#35. Carly Battin
What’s great about doing these interviews is that we get to learn so much about how things in Buffalo get done. We are thankful that we get to meet the people behind these efforts, who are doing the real work to make them happen. I think it’s easy to take things for granted in certain parts of this city. Certainly, the Elmwood Village is one of the brightest spots of the area. But, that’s not without some hard work and advocacy from people who care about making their community a better place to live and run a business. These are the kind of people that we love to meet and surround ourselves with.
Carly Battin is the Executive Director of the Elmwood Village Association. She is also a new mother, a former harp player in a symphony and truly loves her community and wants to leave it in a better place than she found it. We invite you to learn a little bit about one of these people who are working to make good things happen in Buffalo, and maybe even your neighborhood.
A little about Carly
“I grew up in Orchard Park. I lived there until I left to go to Fredonia for music and political science. I came back to Buffalo to get my MBA from UB. Once I graduated in 2009, I was looking to find something so that I could stay in Buffalo, which was challenging at that time. That was at the peak of the financial crisis. There was a lot of laying off, and not a lot of hiring going on. My (at the time) boyfriend lived in Chicago, so that was an option. Chicago is a great city, but I really wanted to stay here. After some searching, I was able to find a position with the Buffalo News. I started there as the Assistant Promotions Manager, but really my job evolved into being the News’ voice on community issues and the projects that they were doing to reach out to and support the community. I worked directly for the publisher at the time, Stan Lipsey. I was able to get involved with some really interesting projects through that. There are a lot of projects that people know about that the News does, like Kids Day, but there are a lot that happen behind the scenes. Stan was a big supporter of the restoration of the Martin House, and the Richardson Complex. So I got a taste of some of those things that were going on in the community. I really liked that.”
“My husband and I were looking for a house while living in Allentown. We found a house in the Elmwood Village and hit it at just the right time, I think. We were moving into the Elmwood Village at the time this position was opening up. I thought that it was a great opportunity to shift from the corporate world into community work, and do something in my own neighborhood. Those opportunities don’t arise that often.”
Is there any part of you that makes you wish you had tried Chicago?
“My role here is really diverse, but a lot of what we do is focused on really trying to create a great urban environment. In some ways, I do wish that I had spend some time living in other cities to get that depth of experience. Buffalo is a great city with great bones, but when you go to a city like Chicago, it feels like it’s 10, 20, 30 years ahead in terms of how solidified their neighborhoods are. That’s the kind of thing that I think it would be great to have some more in depth experience with. I try to always do that when I visit other cities. I’m always looking for neighborhoods similar to the Elmwood Village and look at how they function.”
Tell us what your job looks like
“We are a very small organization. The Elmwood Village Association only has two full-time staff, including me. We hire some more seasonal people once the summer hits to help with our events and also to help with beautification – cleaning up the street, watering plants. On a day to day basis, I could be doing any number of things. But generally, our job here is to work with businesses and residences to improve quality of life, and to make this a vibrant, interesting, healthful place to be. That can play out in any number of different ways. Last week we spend four days of the week doing cleanup – going out on the street, cleaning up trash, sweeping curbs, cleaning up graffiti. I really like that kind of work. I think that it feels good to do some on-the-ground work and see an actual improvement. But a lot of our work is more big picture. We are dealing with some issues right now including the pace of development, and what the right mix is for businesses. How do we make sure that the business mix is supporting the residents, and visa versa. And how do we become and maintain a neighborhood that attracts visitors. Those issues are really long-term, working incrementally toward getting to a place where we are the kind of neighborhood where people want to live and visit.”
What challenges are you dealing with at the EVA?
“The big challenge right now is the pace of change, I think. We have a couple of really big redevelopment projects that are on the horizon, or already underway. Gates Circle Hospital is right on the border of the Elmwood Village and then Women’s and Children’s Hospital is right in the heart of the Elmwood Village, and that is a huge campus. What happens there is really going to redefine that area, for better or for worse. We have been really involved with that over the last four years, making sure that the community is heard and that we have really good options to choose from for what is going to happen there, and whoever does get the project is going to follow through on it, and we won’t be left with vacant buildings, or a shovel-ready site.”
“Additionally, the population of the Elmwood Village is really diverse. We have college students that live here, we have people have owned their homes for 65 years. Obviously there are different needs for those different people. I think that one of the challenges that we have is making sure that the neighborhood serves and will continue to serve those populations. Young families are moving here with kids – which is happening nation-wide. Lots of these people, and even empty nesters want to live in urban settings where they don’t have much maintenance on their house. Where they can walk to the things that they need and there are great restaurants around. So, how do we provide the services that those people need? We don’t have a community playground right now. How do we make those kinds of things happen? Part of what we are trying to do is anticipate those needs and fill them.”
“And there’s the businesses too. We work on behalf of the businesses, helping them learn how to sustain themselves. I think a lot of people have an impression of Elmwood that if you move here with your business it’s automatically going to be successful. That’s certainly not the case. The business owners here work really hard to sustain themselves. So, what do we need to do to continue to support that? One thing is just more people. How do we encourage more diverse housing types? How do we encourage the kind of density that will sustain the businesses and allow us to have good services for the area?”
What is happening that you are particularly excited about?
“I’m really excited about what’s going on with Women’s and Children’s Hospital. I think there is a lot of opportunity there. I think that the proposals that we saw are really exciting. I am also really excited about what’s going on at the Albright Knox. I participated in the presentation of the proposals for the expansion of the Albright Knox, and they are talking to five architects that are among the best in the world. So, we have the possibility of a really game-changing, iconic project right up the street from us. What’s the overflow of tourism from that? Or the overflow of investment around that? I think that the possibilities around what’s happening at the Albright Knox are incredible. They have a world-class art collection, but they can also have a world-class building that would attract people from around the world to Buffalo.”
Any goals or predictions?
“The Elmwood Village has been around for 20 years. I don’t think that it would be realistic for me to work for a couple years here and think the job would be done. A neighborhood like this is continually evolving and what the neighborhood needs from this organization is going to change over time. I would really like to leave this organization in a stronger position than I found it in. And I would like to leave the neighborhood in a stronger position. I do like some of the things that we have been doing around the neighborhood, especially with public art. I would love to leave that imprint of more art in the neighborhood.”
What would you tell a younger version of yourself?
“I don’t think that I ever had a game plan in mind, in terms of what I am going to do next. But, I have a diverse background – I played the harp in symphony in college, which prepared me very little in terms of most day to day things, but it gave me great concentration and a strong work ethic. Those things and skills that I picked up along the way I am sure contribute to what I do now. So, I don’t think that I would necessarily change anything about the way that I went about this, but I do think that I would tell my younger self to be more assertive and value my own skills a little bit more. I think that, especially as a young woman in the kind of positions that I have been in, it’s easy to allow other people to shape what my role is going to be. Looking back I think I could have been stronger on that front.”
- Aaron Ott, Curator of Public Art at the Albright Knox
- Janne Sirén, PhD, Director at the Albright Knox
- Mike Shatzel