was to get the code in place and improve it as part of the zoning process.
One hope is that the code will return to recognizing the many distinct neighborhoods that once made up the city of Buffalo in the early 20th century. At that time, neighborhoods were just a few square blocks and people could walk to work, to church and school, or to stores to get their groceries. Now, rather than dividing Buffalo by the geography of North, South, East and West, we get to see the rebirth of Broadway-Fillmore; Jefferson-East Ferry; Black Rock; Bailey-Kensington and many others.
Along with walkability, the code seeks to lead Buffalo to a healthier, more livable environment. To that end, our team here at Tobacco-Free Western New York educated the Green Code planners on several other municipalities that have used zoning and density restrictions to lessen the number of tobacco retail outlets.
Numerous studies in Iowa, Erie County, N.Y., Philadelphia, as well one conducted by Roswell Park Cancer Institute, show a disproportionate number of outlets among the lowest income neighborhoods. For example, the neighborhood in residential zip code 14215 has 50 places to purchase tobacco compared to residential zip code 14222, an area of higher socioeconomic status, which has 14. After reviewing the material we shared, the strategic planners of the green code decided to restrict new retailers from selling alcohol, tobacco, hookah and vaping products in all residential zones. While existing stores will be allowed to continue selling these products, this will change as these stores change hands over time.
In addition to showing the number of outlets to purchase tobacco, we have worked with several neighborhood leaders to address the excessive signage, from window clings to posters, found on retail outlets. The lack of clear regulations in the old code in the face of full-color, quick-printed, temporary signs led to centers of visual pollution in otherwise well-kept neighborhoods. New Green Code rules, which direct an uncluttered storefront and limit the amount of advertising, will go far to bring retailers in line with the wishes of their residential neighbors.
All of us at Tobacco-Free Western New York salute the leadership that directed the design and implementation of #thegreencode. We look forward to continuing the work of this historic document as we join community leaders in sharing the Green Code rules with their neighborhood retailers.
Stay tuned for updates and progress reports.