All Quiet Along This Front

21 Sep

Anyone else notice that nobody is complaining about anything anymore?

Drawing courtesy Sven Yrvind at

Let me be more specific. While Washington is more shrill than ever, we here in Buffalo and Western New York seem to be more sedate. We’ve followed Jules’ advice and chilled this mother out. Not hope (false or not) for the future, but not resignation and apathetic despair either. Just . . . even keel. Whether this break is a lull, a calm before the storm, or more long lasting is impossible to know. But locally, nobody seems to be too riled up, and this is in stark contrast to the last decade.

Maybe it’s because the lightning rod projects have finally drawn towards a conclusion. Mark Croce, by all accounts, is pouring real money into the Statler and bringing it back. That was the last item in the Silver Bullet checklist of Buffalo. The Peace Bridge second span is dead. The Seneca Casino downtown is morphed into a smaller project, sans hotel, that seeks to embrace businesses in the growing neighborhood. Canalside is poking along, and most citizens seem more interested in enjoying sunshine on the water and a new concert series than get worked up over a couple hundred grand to over-priced Fred Kent and company. The Medical Campus adds new buildings every couple months, and UB 2020 has passed in an abbreviated form; the ink had barely dried on Cuomo’s signature and already the silence was deafening from all sides, for and against. Even Benderson’s “lifestyle center” on Maple died with a whimper. The next Silver Bullet checklist is currently being drawn up – for now it only includes new bridges across the Buffalo River to connect the Inner and Outer Harbors. Perhaps the collective bile will rise as new projects are added. 

Maybe it’s because the instigators have faded away, in victory, defeat or irrelevance. Paladino has mostly kept his turds out of punchbowls since his drubbing. Williams is out as Buffalo Schools Superintendent, Simpson is gone from UB, and Quinn from the ECHDC. I haven’t heard Tim Tielman’s name in months, and Goldman faded as quickly as the paint job on the Adirondack chairs. Esmonde took a (partial) buyout and no one except the insiders care if Lenihan follows the governor’s career advice or not.

Maybe it’s because shoes have yet to drop. The HSBC pullout from Buffalo seemed inevitable earlier in the year. Now First Niagara has a branch network and hockey arena to its name, and the first round of global HSBC cuts have passed us by unscathed. The tower HSBC occupies is in danger of emptying (Phillips Lytle moving two blocks if nothing else), but the main leases there expire in several years.

Maybe it’s because our political season is suddenly a snooze fest. Only six weeks out, Erie County residents may be excused for forgetting there is a County Executive race this November. In contrast to Senator Mark Grisanti’s race for a district that covers roughly the same territory, the recent special election to replace Sam Hoyt in the Assembly passed a week ago with barely a whisper. The local Tea Party groups stopped holding rallies at the waterfront, and no highway tolls are currently on the chopping block. We downsized our Erie County legislature with the help of a judge, and Maria Whyte finds herself stumping for upgrades to the county clerk’s office (Kathy Hochul presided over the Dark Ages?) instead of lighting evil fat cats on fire. We have a Governor who earns the begrudging respect of everyone in the room, and through pragmatic competent leadership, Albany’s tone has actually changed. Alan Bedenko’s coverage of petty politics in Clarence is as insightful as it is ordinary. A fascinating glimpse into crumb gathering to be sure, and effective at the ballot box, but the fish are so much smaller than what we’re used to.

Maybe it’s because no one of the above really matters all that much. It was a beautiful summer, the Bills are 2-0 (and so is my fantasy football team), and Terry Pegula has Sabres fans walking in a perpetual blissful dream world. The worst of the catholic church closings have passed, there are more urban gardens every year, the roads are full of construction workers (read: jobs), and Gordon Biersch has landed at the Galleria. Small improvements, from Riverfest Park to Buffalo River dredging to three-story brownstone renovations all over the city, are quietly creating a swelling avalanche of pebble-sized bits of good news.

Artwork by Christopher Carter

So the Jersey Livery renovation hasn’t happened yet. Neither has the Wingate Hotel of Doom. No one is chaining themselves to piles of bricks to thwart the wrecking ball. Instead, orphanages that I considered lost causes are undergoing rehab in forgotten corners of the city. The Tonawanda Powertrain workers are back, and GM is dumping in nearly a billion in new investment. The Great Recession was bad in Buffalo, but our 7.6% unemployment rate and tiny housing price growth is the envy of the nation.

Has this placated us? It’s not like every problem has gone away. We still have a caretaker, over-politicized mayor. We still have a shrinking population and blighted neighborhoods. A rash of industrial fires in residential neighborhoods have spurred the Clean Air Coalition of WNY to expose how little we know about air quality during major accidents.  But I hear little generally from the activist community locally. I’m not being asked to attend rallies to save anything, stop anything, or make anyone change their mind. 

Why? What do you think? Has the tone changed or have I missed it? I look forward to input and comments.

6 Responses to “All Quiet Along This Front”

  1. RaChaCha September 21, 2011 at 8:31 am #

    Very interesting — at yesterday’s announcement that the region’s jobless rate has dropped to a new low, the backdrop was all cardboard boxes labeled “New Buffalo” which I swear someone must have had printed up back in like 2005 or 6.

    While the New Buffalo “craze” happened before I was very engaged in Buffalo, I understand that many at the time felt the community was on the edge of fundamental change or some kind of Great Leap Forward. Didn’t happen, best I could tell. Pundit had a post a year ago about this, with which I substantially agreed:

    Are you suggesting we may be looking at a NEW “New Buffalo” — or rather more like the calm before the storm–? Or not really suggesting anything, but more or less just sayin’–?

  2. Chris Smith September 21, 2011 at 9:18 am #

    It’s because I stopped blogging.

  3. Jim Ostrowski September 21, 2011 at 10:22 am #

    I agree it’s been quiet. People are burned out, tired of beating their heads against walls. On the other hand, we had the biggest event in the seven years of the tax revolt/tea party movement on August 5th when Ron Paul came to town. And another huge event for us happens on Oct. 12th in Albany when the Pork Lawsuit is argued in the Court of Appeals. If we win, and we won in the court below, we may be able to stop billions of dollars of corporate welfare which is the glue that holds the whole rotten regime together.

  4. pirate's code September 21, 2011 at 10:51 am #

    Whether or not the tone has changed, I agree that the volume certainly is lower.  I’ll think positive (for a change) and say that we’ve collectively come to our senses and realized small progress is, indeed, progress.  That we’ve come to understand that monumental battles over development/policy/politics rarely lead to any sort of discernible victory, and instead just leave all sides hurt, wounded and defensive.  That we’re spending less time looking over the fence (in either envy or disgust) and are spending more time tending our own yard.  That the desire for perfect doesn’t always have to be the enemy of good, to borrow a phrase.  That we’ve stopped yearning for a new Buffalo that has to look and feel like the old Buffalo but with new stuff but don’t touch any of the old stuff and we need to change but don’t dare change a thing and, well, you know the rest…

    Or, we’re just out of gas.  

    But maybe, just maybe, the idyllic prose of Escape the Urban has cast some sort of Zen-like community trance.  And, Geek has stopped blogging.

    Too soon, I think, to say whether or not this is a total and complete re-aligning of the stars, or just an ebb tide.  Either way, the relative silence is welcome.

  5. rastamick September 21, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

    Time to declare war on Nestle and other water hogs then.

    Give it 5 minutes I dare you.

  6. Ethan September 22, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    Speaking for myself, I 1) got tired of arguing and 2) got too busy doing what I can do to improve Buffalo–yes, I think starting a brewery counts–to spend tones of time criticizing others for not doing what *I* think they should.  I donno…  but the lowered volume suits me well enough.

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