Rewind: Welcome, Preservationists!

18 Oct

In honor of the National Preservation Conference, which is taking place in Buffalo this week under the auspices of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, I’m re-publishing the “Regular Buffalo Person’s Manifesto”. Chris, Brian, and I wrote it as a specific response to Mark Goldman’s “Obstructionist’s Manifesto“, which was published in the Buffalo News around the same time.

I believe that too often, too many people in this town get away with carrying out their personal bias and ill will because they wrap it in the mantle of preservationism, in which case almost all reasonable discussion and debate magically stops.

Being concerned with hardware is great, but even the best and most beautiful hardware won’t work without competent and reasonable software. – BP

Mark Goldman is a Buffalo icon. He is a doer – a guy who has accomplished literal miracles, notably sparking the turnaround of what is now known as the “Chip Strip”. This sets him apart from the usual suspects who are professional obstructionists, but little else.

Goldman was one of the plaintiffs in the recent, moot lawsuit that sought to block state funds from being used to support the Bass Pro Canal Side project in any way. Some politicians blamed the death of the Bass Pro deal on a “few obstructionists”, and Goldman took to the Buffalo News to proudly claim the mantle, and publish an accompanying “Obstructionist’s Manifesto”.

So, to rebut Goldman’s “obstructionist manifesto” point by point, we present to you the Regular Buffalo Person’s Manifesto, a joint statement prepared by Alan Bedenko, Brian Castner and Christopher Smith. We’re regular people in the Buffalo area who live, work, send kids to school, and pay taxes here and we feel that our voice is often drowned out by a small yet litigious and vocal minority.

Forward this to your representatives and voice your support…or if you’re old school; print it, sign it and send it to your local representatives and tell your friends to do the same. Become a fan on Facebook and spread the word.

The Manifesto of Buffalo’s Regular People

We are regular people; neither obstructionist nor unnecessarily permissive. We believe that development projects should be reviewed and debated on a case-by-case basis, on their own merits. They shouldn’t be demagogued, lied about, or otherwise treated unfairly.

We also believe that small cliques of people whose public personae are defined by their opposition to new development don’t speak for the entire community, despite their claims. We believe that we can speak for ourselves and don’t need to have our interests represented by people who perhaps unintentionally advocate for the failed status quo.

What follows is the manifesto. Live it, learn it, love it.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I wouldn’t trust heart surgery to a barber, so I believe that city planning should be left to the professional city planners. We have too many hobbyist planners in this town, and they strut about pretending to be experts whilst loaded down with suppositions, overwhelming emotion, and little training. Calling yourself a city planner does not make you one, and whether a particular plan may cause harm or benefit must be weighed on the merits – not on hypothetical situations and feelings.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I believe that small groups of tightly connected amateur planners with anti-commercial prejudices shouldn’t be the deciding factor in regional planning decisions. As Regular Buffalo Person, I am interested in projects that would lead me to go out of my way; off the beaten track, where I can spend my money and do something fun with my kids.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I believe that small groups of tightly connected amateur planners and professional plaintiffs should be consistent in the application of their outrage. If millions of dollars ought not be spent to lure a big anchor retailer, those millions ought not be spent to house trendy art galleries, either. But when people appointed by our duly elected officials decide to spend that kind of money, I won’t disingenuously suggest that this happened without public consent, and I won’t be a hypocrite, either.

As a Buffalo Regular Person, I eschew propaganda buzzwords like “big box”, and will not liken the existence of “parking spots” to some unspeakable evil. I recognize contemporary reality, and prefer to look at a particular project as a whole. I’ll also be sure to ask obstructionists why it would be so horrible to duplicate the pedestrian success of the Walden Galleria in a far more attractive waterfront location not unlike what exists at Quincy Market, Byward Market, or any other public marketplace up and down the eastern half of North America.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I won’t make-believe that small entrepreneurs will somehow be a significant regional draw for a waterfront that is all but uninhabitable for six months out of every year. Sometimes, you have to go big or go home.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I believe that city planning decisions should be made based on a project’s business plan and likelihood of success. Appeals to “values” or “ideals” or “aspirations” of the region invite divisive, subjective debate, leaving no one happy. There is a reason why development projects are seldom subjected to referenda. When proposed projects have undergone a decade’s worth of vetting, it’s somewhat silly to suggest that they’re sudden, novel, or being rammed down anyone’s throat. As a Regular Buffalo Person, I won’t wait until the absolute last minute to express my displeasure with a project that’s all but ready to go.

The absolute last thing that should be done about Buffalo’s inner harbor is to subject it to a citywide citizens’ committee of ideas. Each person – each participant would have a different idea, and implementation of it might be a fun civic exercise, but little else. If the obstructionist class in Buffalo is intent on opposing every single project that is suggested for the inner harbor, then there’s little sense in doing anything at all. The street grid should be re-established and cobbled, utilities should be brought in, the area should be zoned, and then the city should let the market have at it.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I don’t want to participate in some sort of “submit your idea” crowdsourcing method of planning. The people whose idea or vision is rejected will simply become the next round of obstructionists, lying and suing to get their way.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I will not define my support or objection to a proposed development or project based primarily on whomever is leading the effort. I will be open-minded, listen to proposals and make educated evaluations. I will be judicious and serious and will weigh the costs and benefits before speaking my mind.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I will not define each and every project as an epic class warfare struggle nor will I support others who engage in such behavior.

As a Regular Buffalo Person, I will evaluate the merits of a project on its value to the region, writ large. No more parochial thinking, we are a region that will either rise or fall as one, we must begin to act like it.

Given the current economic state of western New York, given the fact that downtown Buffalo is completely bereft of any meaningful retail whatsoever – and has been thus for thirty-something years – and given the fact that the Canal Side area has been bare for more decades still, the ultimate obstructionist dream is to let it lie fallow under the shadow of the Skyway, an empty memorial to what might have been.

Perhaps we could file a suit to express our displeasure at the Bass Pro deal being killed. Perhaps we should recognize that without a huge, well-paying employer like HSBC, there will be significantly fewer people in town to visit art galleries, drink wine at trendy-yet-gritty bars, buy tchotchkes, and sup at the taco truck.

Neither the obstructionist few, nor the developers speak for us. We speak for ourselves.

That is our Regular Buffalo Person’s manifesto.

35 Responses to “Rewind: Welcome, Preservationists!”

  1. JSmith October 18, 2011 at 9:05 am #

    I’m at a loss to figure out the purpose of this rerun. Is it meant as a big FU to the attendees of the National Preservation conference? How odd, at a time when the city and region are attempting to roll out the red carpet for these visitors who will spend outside money here, to be gleefully giving them the finger.

  2. mark October 18, 2011 at 9:28 am #

    I, for one, am so glad Bass Pro decided not to come.

  3. Leo Wilson October 18, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    Still of the opinion that this Levy guy couldn’t pay a person dying of dehydration in a desert to drink water. And, still impressed with the foolishness of local leaders who don’t know that the fish are still there even if Bass Pro isn’t. There’s no reason we can’t do everything BP hoped to do without BP.

  4. Black Rock Lifer October 18, 2011 at 10:09 am #

    Not sure if this is serious but preservationists have not blocked any “progress” in Buffalo but have been the one bright spot bringing investment, recognition, and most importantly people back to the city.

  5. MJC October 18, 2011 at 10:40 am #

    I think the mindset of a lot of preservationists is that, if we can only bring back the old buildings we can restore Buffalo to its previous grandeur and everything will be great again.

    This mindset ignores causation. Buffalo’s previous economic success was based upon our status as a shipping and manufacturing base. That is gone now, along with the wealth behind it. That wealth was what built these great old structures, not the other way around.

    We do not need a rebuilt Central Terminal, or a refurbished Statler Towers. There is no demand for what either building brings, so they should be razed.

    To rebuild Buffalo, we need new ideas and forward thinking – not a bunch of nostalgia buffs looking to turn back the clock.

  6. jhorn October 18, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    agree with comments 1-4. would also like to see jordan levy (and the rest of the bob rich-benderson clique) removed from echdc.

  7. Black Rock Lifer October 18, 2011 at 11:51 am #

    MJC- As a preservationist I disagree, preservation is about leveraging our assets to move the city forward. It is about using the best of our built environment to attract investment and bring people back to the city. No one is looking to turn the clock back, most preservationists embrace new ideas and bring an energy and commitment that has added much value to this city.

  8. eliz October 18, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

    Like #1, I fail to see the need for this defensive posture in the face of a very successful effort to bring the NTHP conference. Having them here sheds a positive light on the accomplishments of those who have restored and reused historic architecture, often opening new businesses and adding new residential properties. i.e., people who have actually gotten stuff done in Buffalo. There are a lot of development wins here and now people from all over the country are seeing them.

    Where’s the bad part? It’s very perplexing. Why isn’t your post really about welcoming the conference? Could there possibly be a reason you don’t want them here? Would you prefer that the Webb, the Larkin district warehouses, and everything else would just quietly fall apart? And we’re still talking about Bass Pro? Really?

    I get the manifesto, but fail to see its relevance in this case.

  9. MJC October 18, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    Black Rock Lifer – I don’t paint all of the preservationists with the same brush, but there are too many absolutists who feel that every building is worth saving, or that every new development is somehow going to erode the character of this city.

    The efforts toward saving the Statler exemplifies this. There is no real demand for additional office space in downtown Buffalo, especially when HSBC Tower vacates in a few years. The building is an eyesore and a money pit. It is beyond saving. Same with Central Terminal. There is no need for a train terminal in the worst part of Buffalo. Even if train travel returns (and I hope it does), there is no way the terminal should be located on the East Side of Buffalo.

    We need a balance. If something can be saved and made profitable or useful to WNY, then by all means save it. If a development can increase property values or attract businesses, it should be considered, rather than dismissed out of hand.

  10. Peggy October 18, 2011 at 1:18 pm #

    MJC appears to be ready to move away from the area. There is no reason to be here. What Bull. Scrap anything that does not meet with his viewpoint. Of course an old train building will not be used as a train building again. At least not on the scale it was 80 years ago. But the building has a use and with a person with the right vision it can make a significant contribution to the area. It can be a multiuse facility with residential pllaying a part. There is a developer intersted in doing so but if we had followed MJC’s script and bulldozed it – the cost would be $20 million dollar demolition bill and all thet would remain is an empty field. Sure would go a long way to make the area even more vacant.

  11. Leo Wilson October 18, 2011 at 1:48 pm #

    10 – Peggy, this is a red herring. That building is full of old wood, the likes of which cannot be harvested legally anywhere in the world. It is also full of old brick from lots that cannot be matched with clay deposits today and are invaluable to anyone involved in a preservation effort that requires them. It is a veritable gold mine to a salvage company, probably worth millions if deconstructed. Refer to the old glue factory in Gowanda for an example of this.

    Just about any salvage company with the contacts would happily tear this building down, if not for free than perhaps in return for title to the land it sits on.

  12. MJC October 18, 2011 at 2:14 pm #

    Peggy appears to have reading comprehension problems. Not sure where you got 3/4 of your points. My only point is that preservation efforts must take some degree of economics into account. Some buildings are worth saving and some are not. The Central Terminal is (was) beautiful, but it was replaced by the airport. Train travel is unfortunately not necessary locally.

    However, you go ahead and keep waiting for that long line of industrialists eager to sink millions into refurbishing a redundant monolith located in the most drug-infested area in WNY.

    I get the impression you were the type of person who got really excited by Bashar Issa, or by Marc Croce’s “interest” in rehabbing the Statler (with government assistance, of course!) Interest doesn’t save a building – money does. And no one wants to sink money into something with no prayer of returning a profit.

  13. jimd October 18, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

    I’d rather see them save the Statler and tear down the HSBC Tower

  14. MJC October 18, 2011 at 4:04 pm #

    The first building in line for the wrecking ball should be the Buffalo City Court. Worst godawful architecture in history!

  15. Black Rock Lifer October 18, 2011 at 6:27 pm #

    MJC- The preservationists might be a little defensive after decades of demolition and neglect of our built environment. We have lost so much in the name of “progress” and saw little to nothing in return. We have allowed our city to be exploited by speculators and profiteers that have extracted wealth and left the rest of us holding the bag. I think the problem we have is our failure to think long term and accept our responsibilty to protect the assets that we are quite fortunate to have. We need to think in terms of 20, 30, or even 50 years and recognize our role as stewards of this place.

  16. Black Rock Lifer October 18, 2011 at 6:31 pm #

    Leo- Actually the Central Terminal (1929) is steel frame and cast concrete construction, there is very little wood in this structure. The salvage of old timbers and the like is generally from buildings constructed in the 19th Century.

  17. homebrewer October 18, 2011 at 8:31 pm #

    Passing your opinions and views off as those of “regular people?” What makes you more “regular” than those who see value in historic properties? I appreciate various preservation related development, and what it has done for the local economy, and consider myself “regular.”

  18. jhorn October 18, 2011 at 8:55 pm #

    homebrewer- perhaps they’re more conscientious with the metamucil and thus….

  19. STEEL October 18, 2011 at 11:00 pm #

    I not following what the link is between preservationists and obstructionists is.

    I think you are going to some day be one of those angry old people telling the kids to get off your lawn- or maybe you already are.

  20. Alan Bedenko October 19, 2011 at 9:07 am #

    I’d like to thank almost all of you for (a) not reading the text in its entirety; and/or (b) not comprehending the introductory paragraphs. 

  21. lulu October 19, 2011 at 10:09 am #

    So I guess we should thank BP for the reading comprehension lesson. Whatever. As a cheerleader for regionalism and prosperity for our region, I,too, found the timing of this re-post to be unfortunate. Having the HTC here is a real opportunity to show off our assets and I find the message and tone of the Manifesto to be just as snarky and bitter today as I did when I first read it.

    • Alan Bedenko October 19, 2011 at 10:15 am #

      Buildings above People!

  22. lulu October 19, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    HTC = NPC

  23. Ethan Cox October 19, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    There’s little merit in beating a straw man, Alan.

  24. lulu October 19, 2011 at 11:20 am #

    Buildings saved by people.

    • Alan Bedenko October 19, 2011 at 11:47 am #

      I believe that too often, too many people in this town get away with carrying out their personal bias and ill will because they wrap it in the mantle of preservationism, in which case almost all reasonable discussion and debate magically stops.

      Being concerned with hardware is great, but even the best and most beautiful hardware won’t work without competent and reasonable software. – BP

  25. lulu October 19, 2011 at 12:01 pm #

    I believe that too often, too many people in this town get away with carrying out their personal bias and ill will because they wrap it in a snarky blog post and insult long time readers for contributing differing views to the conversation, in which case almost all reasonable discussion and debate magically stops.

    • Alan Bedenko October 19, 2011 at 12:03 pm #

      Whom did I “insult”, exactly? You? Where?

      Also, I don’t “wrap” my bias and ill will in any way. I’m quite up-front about it.

  26. Leo Wilson October 19, 2011 at 12:46 pm #

    @BRL, I stnd corrected. My apologies.

  27. lulu October 19, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

    OK. No need to continue this, but I will oblige, BP, as I did feel insulted by your reading comprehension comment, not only if it was directed at me but for anyone else who questioned the timing and purpose of this repost. In an attempt to use your own words against you, I copied and pasted hastily and did not consider the full meaning of my words. My bad. I guess I was hoping for an explanation of your consideration for this post, but now realize it is not necessary. IN short form, I’m over it and I apologize for questioning your intent.

  28. Eliz October 19, 2011 at 10:20 pm #

    Well, I’ve read everything in this post again, and I still don’t see why it’s being trotted out for this conference. If there is anything that the NTHP prioritizes, it is that preservation is about much more than buildings. It is about living and thriving communities. I thought that’s what we all wanted. Silly me?

    • Alan Bedenko October 20, 2011 at 6:40 am #

      Perhaps. My issue is with the self-important, belligerent, fractured local obstructionists who don the preservationist mantle in an effort to justify their behavior. Locally, we have a cult of old buildings that is more narrowly focused than “living and thriving communities”.

      We have loads of mothballed historic buildings that contribute exactly nothing to any community – thriving or otherwise. They may someday, but there’s no demand or money for it, a result of our poor economic – and even worse political – malaise.

      I am all for preserving buildings that are in some way historically or architecturally significant. However, those determinations should be made objectively on facts, rather than subjectively on feelings. We’re too lazy or feckless to actually codify the standards by which those decisions are made – because our vaunted preservationist community can’t be bothered to work together, much less with the city, to put together a master list of “buildings to save/keep”. Instead, they fight amongst themselves when they’re not fighting ad hoc battles to preserve this building here, and that building there, based oftentimes on dubious claims of historic significance. So, I hope everyone will forgive me if I don’t get overexcited that their oftentimes malignant local efforts, disguised as preservationism, are being validated this week.

      Furthermore, when people like Goldman obstruct things – and proudly so – they claim to be doing so on behalf of the “community” or the “people”. Well, that’s not always true, is it? It’s quite presumptuous, actually. A lie, really. The only people who can make that claim are elected officials, and most of them (with some rare exceptions) don’t dirty their hands with this stuff.

      Can you imagine a world in which a prospective property purchaser knew – based on a city-endorsed, governmental master list – whether the building on that property could be demolished, or had to be rehabilitated or renovated in some way? Predictability! What a concept! Can you imagine a tourism campaign that celebrated what Buffalo is today, rather than what it was 100 years ago? Everyplace is “real” and “authentic”. Those adjectives do not set us apart from anywhere else.

      I’m going to not participate in the patting ourselves on the back for being too economically depressed to destroy our architectural heritage. Instead, I’ll try to elect people who will make decisions and implement policies that will lead to economic growth and prosperity, which will render feasible renovation projects like the Richardson Complex or the Central Terminal.

  29. Black Rock Lifer October 20, 2011 at 10:01 am #

    Alan- I agree with most of your political stands but on this issue I strongly disagree. I am a long time preservationist that has never obstructed any progress or project. In over 30 years of involvement I can say most preservationists work quietly behind the scenes investing their own time, energy, and dollars into improving our city, usually without any positive ROI. There are a few minor exceptions but overall the idea that preservationists have obstructed any real progress is simply not credible. The Bass Pro project was simply a matter of demographics and the economic collaspe. The casino, again a result of the economy. The hotel on Elmwood was obstructed by wealthy homeowners on neighboring streets, not preservationists.

    There is indeed a “master list” of must save buildings that the preservation community has put together, possibly you were not aware of this fact. There are also lists of significant buildings in many of our old neighborhoods, for example, we have surveyed our historic resources here in Black Rock and are moving forward to attract investment to the area.

    As for Buffalo’s architectural legacy, we do have an outstanding collection of buildings and homes that does “set us apart” from most other cities. The “mothballed” buildings you claim “contribute exactly nothing” to the community are actually assets that must be seen as long term investments. Those buildings represent a future and will eventually be developed, it takes a little patience and forward thinking to see the value but the momentum is increasing towards re-use of old buildings. It would be a shame to destroy a valuable asset just because our attention span is limited to a few years rather than looking ahead a few decades and laying the groundwork for a better future.

    • Alan Bedenko October 20, 2011 at 10:05 am #

      Alan- I agree with most of your political stands but on this issue I strongly disagree. I am a long time preservationist that has never obstructed any progress or project. In over 30 years of involvement I can say most preservationists work quietly behind the scenes investing their own time, energy, and dollars into improving our city, usually without any positive ROI. There are a few minor exceptions but overall the idea that preservationists have obstructed any real progress is simply not credible. The Bass Pro project was simply a matter of demographics and the economic collaspe. The casino, again a result of the economy. The hotel on Elmwood was obstructed by wealthy homeowners on neighboring streets, not preservationists.

      I specifically directed my ire and my disappointment at the preservationists (you say few, I don’t really know, but they are the most vocal and public) who also work to obstruct progress on other fronts. This isn’t, incidentally about Bass Pro. I couldn’t care less than it isn’t coming. However, the way in which this played out over the course of the last decade is the best example of what I’m talking about.

      There is indeed a “master list” of must save buildings that the preservation community has put together, possibly you were not aware of this fact. There are also lists of significant buildings in many of our old neighborhoods, for example, we have surveyed our historic resources here in Black Rock and are moving forward to attract investment to the area.

      Well, then where is it, and has it been codified? If not, why not? Who maintains it? Who created it? Is it part of the zoning or is it included as a deed restriction?

      As for Buffalo’s architectural legacy, we do have an outstanding collection of buildings and homes that does “set us apart” from most other cities. The “mothballed” buildings you claim “contribute exactly nothing” to the community are actually assets that must be seen as long term investments. Those buildings represent a future and will eventually be developed, it takes a little patience and forward thinking to see the value but the momentum is increasing towards re-use of old buildings. It would be a shame to destroy a valuable asset just because our attention span is limited to a few years rather than looking ahead a few decades and laying the groundwork for a better future.

      I challenge you to point out where I said a genuinely historically significant building should be destroyed. I never wrote that, and that’s not my opinion.

  30. Black Rock Lifer October 20, 2011 at 10:50 am #

    Alan- The few vocal and public preservationists do not represent the majority of the preservation community. As I said, most in preservation work quietly behind the scenes and accomplish much to better this city. Your perception of the preservationists seems to be from the soundbites in the local media, not from firsthand experience. Its like getting a sense of life in the city by watching the crime news rather than actually living here. Nothing like personal experience, sure can clear things up and provide a balanced view.

    As for the list, Preservation Niagara keeps a must save list, it is meant to bring exposure and awareness to endangered properties. I can speak more directly to our efforts here in Black Rock, we have completed a Historic Resources Survey and identified all of the significant structures in the neighborhood. We then submitted an application for the National Register Market Square Historic District that has been approved. This district contains 20 properties in the historic core of the neighborhood that are architecturally significant. We also listed 4 of the best properties that lie outside the district individually. Going forward we are marketing the neighborhood to attract homeowners and investment. Just a little behind the scenes preservation work that isn’t in the media or on the radar but took about 5 years to complete.

    Finally, I didn’t claim you were in favor of destroying historically significant buildings but most do not recognize just which buildings fit that description. It isn’t just the Martin House or Prudential Building that are significant, those are the easy ones. There are architecturally significant buildings all over this city that are not recognized because of condition, remodeling, or just neglect. These buildings continue to be demolished on a regular basis leaving behind empty lots with no value to the community or potential re-use in the future.

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