8 Nov

On Saturday, I made this joke:


In 1951, Toronto’s population was 675,754.  The population of current metropolitan Toronto was 1.1 million.

In 1951, Buffalo’s population was 580,132.  The population of Erie County was 900,000.

People say you can’t compare Buffalo and Toronto because it’s apples and oranges.  I say, you’re comparing apples and apples.  Over the past fifty years, Toronto has grown to a metropolis of over 2 million people – one of the top cities in the world.  During that same period, Buffalo has shrunk by half, although Erie County’s population has remained essentially the same.

Name the top five (or ten, if you’re ambitious) things you think would help slow or reverse the continual decline of Buffalo and Erie County.  Place them in comments, in descending order of importance (10 = least important change, 1= most important change).

32 Responses to “Priorities”

  1. BobbyCat at 7:47 am #

    I have no list, just this comment.

    Buffalo has been adrift and rudderless for a long time.. The fundamental problem has been a failure of leadership. The Democratic majority has failed to find quality leaders with progressive ideas. During the past 50 years the Democratic party has been controlled by just a few individuals. Those Dem party chairmen have recruited and promoted candidates, who, for the most part were unqualified and inexperienced and bereft of progressive ideas. The result was caretaker governments run by with leaders who needed on-the-job training and who made very few bold initiatives. Doing nothing and going with the flow was the easy path.

    The media, especially TV News stopped investigating those in power, giving the politicians free reign to do anything without scrutiny. Without the media’s checks and balances, the balance of power flowed entirely to the do-nothing power structure.

    Even the Buffalo News refused to criticize TV news for its hand-off policy. And the News kept criticizing politicians for not accomplishing more, yet kept endorsing these same politicians, year after year.

    The (real) goal of each city, each town, each village and school district is to keep its own power structure intact. So they brook no changes and virtually no reforms. They want to keep things the way they have always been, collect their benefits, get their pensions and get out. Pensions are driving the system.

    The Dems need to find a progressive party chairman (and co9mmittee) who are not satisfied with the status quo. Many, many radical changes are needed for to bring this region into the 21 century and catch up with the rest of America. . Consolidation of school districts, tops my list.

  2. Ethan at 9:43 am #

    Is there a good, definitive history of Toronto spanning this period in particular that you’ve read, that you could recommend?  In order for one (me) to decide if Tor/Buff is an apples-to-apples comparison or not, I’d need to know an awful lot more that I do about Toronto’s growth arc than something as simplistic as population.  I suspect there are some very real differences worth pointing out which make the two cases not entirely comparable- Canada’s surface features are very familiar to us, but her structural features are very often quite different indeed.

    That said, I have no doubt there are things we could learn from our neighbours up there, regardless.  Metropolitanization, for one thing, seems to have been a very important component of Toronto’s growth history, and I’d love to know how that came to be, whether it was by fiat from above or a more organic, bottom-up process.

  3. STEEL at 12:11 pm #

    It would be a very interesting comparison to see what policy differences there have been. Certainly the Canadian and Ontario governments are very different. The Canadian government is very liberal compared to the US. That pretty much puts the lie to any concept that the right wingers would throw out there about the economy. Toronto was never a major manufacturing center like Buffalo so it did not get clobbered by changes in world trade. Toronto being the largest city in Ontario as well as in Canada also had a certain ability to set its own agenda unlike Buffalo which is like a hair on the tail of NYS. Canada has also had a very pro immigration stance to fuel the country’s growth. Canada is a very small country population wise and much of Toronto’s growth came from that policy. Toronto also benefited from the French separatist anti English business policies in Montreal. Toronto grabbed a lot of business from that city when that issue blew up back in the 70’s. Also Toronto was not competing with newer cities in its own country. If you wanted to move south you had to leave your native country.

  4. BuffaloGirl at 12:13 pm #

    I like Buffalo small, a few thousand more would be okay, but I certainly wouldn’t want 2 million people here, the size is one of the biggest reasons I love Buffalo!!

  5. Mark at 12:14 pm #

    7. Development of waterfront not dependent on giveaways to giant corporations with no connection to WNY
    6. Modernization of infrastructure — roads, bridges, broadband, public transportation
    5. Single regional IDA
    4. An actual attempt to reduce or eliminate poverty, especially in Buffalo, and improve the Buffalo school system
    3. Kevin Gaughan deported to Ireland
    2. Rationalization of local, state and federal taxes — redistribute from wealthy to poor, eliminate random/arbitrary property tax assessments
    1. Voters get a clue and stop voting for slogans

  6. Ward at 12:15 pm #

    In 1959 Toronto was the center (centre?) of economic gravity for a country of twenty-five million population whose economy was in solid expansion. Financial institutions flocked to the city, as did immigration, government expansion, and culture. Toronto’s traditional competition with Montreal for primacy petered out with the Quebec separatist movement in the 1960s–TO was a better and safer choice for financial and corporate interests. That process has continued unabated for a half century, as has the population and building expansion in Metro.

    In 1959 the centers of commerce and culture in the US were New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles (Dallas and Atlanta were not on the radar yet). Buffalo was about fifteenth in population rank, and God knows where in terms of commerce. I cannot envision a set of circumstances which would have moved Buffalo into a position of primacy in the U.S. equivalent to that of Toronto in Canada.

    So yes, Alan, I think you are indeed comparing apples and oranges–even if the apples are well past their prime.

  7. Christopher Smith at 12:20 pm #

    @Ethan, I think starting back when populations were comparable makes the starting point “apples/apples”   Investigating, discussing and evaluating the specific policies put in place by both regions and governments over the ensuing 50 years is maybe where we learn something new.

  8. Eisenbart at 1:12 pm #

    Why bother? In regards to comparing Buffalo to Toronto their governments do everything better. Comparing Buffalo to Hamilton…. our governments do everything the exact same. Comparing Toronto to New York City is more comparable as they are the largest city in the county, largest city in the province/state, and both have policies specifically written to improve their health.

    Things that can be compared are Niagara Falls Ontario and Niagara Falls NY. Compare how they spend their hydro power, compare how they do casinos, compare how they handle tourism. NY falls short on everything.

    I’m not saying Buffalo wounds are self inflicted in any way by poor leadership. But how can we change this leadership or give leadership some power with out the state changing?

  9. EricP at 1:30 pm #

    I do see your point, but…. apples v. oranges. The definition of “Toronto” changed since 1951 (sometime later in the 1950’s) to include a significantly larger metro area (GTA) that is nearly five times the size of the Buffalo city limits (+/- 50 sq miles).
    Toronto and Southern Ontario are the populous Canadien Sunbelt, eh.
    It is entirely possible that more valid comparisons could be drawn between Toronto and Miami-Dade – or between Buffalo and Yellowknife. Also, Canadiens don’t have very good football teams either – so there is that.

  10. Jesse at 1:42 pm #

    1. Get out of our own way. You can call this deregulation if you’re a statist, but the harrowing problems of Buffalo are really exacerbated by the difficulty in doing ANYTHING here. Buying a house in Wisconsin can take MINUTES. Here, you need a full afternoon and a new pen to sign 300 times. Starting a business? Shit, see Buffalo Rising for plenty of tales of regulatory woe.

    People can be creative, given the opportunity. We just can’t get our benevolent government to get the hell out of the way. Lawyers don’t help, either (sorry Alan, don’t mean to paint you all with a crap brush).

    2. Consolidation of schools and governments. 400+ elected officials is far too many.

  11. Sean C. at 3:57 pm #

    1.) Median Salaries in the $50,000-$65,000 range. When Local Government is the largest employer with an average salary of about $40,000 something is broken. (Second largest employment industry is food service with $13,000 being the average ANNUAL SALARY! Oh health coverage and pension not included.)
    2.) Taxes need to plummet.

    3.) Doing business with the City and State needs to become easier.

    4.) Desegregation of North, South, East and West Side. (see SkyWay and the 33)

    5.) Political Downsizing is a must. (As creepy and crazy as Kevin Gaughn is he is doing the lords work)

  12. Mark at 4:53 pm #

    So the region’s largest employer is paying median salaries in the $50-60k range, and you think that’s a bad thing? I think that’s fantastic! The problem isn’t that government workers make good money and have secure jobs, it’s that most other workers don’t. Every job should have good pay, good benefits, and stability. Whether that job is with the government or with the private sector makes no difference. If the private sector can’t or won’t provide good jobs, then the government should do so.

    The idea that taxes are too high is simplistic. They are too high on people who have very little money, and too low on people who have a lot. Eliminate sales taxes, tolls, and most fees. Shift all of those costs onto the wealthy. Take those resources we all built together and put them to work for everyone.

    Political downsizing is a silly idea. It doesn’t save much money to begin with. As a bonus, it reduces the responsiveness of government and makes connections and money more important than ever. Gaughan is a creep because he is working to weaken democracy, and if he doesn’t realize that, it’s because he’s crazy. It would make more sense to double the size of every elected legislative body in the country.

    I think the chances of the 33 going away are even lower than the chances of the Skyway going away.

  13. BobbyCat at 5:01 pm #

    Stop looking at macro for a second and look at one micro example. Messrs Ward and Mohr should have been fired for attempting to sabotage an election. I grew up in the “duck and cover” era of the cold war. We thought that the Ruskies might nuke us to abolish our democracy and we threatened to do for them, in return. You can sniker at the prospect mutual annihilation, but if you were there and lived through the Cuban missile crisis nobody was laughing. Nobody knew if they would be alive or die in the next 48 hours. It was terrifying.

    The point is, we were willing to launch Nuclear weapons and anniliate tens of millions of Soviets to defend our democracy against those who would deny it. Ward and Mohr tried to deny us an election. Our political system is so calcified and frozen we can’t even deal with traitorous behavior, much less change the system in large ways. Changes are wishful thinking. This area is paralyzed.

  14. lefty at 5:25 pm #

    It will never happen but splitting New York State into two would solve Buffalo a lot of the challenges for Buffalo/Upstate.

    The advantage that Toronto has is not only is it the business center for Ontario and Canada it is also the Provincial capital. Ottawa is a distant second and that is due to it being the National capital.

    The business center for New York State, and really the world, is obviously NYC and the State capital is Albany. The rest of the areas get scraps. Added to this, the population of NYC is almost half of the state, so nothing is going to be done until the king eats first.

    If NYS were split into two, Buffalo could be designated as the business center and Rochester could become the new State capitol. Albany and NYC would stay what they are but be in a smaller state.

    The debate would be around who would be better served. Some say ‘downstate’ because they provide most of the revenue. Others say ‘upstate’ because they provide most of the resources. I say both would benefit because in the creation of two new states, you would have the ability to wipe the slate clean and right size every aspect of government.

  15. Hapklein at 6:03 pm #

    Toronto’s main expansion occured when Canada relaxed immigration laws in the late 1970’s. Here is from “open Hearts and Closed Doors:”
    Canada admitted nearly 40,000 Hungarian refugees in 1956 and 60,000 Vietnamese boat people in 1979. In 1986, Canada was awarded the United Nations’ Nansen Medal for its compassionate refugee policies. By the end of the 20th century, Canada became one of the largest immigrant and refugee receiving countries in the world, admitting thousands of refugees from Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo and other places. Following the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York on 11 September 2001, Bill C-11 was passed to tighten refugee admission procedures.
    I was astounded during the 1970’s and 80’s by Toronto’s expansion to absorb and smehwt assimilate the new cultures and languages. Att he same time and all during the Viet Nam war scores of Americans settled in the Yorkville area.
    Older and traditional Toronto was sure armagadden had occured.
    Some economics had something to do with it too. Canada was the first nation to enjoy the American Industries plan to save itself by outsourcing and many auto and tire manufacturing plants were built.
    So open the doors for immigration which creates cheap labor and the US can thrive once again.
    Next get that through the incoming congress.

  16. Jordan at 6:39 pm #

    The most important and beneficial change I can think of is to eliminate all governments smaller than the county.

    We need to make the region work together to solve its problems, and that will never happen with such small governments consistently competing with each other. I also believe that one smaller government would reduce corruption, as there would be fewer smalltown fiefdoms.

  17. Max at 7:19 pm #

    Thoughtful topic and posts, Alan
    I think the turning point came for TO when it adapted the “metro” model of local governance. I don’t know when that occurred but when it did, it eliminated overlapping jurisdictions, duplicitous layers of administrative excess and lowered unit costs of delivering government services to residents.. It was an act of bold forward thinking and one that would not likely be repeated in Erie, County, circa 2010 as there’s too much power that would have to be surrendered – as Jordan noted – by the local fiefdoms. Perhaps the only way that will occur is when the budgets shrink and consolidation is the only route to survival.

  18. Ethan at 10:29 pm #

    @Chris, et al.

    Yeah… I’m definitely prompted to know more about how Toronto got to where it is today; I expect there are things we could apply here, but also a fair amount that is unique to Toronto’s circumstances.  Time to hit the library!

    • Christopher Smith at 11:03 am #

      Alan has reached out to governmental and policy experts in Toronto to help us define the discussion and learn more. This will be a series in which we review the choices made by Toronto and Ontario versus choices made in Buffalo and New York State. Compare, contrast, discuss and learn. Perhaps we come up with potential ideas or solutions, perhaps not. However, it’s always beneficial to spend some time learning about the shared circumstances of places. I’ve also reached out to development officials in Allegheny County in Pennsylvania and in the City of Pittsburgh for similar information. While Pittsburgh isn’t necessarily a model for perfection, they are slowly lurching towards progress with a coordinated regional planning strategy. They are one of the few rust belt cities effectively making plans for the future and implementing them.

  19. Ethan at 10:36 pm #


    I’ve long wondered about NYC as a DC style District, but I think as far as the “better served” argument goes, don’t forget how much better NYS does–in theory–at the Federal level as one big state.  If all that was leveraged and then distributed more equitably, that’d be great, but still, I wouldn’t really want to loose Wall Street’s impact at the Federal level.  Sharing a state with NYC, America’s most world-class of world-class cities–is not just a matter of internal politics.  OPur whole state is famous by association…

  20. DrewLudwig at 9:37 am #

    5. Lock Mayor Brown and Chris Collins in a room until they are both replaced. Do not place Tim Howard in charge of guarding the room. Put him inside, just make sure he isn’t billing for it.
    4. Market abandoned/empty homes to “homesteaders,” nationwide, and in the city.
    3. Tax commuters that work in the newly enlarged city (see #1), but live outside of it.
    2. Provide/continue economic incentive for tech, green, healthcare and arts (3 make jobs, 1 encourages the rest)
    1. Merge the city and county governments into one.

  21. Hapklein at 9:53 am #

    Metro Toronto was first proposed in 1924 and accelerated by the depression.

    But in 1954 the action took off in earnest with all the various municipalities become part of a county like apparatus. Toronto is like Erie County and Buffalo and all the towns and villages becoming one government.

    The combined services and ease of jurisdictions for law enforcement exceeded all expectations.

    Unfortunately this take intelligent, earnest and rational people working together in the common good. Canadians.

    Then you have New York with Buffalo and Erie County….need I say more?

  22. Sean C. at 11:18 am #

    @ Mark I meant to say that the average salary should be between 50-60 and it’s not. I get the hint that you may be a member of the CSEA.

  23. Sean C. at 11:25 am #

    A link to the numbers on salary and employment industries.

  24. peteherr at 1:11 pm #

    @lefty – It was fun to listen to Dale Volker and other politicians talk about splitting the state into two, but the truth is that we are the beneficiaries of NYC, not the other way around. Their very large tax base supports our dwindling one, not us sending our tax dollars down to them. Splitting the state in two would screw us.

    Besides, which of the two pieces gets to be called New New York?

  25. Dan at 2:32 pm #

    Last Republican elected mayor – 1965. Last Republican Elected to Common Council (where he served in a 12-1 minority) 1983.
    54 Joseph Mruk Republican 1950 1953
    55 Steven Pankow Democratic 1954 1957
    56 Frank A. Sedita Democratic 1958 1961
    57 Chester A. Kowal Republican 1962 1965
    58 Frank A. Sedita Democratic 1966 1973
    59 Stanley M. Makowski Democratic 1973 1977
    60 James D. Griffin Democratic January 1, 1978 January 1, 1994
    61 Anthony Masiello Democratic January 1, 1994 January 1, 2006
    62 Byron Brown Democratic January 1, 2006 Present

    • Alan Bedenko at 3:48 pm #

      From Wikipedia:

      The most sweeping change was in 1998 when the six municipalities comprising Metropolitan Toronto – East York, Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, York, and the former city of Toronto – and its regional government were amalgamated into a single City of Toronto (colloquially dubbed the “megacity”) by an act of the provincial government.

      The newly created position of mayor for the resulting single-tier megacity replaced all of the mayors of the former Metro municipalities. It also abolished the office of the Metro Chairman, which had formerly been the most senior political figure before amalgamation.


      Beginning in 1953, Toronto was part of a federated municipality known as Metropolitan Toronto. This regional entity had the same boundaries as present-day Toronto, but consisted of the City of Toronto and 12 other municipalities, each with its own mayor and council. From 1953 to 1997, the most senior political figure in Metropolitan Toronto was the Chairman of the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, which was distinct from the city’s mayor. The list of the mayors of the city of Toronto continues below; for a list of Metro Chairmen, see Chairman of the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto.

      51. 1954 – 1955 Leslie Howard Saunders
      52. 1955 – 1962 Nathan Phillips
      53. 1963 Donald Dean Summerville (died Nov. 19)
      54. 1963 – 1966 Philip Givens
      55. 1966 – 1972 William Dennison

      As of 1967 (during the incumbency of William Dennison), an internal amalgamation eliminated the seven smallest municipalities in Metropolitan Toronto. Of these, the villages of Forest Hill and Swansea were amalgamated into the City of Toronto. The remaining mayors of Toronto during this era are listed below.

      56. 1972 – August 31, 1978 David Crombie (resigned)
      57. September 1 – November 30, 1978 Fred Beavis
      58. December 1, 1978 – November 30, 1980 John Sewell
      59. December 1, 1980 – November 30, 1991 Art Eggleton – longest serving mayor at 11 years
      60. December 1, 1991 – November 30, 1994 June Rowlands
      61. December 1, 1994 – December 31, 1997 Barbara Hall

      Post-Amalgamation Mayors

      As of 1998, Metropolitan Toronto and all its municipalities were amalgamated into a single City of Toronto. The mayors of the unified city have been:
      62. January 1, 1998 – November 30, 2003 Mel Lastman
      63. December 1, 2003 – present David Miller
      64. Mayor-elect Rob Ford

  26. Hapklein at 3:30 pm #

    I you want reform and consolidation it takes structural change strong vision and capable management. Even in the 1990’s Toronto still argued whether the metro or the amalgamation process as the most efficient and beneficial.
    But Canada, Ontario and Toronto have been particularly blessed with some determined visionaries who could identify the best path in the highest public interest and work to achieve that.
    I have attended meetings and hearings about the Buffalo waterfront, our high taxes and the need to regenerate the city since the mid-1980’s and watched no steps in consolidation of services or reduction of government bodies and no imaginative leadership to save potential magnificence from constant deterioration.
    A successful model ninety miles away might as well be on another planet.

  27. JohnnyWalker at 3:55 pm #

    When you pay good money to come up with an urban planning document, and that document is an award winnning plan (like the Queen City Hub Plan) , stick with it. Don’t file it away in the circular file. Maybe when Buffalo turns itself around the rest of the area may be willing to consider some minor forms of consolidation.

  28. STEEL at 6:17 pm #


    There are many many states that have thriving cities and economies that would be smaller than a NYS sans NYC. The argument that Buffalo would be cooked without the benevolent NYC is false. Any monetary gain Buffalo gets off the NYC tax machine is sucked away by destructive downstate driven policy. Buffalo gains from NYC like a crack addict gains from his drug.

  29. lefty at 7:27 pm #


    The large tax base from Downstate does support Upstate but under the new State of ‘Niagara’, the costs of operation could be lowered or removed. Thus removing the need for the Downstate tax base. Consider how much of government spending is done for mandates. Consider how much of those are unfunded mandates. The reality is Upstate needs the Downstate tax base because Downstate pols made it that way. Similar to a crack dealer.

    Added to this, I have two words….Power and Water.

    Governor-elect Cuomo already wants to spend money on infrastructure to send more power from Niagara Falls and Massena Hydropower Facilities downstate. The reason is NYC is starving for power. Both of those plants produce much of the total power for the NYPA. I wonder how much the new state of Niagara could get on the open market for those kilowatts? Me thinks it would be more than enough to cover the loss of a downstate tax base after the restructuring of spending is done.

    I also wonder what part of Manhattan the new jails would be built?

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