A new solution for America's empty churches

A new solution for America's empty churches

Over the past few decades, vacant and underutilized churches have become a familiar sight in American cities.

In some cases, a congregation or a religious governing body -- say, a Catholic diocese -- will sell the church to developers, who then turn them into apartments, offices, art galleries, museums, breweries or performance spaces.

But what about churches in neighborhoods that aren't doing well, areas that are less attractive to developers looking to turn a profit? In Buffalo, New York, two empty Roman Catholic churches were recently converted -- not into apartments or offices, but into other places of worship. One became an Islamic mosque, the other a Buddhist temple.

As an architect and historic preservation planner, I was drawn to this phenomenon. With the help of Enjoli Hall, who was then a graduate student at University at Buffalo, I interviewed those involved in converting the former churches.

With immigrant and refugee populations growing in post-industrial cities across the US, the conversion of vacant Christian churches into new places of worship can preserve historic architecture and strengthen burgeoning communities.

Buffalo has shown how faith-to-faith church conversions can be a win-win situation for everyone involved: The diocese gets to sell a redundant property, immigrants can acquire a property that will strengthen their community, and the city builds its tax base by attracting new residents to the area.

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