True Green Cities / Reflecting on 2016



Henrietta & Hobson happy in their downtown Buffalo loft.

It would be easy to finish off this unusual and challenging year by ranting about the political and social unrest in which we find ourselves. But instead, I will finish on a positive note and share a some of the good highlights. In thinking about the past year, it seems that the few good things I would like to review resulted from what appeared to be a bad thing at first – so perhaps that is a good way to move forward into 2017.


The Richardson Kittens


Henrietta and Hobson – feral kittens from the Richardson Olmsted Complex – being socialized in my bathroom.

Probably the biggest impact on my year had to do with the adoption of two kittens I call “The Richardson Kittens” because they were found in the Richardson Olmsted Complex. A couple of my colleagues found a momma cat and her litter of five kittens in one of our vacant buildings on the site in May after an anonymous tip. If you have read any of my blogs over the past five years you will know that my involvement in the rehabilitation of the Richardson Olmsted Complex has been one of the guiding efforts of my education and professional career. Three core buildings of the former Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane are being transformed into the Hotel Henry (a boutique hotel with 88 rooms), a high-tech conference center and the Buffalo Architecture Center. The remainder of the buildings on the site have been stabilized and mothballed. The family of kittens was found in Building 13, a four-story transitional masonry building constructed in 1923 to the designs of architect Sullivan W. Jones as a Male Dining Hall and Kitchen. The exterior of the building appears to be in good condition and the interior is very clean.


Building 13 at the Richardson Olmsted Complex – where Henrietta and Hobson were found with their 3 brothers and sisters.

The kittens were found on the first floor, living and hiding in the former boiler and mechanical room. Momma (whom we ultimately named “Medina”) seemed to be providing for them well as they were all fat little creatures – their little faces were dirty but they seemed to be surviving on birds and squirrels. We contacted the cat rescue group I’ve been involved in, Second Chance Sheltering Network, and then worked with their master trapper to trap the kittens and the mother. We managed to get the kittens in one night but it took several hours. They were about six weeks old and could scamper and hide under equipment and old furniture so quickly! It took almost a month to capture the momma and in that time she was pregnant again. Given that this complex has many vacant (although mothballed) buildings and over 40 acres, it is amazing that this is the only time we have had to manage kittens. We walked through all the buildings to make sure there were no more cat families, as the thought of becoming a feral cat colony was not appealing, given that a 4 star hotel is opening here in 2017. Fortunately it showed that if you properly stabilize and mothball buildings, creatures will not be able to get in. There was a broken window in Building 13, which is why the Momma cat was able to get in. And sadly we fear that the anonymous tipster also may have been the one who dumped Medina and broke the window.


Henrietta and Hobson were found in this urinal in Building 13

We learned a lot about cat rescue, feral cat colonies, and fostering as a result of this experience. As someone who has had rescue cats my whole adult life, it was still quite eye opening to become intimately involved in actually rescuing feral cats. Once we captured them, they went to the vet (who also happens to be my vet) to be checked out before being released into foster care. I volunteered to take two kittens to foster. Ultimately I chose Henrietta and Hobson, a tiny Calico girl and a white/orange boy who were bonded. We found the two of them hiding in a urinal – Hobson protecting his little sister. Since I already had four cats (two from Second Chance), I didn’t intend to keep the kittens. They lived in my downstairs bathroom for a few weeks, until they had a clean bill of health and were fully socialized. We were the first people they had ever seen and they were originally quite terrified of us. But once they started free ranging in my loft and meeting my adult cats, a funny thing happened – all six became a wonderful family. Previously a rather dysfunctional group, the kittens brought everyone together. We were exceedingly sad when they left to go to their new forever house but they were meant to live with us. After two weeks in Rochester, for a variety of reasons, they came back to Main Street and here they live, probably the happiest kittens I’ve ever encountered.


Lifestyle Changes


Hobson was found hiding in the boiler room in Building 13.

So why would two kittens change my life so much? Well, other than the fact that six is an awful lot of cats, it made me rethink some priorities. About the same time H & H joined our Main Street family, I became very busy as the preservation architect on five historic factories in Buffalo. At the same time I decided to leave the graduate sustainability program at FIT in NYC that I have been running for two years. As much as I have loved teaching and running this program, the weekly commute between New York City and Buffalo had been really tiring me. Having kittens who needed love and oversight, and more than enough full-time consulting work encouraged me to choose to leave the itinerant lifestyle I have had for the past decade and settle in one place. If I have learned one thing over the past year it is to “never say never.” When I first left Buffalo thirty years ago I said I would never move back. But now I find myself happily ensconced in a revived downtown, working on amazing and inspiring projects, having fun with a slew of funny and beautiful cats and looking forward to a new year where I hope I can ignore politics and continue to help my hometown city.


Henrietta and Hobson today. Still cuddling, and still happy.

Happy New Year everyone, stay positive and stay strong.


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