All posts by Darren Cotton

Tool Library hits 2,000 tool mark thanks to grant from StanleyBlack&Decker

The University Height Tool Library’s inventory officially hit the 2,000 tool mark this month thanks to an incredibly generous gift of over $5,000 worth of tools and equipment from StanleyBlack&Decker. The grant will allow the Tool Library to continue to grow its tool borrowing service to residents of Buffalo and the WNY community. Similar to other sharing economy businesses like AirBnB and UBER, tool libraries stress the importance of access over ownership in the new economy (e.g. tool library members need a hole in their wall, they don’t need to own a drill).

For just $20 a year, a person can buy a membership to the Tool Library which allows them to borrow up to five tools at a time for up to a week. Started in 2011, the University Heights Tool Library was a proactive response to deteriorating housing conditions and quality of life issues in Buffalo’s University District. The Tool Library provides residents, block clubs, and community groups with access to the tools they need to tackle projects in their neighborhood.

Since its inception, the Tool Library has grown to over 730 members and now provides an inventory of over 2,000 tools thanks to Stanley Black&Decker. From basin wrenches used for installing new sinks and a wet tile saw to lay down a new bathroom floor, to weed whackers used in park cleanups and wheelbarrows used to mulch community gardens, the Tool Library provides people with access to the tools they need to create the change they want.

Tools donated by StanleyBlack&Decker to the Tool Library include:

  • 10 in. Table Saw
  • 12 in.  Cordless Chainsaw 8 in
  • Electric Cordless Pole Saw
  • Heavy Duty Pavement Breaker
  • Electric Landscape Edger
  • Compound Miter Saw
  • Angle Grinder
  • Orbit Sander
  •  Belt Sander
  •  String Trimmer
  • 6 Gal. Portable Air Compressor
  • 16-Gauge Nailer, 18-Gauge Brad Nailer and Crown Stapler Combo Kit
  • and MUCH MORE!!!

The Stanley Black & Decker grant will also allow the Tool Library to grow its programming related to Bailey Fights Blight and the University Heights Community Laboratory (CoLab).

Bailey Fights Blight is a collaborative project that seeks to board up and secure blighted and vacant storefronts along Bailey Avenue, while incorporating public art as a way to beautify the neighborhood and help redevelop the commercial corridor’s identity and sense of place. Through the support of Stanley Black & Decker, the Tool Library now has new cordless drills, chop saws, and pneumatic nailers to aid in efficiently boarding and securing vacant buildings as well as prepping surfaces for public art.

Newly received electric chain saws, extendable pole saws, edgers, and string trimmers will also aid in regular cleanups sponsored by the University District Block Club Coalition at the Bailey Dartmouth Garden, a tranquil and serene public garden and green space along a busy Bailey Avenue.

By increasing the community’s capacity to transform blighted properties and lots into redevelopable assets, Stanley Black & Decker is helping create a model for neighborhood self-improvement that can be replicated in other communities around Buffalo.

The University Heights Community Laboratory or CoLab is a formerly vacant and blighted storefront located next to the Tool Library that has been transformed by volunteers into a multipurpose space that provides DIY workshops focused on neighborhood development, community empowerment, and affordable and accessible education. Through the support of Stanley Black & Decker, the Tool Library has been able to supplement its largely donation-based inventory, with tools such as table saws, radial arm chop saws, and even a jackhammer! Through hands-on, interactive workshops held at the CoLab, members of the community will receive training on how to properly use these tools to improve their homes and their neighborhood.

The benefits of providing a community with the right tools and resources is that they can begin to positively change the world around them. If homeowners with limited income can hold on to some of their money and improve their properties by putting on a new roof or weatherizing their houses, that improves home values for the entire neighborhood. The accretion of such small investments can significantly stabilize struggling neighborhoods and help homeowners build modest wealth while maintaining an inventory of safe, decent, and affordable housing. In addition to just providing the tools, however, by offering free and affordable education and skill building opportunities, anyone can become an agent of community change.

Upcoming Community Meetings

Please mark your calendars for two upcoming community meetings in University Distrct:
  • February 25, 2017 9:00AM – Noon: Community Stakeholder Breakfast  at St. Lawrence Church 1520 E. Delavan Ave
  • March 2nd and March 6th 5:30PM – 7:00PM: Councilmember Wyatt and Councilmember Fontana,  Food Store License Renewal Meetings,  995 Kensington Ave.
 Please share with you neighbors and anyone who may be interested.   As noted on the community breakfast flyer, RSVP is needed as food will be served. 

Tool Library Gift Cards

Give the gift that keeps on giving (and sharing) this year!

Not sure what to get your loved ones for the holidays this year? Get them a Tool Library gift card for just $20 and give them access to thousands of tools!

Gift cards are valid for one free membership to the Tool Library at the Tool Belt level ($20). This entitles members to borrow up to 5 tools at a time for up to a week at a time.

Stop by the shop at 5 W. Northrup Place during our regular hours of operation to pick yours up today!

ReTree the District – At the Root of Civic Innovation

Buffalo, NY – With the last 175 trees scheduled to be planted on Saturday, November 5th, ReTree the District will reach the 1,000 tree goal that community partners in Buffalo’s University District set two years ago. More than just planting trees, ReTree the District has sought to infuse both the virtues of the sharing economy and mobile technology into project planning and implementation. The goal was to make it easier, cheaper, and more efficient for citizens to create the change they wanted to see in their community.

A row of newly planted trees on Englewood Avenue.

A row of newly planted trees on Englewood Avenue.

Started in 2014, ReTree the District has planted 825 trees to date, attracted over 1,500 volunteers who have logged more than 5,000 service hours, and resulted in over $100,000 invested in the community.

Hundreds of UB students and dozens of faculty and staff have been instrumental in the project’s success. Through semester long independent studies and colloquium classes, students have not only participated in the physical planting of trees, but also project planning, coalition building, and the logistics required to implement a large scale service event. They’ve canvassed neighborhoods and built relationships with residents and block clubs. Once anonymous tenants of a street, students have become embedded members of the community, bringing their skills, talents, and energy with them.

“Planting trees is a great way to get out of the house, meet your neighbors, and make a positive contribution to your community.  By providing service opportunities that make an immediate impact on the community, we are changing the student-resident dynamic for the better,” said Mickey Vertino, President of the University Heights Collaborative.

Tools for the project have been borrowed from the University Heights Tool Library, a community nonprofit located off of Main Street in Buffalo, that provides individuals and community groups access to thousands of tools for just one small annual fee. Similar to businesses like Reddy Bikeshare and Zipcar, the Tool Library embraces the sharing economy and the idea that access to a product is more important (and cheaper) than ownership.

The Tool Library has also worked with students and community partners to develop many of the digital tools that have helped foster ReTree the District’s culture of civic innovation.


Volunteers sign in via text messaging the morning of the planting. #savepaperplanttrees

When the project started, there was no comprehensively updated tree map for the district. A smartphone-based application helped the team work with UB students to map over 2,500 tree locations in University District. When registration lines were backed up out the door on the first large-scale planting day, a text message-based registration and waiver process decentralized the registration process and collected volunteer contact information in an easy to use digital format. When the event’s troubleshooting phone was overwhelmed by incoming calls about broken tools, missing stakes, or other issues from the field, a text message-based troubleshooting system was created that would allow volunteers to text in issues, while organizers could respond in real time. When online surveys sent out to volunteers after the event only garnered an 8% response rate, a text message-based feedback system was implemented that increased these rates to between 40% and 50%, providing valuable suggestions to incorporate into future planting events.

As the large-scale planting chapter of ReTree the District draws to a close, project partners will be turning their attention and the use of these new civic tools to tree maintenance and stewardship. Thanks to a partnership between the City of Buffalo Parks Department, the Buffalo Green Fund, and Cornell Cooperative Extension, a comprehensive citizen-based tree stewardship program called the CommuniTree Steward Program debuted last spring. ReTree the District partners have also offered half a dozen field-based hands-on stewardship workshops throughout University District.

Whether it be large scale tree plantings, such as ReTree the District, or neighborhood cleanups, public art initiatives, community gardens, or the beautification of neighborhood parks, these civic tools allow communities to do more with less and organize in ways that would have been impossible a decade ago.

UB Students work with a resident to backfill their newly planted tree

UB Students work with a resident to backfill their newly planted tree

By focusing on the physical improvement of a neighborhood through a low-cost, participatory project like ReTree the District, organizations can engage community members directly in the process of change and provide a neighborhood with a new sense of what is possible when working together. Projects such as tree plantings are more than the sum of their parts. They are multifaceted projects that foster citizen empowerment, improve the physical environment, promote community development, and bridge the divide between diverse populations.

Project sponsors include the Buffalo Green Fund, Buffalo Promise Neighborhood, University at Buffalo, UB Academies, University District Community Development Association, University District Councilmember Rasheed Wyatt, and the University Heights Collaborative. Additional support has been provided by Akron Tree Farms, Bailey Avenue Business Association, Chestnut Ridge Nursery, City of Buffalo Division of Parks and Recreation, Dash’s Market, Home Depot, ReTree WNY, Schichtel’s Nursery, St. Joseph University Parish, St. Joseph Neighborhood Housing Initiative, University District Block Club Coalition, University Heights Tool Library, and Wegmans.


For more information, to get involved, or to donate please visit or contact Darren Cotton, Director, University Heights Tool Library (; 716-857-0096)

Community Soup Micro-grant Program Returns November 13th!


The University Presbyterian Church‘s Community Soup is back on Sunday, November 13th at 5:00PM. Share a great meal with your neighbors and help get a great idea off the ground!

The Soup Grant is a grassroots model for funding small projects through community meals. A group of people come together to share a meal at an affordable price. All income from the meal is given as a grant to support a project to benefit the Buffalo community. Everyone who purchases a meal has one vote to decide who gets the grant.

Download the full program brochure for more information.

Dinner costs just $5.00 and project proposals are encouraged from those between the ages of 15 and 25.

Proposals are due two weeks before the soup event (by Sunday at 11:59 p.m.). E-mail them to Lee Ann Grace at

Download the funding application

Be sure to follow the University Presbyterian Church on Facebook for ongoing updates on this and other community events.