Support Buffalo first?

Burgh Diaspora suggests that Upstate urban boosters should focus their energies on Buffalo’s cause (or at least devote some time to it).

What do you think? Is there any evidence that Buffalo is going to experience meaningful economic growth soon, and what can Syracusans do to help? (Personally, I am still evaluating the Atlantica concept and wondering if Central New York’s economic future lies to the north, not the west.)

Buffalo bloggers do not, in general, write about Syracuse or about how Syracuse would fit in to a Buffalo-centered regional economy. I admit I paid more attention to Buffalo in the early years of this blog, but the cross-posting remains sporadic.

(Burgh Diaspora’s post was prompted by a lengthy NY Times article on Buffalo’s endangered architecture, which dovetails with our discussion this week of Blodgett School. As I said way back when posting about the 10th anniversary of the demolition of the Genesee Theater, we really need a serious list of “10 Most Endangered Local Buildings” and start thinking ahead publicly about vulnerable structures long before they become targets for demolition.)

20 thoughts on “Support Buffalo first?

  1. Josh S

    I’d rather negotiate a good price to sell Buffalo to Canada, than even consider ceding authority and leadership to Buffalo!! Thats based on living there a few years for grad school.

    I think we’d all benefit if Buffalo went for Canada! :)

  2. sean

    buffalo’s ‘advantage’ as upstate symbol is the stunning and heartbreaking nature of its fall … 100 years ago, it was one of the great cities in the nation; in 1900, if i’m not mistaken, it was the 8th or9th largest city in the u.s. thus it has the grand architecture and infrastructure of a detroit, cleveland or pittsburgh even as it plummeted from the ranks of large cities.

    i suppose, if buffalo flies, it becomes a clear beacon of hope for us all. but the comparison spreads across the table; if buffalo was, say, the dallas-fort worth of 1900, then syracuse was equivalent to a booming columbus. and each of these upstate cities, if not quite on the scope of buffalo, had their own extraordinary ascendancies in our history … how about our role in the arts and crafts movement? or women’s rights? or abolition? or the typewriter industry, which i often think was strangely parallel, a century ago, to the rise of the personal computer today.

    my fantasy is still a brilliant, broad-based strategy, overseen by state officials intensely familiar and intensely passionate about the personalities, traits and shared maladies of all the upstate cities … but even spitzer, with his billion-dollar upstate plan, never offered that sense of intimate passion. i like paterson, but under him we again become the colonies, and we’ve seen where that’s gotten us for the last 45 or 50 years.


  3. Robinia

    Wow. I see this very differently than Burgh Diaspora (although almost exactly like sean). Yeah, Buffalo was a grand and experimental city in the past, with lots of belief in “the city as a democratic forum.” The upshot of that after decades of population loss and a Control Board experience…. is gobs and gobs of once-beautiful and public infrastructure and civic art and architecture that nobody can afford to take even rudimentary care of… so it rots and limps along looking nothing but really sad. “At a time when oil prices and oil dependence are forcing us to rethink..” we are going to boost one of the coldest, snowiest, windiest places in NY? C’mon, it takes fossil fuels to heat and plow snow, as well as run cars. Buffalo is NOT a low-carbon-footprint place to put human settlements– and if you must conform with the requirements of an historic preservation district, well, it will be that much harder to stay warm in your house.

    I’m not unmoved by Buffalo’s amazing architecture and history– indeed, I would suggest that and the Falls, along with the proximity to Ontario and transportation advantages, make it an ideal place for a strategy that encourages tourism (esp. in non-winter seasons)…. which Burgh Diaspora disparages.

    Asset-based development is all that really ever works. Look at the places that people love to live, and ask them why…. don’t listen to some Diaspora dreamer who imagines his economics-devoid visions of revival are “What’s needed now.” Announce that it is chic, whatever. I’ll boost what I like if I feel like it. BTW– have I mentioned lately that in Ithaca, we’ve been adding both population and jobs consistently for years, unlike elsewhere in upstate? See the write-up on us in last week’s NY Times?

  4. Ellen

    I guess my question is, when was Buffalo ever a regional hub beyond WNY?

    As for Ithaca, I would imagine their health has a great deal to do with Cornell’s. And government research grants.

  5. Robinia

    Imagine on. Cornell’s health is good now, but deteriorating thanks to State cutbacks (there is a hiring”pause”). And the government research grants come and go– lots of layoffs when the Cyclotron closed down, for instance…. and not getting the Supercomputer federal grant eliminated much of the Theory Center….

    Nah, I actually think it has more to do with Cornell alum retirees who have fond memories of the place and come here to retire, and trailing spouses who are stuck here and have to get creative and make up a job that interests them. We are also quite the hub for “green” technology and building throughout the region, and have a vibrant and growing arts and music industry that shows/plays mostly outside of Ithaca.

    But, the colleges (there are 2 big ones and 2 little ones in the county, and that’s without counting the massage school) do provide a certain stability to the economy. Like a Carrier that can’t move production or a Kodak that can’t experience a technology paradigm shift. And, the cultural advantages of having educational institutions nearby are immense– concerts, lectures, art exhibits and public gardens. Not a bad choice of prime industry. BTW– Educational Services has now eclipsed Optics and Precision Manufacturing as Rochester’s largest industrial sector, so, they are in a similar situation to Ithaca for all that.

    And, Buffalo was a regional hub beyond Western NY. When the grain elevator was first invented, and much of NYS’s population was still on the farm, and water transportation was the way goods moved, Buffalo was a major center of commerce on which much of upstate depended. Take a water-tour of the grain elevators with their historical society docents sometime. It’s fascinating.

  6. sean

    when you think of it, buffalo was the jumping off point for the west: the canal ended there. for decades, until grand engineering offered an alternative, the falls made it – forcibly – the easternmost port for most of the great lakes. even the railroads had a confluence there before they literally turned west to skirt the lakes, toward chicago. maffei loves to say that in the end what really matters with cities is transportation (he remains faithful to a vision of a high-speed rail link between the upstate cities and manhattan), and buffalo took on enormous – but passing – importance in that fashion. so in that sense, i guess it was a regional center: if you were heading west through the northeast, you’d go through buffalo.

    the problem is, i’d argue that if you’re looking for an upstate symbol of renaissance, you might as well pick syracuse. not just being parochial, but our problems – from core area violence to economics – are still manageable. bring 1,000 or 1,500 good jobs here, and you can essentially swing the economy, and our downtown – while struggling in places – does not have the full sense of abandonment that you can find in large portions of downtown rochester or buffalo. i have deep loyalty and love for all these cities – they’re essentially distinct siblings – and i have family roots in them as well, but one could argue that the more achieveable and sustainable model might be here … and that our renaissance could then become the model.


  7. sean

    one last point: our position as a crossroads for I-81, I-690 and the thruway also gives us an enduring importance unique to upstate cities.


  8. Ellen

    Robinia, I’ve seen photos of the grain elevators of Buffalo. To me, they look very exotic and “foreign”… more Midwestern than New York.

    Let’s do a thought experiment and imagine Upstate NY cut off from the rest of the state, say, everything north of I-88 and west of Albany (which is my favorite definition of “Upstate”)… imagine a new state… what city “should” be the capital? Where would a capital make sense? Buffalo, because it’s the biggest? Syracuse, because it’s centrally located? Ithaca, because it’s smart? Rochester, because anything else would be uncivilized? (Or should we just award it to Wampsville…? )

    Hm, I smell a whole new debate coming on.

  9. Ellen Post author

    PS… I did not mean to exclude consideration of Utica, Rome, Oswego, Watertown, Binghamton, etc etc…

  10. sean

    the story goes that syracuse was a contendah for the state capital, losing out to albany, but that city leaders had even identified a potential site on what’s now the chimes building. actually, being completely parochial, syracuse makes more sense as a central upstate capital than as a state capital … we kind of straddle the whole leatherstocking district and what we know as western new york.


  11. Ellen

    Albany isn’t the capital just because of its location, of course. In colonial times it was an actual seat of political power.

    I don’t think we do enough “what-iffing” about an Upstate without NYC attached. At some point we’re going to have to start imagining this, if only to identify realistic means of building actual regional political and economic strength. Whether the scenario is that NYC secedes, or gets blown to Kingdom come by some dreadful catastrophe, some serious thought experiment might be worth doing.

    Also, I don’t understand the whole concept of “saving Buffalo” or “saving Syracuse” or “saving Upstate.” Saving from what? People will still be living here 100 years from now, eating, drinking, reproducing and dreaming in some kind of manner and I don’t think they will have reverted to subsistence farming and cannibalism. So what are we “saving” ourselves from exactly? We’re already irrelevant (to an American way of life that is, itself, rapidly coming irrelevant). The sun still came up this morning, however. Now, I’m all ears when it comes to saving the most vulnerable among us, or saving treasured buildings, but this whole “save Syracuse” concept is strange and I don’t know what it means. If people would just try to save buildings (while they still can be saved) and stop worrying so much about “saving Syracuse,” maybe we would, you know, actually succeed in saving some buildings.

  12. Robinia

    My vote for the city for capital of the pretend-it-separates upstate NY is…. (drumroll….) AUBURN. It had the choice to be capital before, way-back, and chose to host the state prison instead (was the prison guards’ union that powerful even before Albany was the capital?). It has lots of cool buildings, if the capital was there it would encourage the preservation and historic interpretation of the Harriet Tubman House (and I LOVE Harriet Tubman), and an influx of lobbyists, etc. would disturb its “hopelessly adrift in the conservative past” culture. Plus, since they have that nice prison right in the middle of town, we could economize and hold Legislature meetings right in the place they all belong ;-0 OK, that is exagerated snark, sorry.

    Or, how about Seneca Falls, and, as a nod to the past history of women’s rights and emmancipation (and the Haudenosaunee traditions that came before that even) the government could use a peculiar custom of debate in which women and non-white elected officials speak first?

    As far as the grain elevators: they were invented in, and the first ones built in, Buffalo. On the water. The midwestern ones next to train tracks came later, after the shift in transportation technology. The whole industry of ready-to-eat breakfast cereals started in Buffalo, too, associated with the grain. Much more useful than nanotechnology in my ranking of industrial endeavor.

  13. sean

    auburn’s a great choice. the history is amazing; i love the statue of thomas mott osborne, and the whole tale of how he disguised himself to check out conditions in prison.


  14. Phil

    Auburn C.F. does have amazing history: the Auburn System created the template for modern prisons: cell blocks, prison industry. It was the reason Alexis DeToqueville came to America (he was a penologist by trade). It was the home of the first electric chair. Unfortunately, they need another Osborne–rehabilitation is one of the furthest things from DOCS mind these days.

    Auburn also has wonderful buildings (Seward, Tubman, Willard Chapel), a great minor league baseball team and Schweinfurth is a much better community museum than our own stale/dry/patrician Everson.

    Go Auburn!

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