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Dave Majewski: Urban composter and gardener, green design consultant

Dave Majewski (photo by Rose Mattrey)

Who is Dave Majewski? Whirlwind, dynamo, Type A++++ personality? Urban visionary? Pied Piper of the environment?

If you can get him to actually sit down, having a cup of coffee with this ordinary guy from Lovejoy can be an extraordinary chance to see the potential of Buffalo as a green city. Or, in a more likely scenario, meet him at the Central Terminal where he has, using his own money and labor, created a compost heap on land that was not poisoned by the terminal’s original use.

His inspiration was the October storm. A mountain of wood chips was created by the devastation, and stored at the terminal. Majewski saw that garbage and the opportunity to turn it into something sustainable. The city doesn’t have an official composting operation, but with Majewski’s volunteer work, non-animal organic waste is turned into gold. In the burgeoning community garden movement, this is a godsend to groups turning urban blight into urban beauty. As Majewski sees it, the city needs compost and it could be a self-sustaining operation, but the initial investment has so far proved insurmountable. Here is the real problem: Until business and government get behind a green economy in this area, all the efforts of so many groups, in Dave’s words, “only slow the bleeding.”

Buffalo is a city with 10,000 vacant lots, testimony to population flight, suburban sprawl, and no planning. We all know that. In Majewski’s eyes, those empty plots are “10,000 classrooms and 850 acres of farmable land. “ One of his projects is a collaboration with Grassroots Gardens ( to turn four lots on West Avenue into open-air classrooms. As steward of the plots, he plans to create straightforward designs to show people it can be simple to create sustainable environments in the urban setting. Early plans call for using rainwater to grow fruit, and creating a wildflower garden. Always ecologically sound, Majewski makes sure the earth is tested and safe for whatever uses he envisions.

Some businesses are leading the way. Majewski started his own business (Premium Services, Inc.) as a landscaper, but over recent years has developed it to reflect his training and passion for the environment. Many have heard of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) as an industry credential for green development. As Majewski explains it, LEED doesn’t encompass the whole notion of integrating design with regenerating healthy environments. He is a proponent of low-impact development as denoted by the acronym RED (Regenerative and Ecological Design). Engineers and architects are recognizing the essential verity of this approach, and using him to consult and plan green innovations. The bland landscape of parking lots is one place businesses are beginning to reach for their green potential. At 257 Lafayette, the parking lot is designed so runoff goes into beds layered with filters and gravel and carefully considered plantings. A green parking lot is in the works for a renovation near Roswell. Small steps, in Majewski’s eyes. He yearns for the day the big supermarkets, developers, colleges and stores will design all their parking lots with sustainability and regeneration of the environment as primary values.

Looking upward, green roofs are part of the sustainability solution, and Majewski can name several in Buffalo. A private owner has an ambitious project underway on Main Street. Majewski and crew helped design the barrier that would protect the roof while aiding drainage, and figured out what soil and shrubs to use. This roof will have 12- to 16-inch plants and shrubs that are heat and drought tolerant. The soil drains fast, absorbing storm water so sewers don’t overflow. The temperature of the roof will be close to that of the sides of the building, instead of much higher as in traditional designs. Heating and cooling costs will be significantly reduced, and the life of the roof is extended by 20 years.

The key to all this work, though, is bringing the community into the process of creating healthy green spaces. Majewski looks to the example of cities like Philadelphia, Toronto, Seattle, and Vancouver—and sighs. Buffalo lags far behind in restoring habitat. There are bright spots: State Senator Antoine Thompson and Bill Nowak of his staff are big supporters. Thompson has proposed an incentive for green roofs. Steve Stepniak, Buffalo’s public works commissioner, is approachable. But for change to occur on the order it is needed, city code will have to be updated from its 1951 incarnation, and the community and businesses have to get with the momentum. Dave Majewski is not tilting at windmills—as a landscaper and consultant, he hopes businesses like his can lead the way.

patricia watson

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