Iconic eyesores: exploring do-it-yourself preservation and civic improvement at abandoned train stations in Buffalo and Detroit

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Journal of Urbanism: International Research on Placemaking and Urban Sustainability

Publication Date



This inquiry documents two citizen-driven campaigns to reclaim iconic train stations and their adjacent landscapes, assessing their effectiveness as agents of preservation and civic improvement, and potential as catalysts for local development. Examining grassroots efforts to conserve and reuse Buffalo’s Central Terminal and Detroit’s Michigan Central Station and the adjacent Roosevelt Park, it considers a unique form of preservation practice – one devoid of significant public sector funding and the conventional market-based adaptive reuse strategies that are ineffective in declining settings. Driven by idiosyncratic collectives of residents, business owners, cultural entrepreneurs, artists, designers, and planners, these groups coalesce around a shared desire to conserve local landmarks and play an active role in the physical rebuilding of their cities. Their incremental and incomplete transformations are driven by an ethic that transcends both typical market-oriented targets (private sector profits or “pays-for-itself”) and the “fully restored” end states that are the goals of conventional projects. While these acts of reclamation are far from complete, they have the potential to inform similar locally driven efforts in settings of decline.




Urban Studies and Planning