Archive | December, 2011

AV Photo Daily: 12/31/11

31 Dec

Eternal flame falls

“Eternal Flame Falls” by DilakshanLove.

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Do You Need Downtown?

30 Dec

As we round out 2011, I would usually post a retrospective of the year’s posts here, but most of my 2011 archives are no longer online. So, instead, I’ll leave you with this thought-provoking post from Rochester journalist Rachel Barnhart.

In it, Barnhart recounts a discussion she had with a friend about Rochester’s urban core and its suburbs. He argued that suburbanites simply have no need for the city proper anymore, as any and all of their daily needs can easily and conveniently be met closer to home. To them, whether the city sinks or swims is irrelevant, and they believe that the suburbs have developed a way of living that is immune to the city’s successes and failures. From Barnhart’s piece, her friend argued,

The suburbs are so great we don’t need to leave. We have everything, they’re the best suburbs in the country.

If you’re my dad, he has no reason to leave Webster. He has fine dining, shopping and Wegmans. You think people are always denigrating the city, but our suburbs are second to none.

You think life would stop in Brighton and Pittsford if downtown died? The city is not the hub for those people. I’m one of them.

I’m not smart enough to have a prescription to fix downtown. It’s sad and it’s a shame, but (the death of downtown) wouldn’t have the impact you think.

We need to focus on the entire area. We have great suburbs and crime is going down. You think I’m so anti-city and I’m not. I just don’t think downtown and the city are as important.

It’s a topic that comes up quite often in Buffalo. When I first started paying attention to local politics, the city was in rough shape and the county was doing great, flush with tobacco settlement money. Before the red/green budget, suburbanites would gleefully announce to, e.g., Sandy Beach that the county should just take over the city. Within a matter of days, the assumptions underlying that position changed 180 degrees. 

I’m a big believer in the notion that the suburbs and the city sink or swim together. Like Toronto, Erie County should have a metropolitan government that fairly represents all the people. We should have a unified school district that strives for excellence, and discourages complacency and failure. The 50s way of governing needs to be replaced with something more effective, and more reflective of current realities.  We need to consolidate our business development, planning/land use, maintenance, and purchasing functions. We need to make it easier for businesses to navigate a much reduced, rationally laid out set of bureaucratic regulations. Nostalgia shouldn’t be our biggest industry – we need to better support and encourage today’s innovators and tomorrow’s moguls.

But turning specifically to the topic in Barnhart’s piece about the declining need for a downtown, there are loads of people throughout WNY who have no use for the city proper unless they have court, Sabres tickets, or the theater. All other services are not only available, but more convenient, closer to home; home predominately being some suburb.

Crowdsourcing

The national trend of hip young people moving into downtowns has touched Buffalo only tangentially; most newer housing is comprised of rentals, which have a  built-in transience. Condos in the downtown core are almost exclusively high-end, going for more than 300k.

I think downtown Buffalo has a lot of problems that are largely self-inflicted through poor planning, little foresight, and weak zoning. A land value tax would go a long way towards rendering land speculation of vacant lots less economically viable, and perhaps grow downtown again. When I visit Rochester, it seems to me as if its downtown is more robust and better maintained than Buffalo’s. But that could be a grass-is-greener thing.

In order to render old, decaying downtowns vital and vibrant again, people need an incentive to go there. I’m an advocate for a sales-tax-free zone for Buffalo’s downtown core. By giving people $.0875 cents off every dollar they spend, you could easily, quickly, and organically spur interest in downtown retail and revitalize an area that people have no reason to visit. With the pending development of Buffalo’s Canal Side (waterfront project through the ESD), this sales-tax-free zone becomes even more acute of an issue. We’re spending millions to create a tourist/shopping/cultural destination, we should ensure that it’s used and that it helps revitalize its surroundings.

It’s not the weather. It’s not the 190 or the Scajaquada or the 33. It’s not the Skyway. These things are not keeping Buffalo’s downtown lame. Through a sales-tax-free downtown, people from throughout the region, and from Canada, will have a huge incentive to demand goods and services within that zone, and private enterprise will swoop in to supply it.

I think we do need downtown, but more importantly, downtown needs us. It needs feet on the ground, and it needs cash in wallets, ready to be spent on something.  We have a real chicken-and-egg scenario here – retailers won’t come downtown because there isn’t any retail downtown. And let’s face it, when we think about a downtown – if you look at the old pictures of Main Street in the 50s, or better still, 100 years ago, it was a teeming mess of people, shops, eateries, offices; things to do, people to see.

It could be that again, given the right environment. It just needs a few nudges in the right direction.

Happy New Year.

AV Photo Daily: 12/30/11

30 Dec

A Reflection on Romance

“A Reflection on Romance” by CamWall

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Casual Anti-Semitism

29 Dec

Someone alerted me to this Twitter status, posted by someone with whom I had argued several months ago. I looked to see if anyone following him had anything to say about it, and no one did – neither positive nor negative.

On what planet is this sort of thing acceptable? Why do people just let this go?

 

AV Photo Daily: 12/29/11

29 Dec

untitled-2437

Photo by Flickr user fixBuffalo

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The #BuffCashMob Returns

28 Dec

Do you want to make a difference in your community? Do you like social media? Are you someone who digs doing cool stuff with cool people? Do you love supporting local small business? Well, welcome to the #BuffCashMob! We’ll be mobbing the next business on Friday, January 6th.

I’ve organized several of these events over the past year and since the idea was highlighted in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, it seemed like an opportune time to do it again.

The first known cash mob was the brainchild of Chris Smith. The 37-year-old from Buffalo, N.Y., says the idea stemmed from his realization that consumers, including his wife, tend to flock to smaller establishments when a bargain is available through the daily-deal social-networking sites including Groupon Inc. and LivingSocial Inc.

“Why do we need a discount to support good, solid, local businesses?” he asks.

He used Twitter and Facebook to rally more than 100 people to purchase wine at City Wine Merchant on Aug. 5. Business that day tripled, according the store’s president, Eric Genau. “We have clients that would have taken a lot longer to get here or never would have gotten here at all if not for that,” Mr. Genau says.

This is a tough economy and many small businesses in Buffalo and WNY are looking for ways to increase cash flow. That’s where we, the organized social media denizens of Western New York, come in. Businesses like City Wine Merchant and many others have made significant investments into our community. They are rebuilding this city and working to make it a better place and we should return their investment with one of our own.

Rather than do the slacktivist thing, posting links to businesses we like and writing on their Facebook pages, let’s get out, en masse, and show them some straight up cash love. Buy their goods, pay for their services, patronize their establishments. And have a great time doing it!

The goal will be to get ~100 people to “flash mob” a local establishment and spend $10-$20 each on the goods and services offered. No discounts, no coupons, no special deals. Just support our local merchants by spending $10 in their place of business. Think of it as a reverse-Groupon. Instead of businesses offering crazy discounts to get people to mob their stores, the Buffalo hivemind is going to take the initiative and spend money for goods & services at posted prices. The best way to promote and grow Buffalo business is to support and patronize them.

It’s that easy.

I’ll take nominations for businesses who will get a visit from the #BuffCashMob on the AV Daily blog or by email to chris@wnymedia.net starting today. I’d prefer you choose businesses who are members of  Buffalo First!. Their full, sortable, and searchable membership listing can be found by clicking here.

We’ll also keep our eyes on Twitter to check for other nominations there as well, but make sure you use the #BuffCashMob hashtag so we’ll know to look for it. Your nomination should tell us something about the business, what they sell and why they deserve some #BuffCashMob love. Lets show local businesses that social media isn’t just about nerds talking about “branding”, that it’s about bringing people in the door to spend some cash.

Here’s a video from the first event (shot and edited by Marc Odien of WNYMedia.net).

 

Poloncarz Hires Whyte, Siragusa, Neaverth, Keating, Burstein

28 Dec

Until now, the only hire of which we were aware was Richard Tobe as Deputy County Executive. Today, the Poloncarz transition team announced a second batch of hires:

·         Gale R. Burstein, MD, MPH, FAAP, FSAHM, Commissioner of Health

·         Robert W. Keating, Director of Budget and Management

·         Daniel Neaverth Jr., Commissioner of Emergency Services

·         Michael A. Siragusa, JD, County Attorney

·         Maria R. Whyte, Commissioner of Environment and Planning

From the press release, after the jump. Continue reading

Lincolns in North Korea

28 Dec

As you watch the hysterical, (as in hysteria, not as in funny), funeral procession of Stalinist lodestar of the 21st century, still-dead Kim Jong-il of North Korea today, take a look at the limo on top of which Kim’s coffin is being carried.

It’s a 1975 Lincoln Continental limousine, held over from Kim’s father, the very dead, but eternal President of North Korea, Kim Il-Sung. Even Kim’s mega-portrait gets a limo.

No one does cult of personality like the North Koreans. They are unsurpassed in history at totalitarianism.

AV Photo Daily: 12/28/11

28 Dec

Chomping at the Bit

“Chomping at the Bit” by CamWall

 

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The Common Council’s Holiday Spirit

28 Dec
Occupy Buffalo

Occupy Buffalo, by Flickr user dhnieman

Each Buffalo Common Council member is allocated a certain budget to hire staffers. Some have two, others have three. North District Councilman Joe Golombek is leading a charge to limit the number to two, citing the legacy costs for a third staffer.

The Council members with three staffers are Kearns, LoCurto, and Rivera, and it’s a longstanding tradition that Councilmembers are free to staff their offices however they see fit. One council staffer tells me that the legacy costs for the three-staffer offices are negligible, since these three staffers share a pot of money in such a way that they are very poorly paid, many of whom work part-time, or are interns, never incurring any legacy costs at all. As to those who do incur legacy costs, it’s not breaking the city’s bank.

The joke of this is, as Mickey Kearns pointed out, that the city budgets for 200 – 250 vacancies every year. The incoming Fontana-led majority, (which I’m told Golombek agreed to join after being assured that he could make an issue out of this no-three-staffers issue), also plans to slash the pay of some key council staffers, and will add a $2,500 stipend to the President pro Tempore.

In other Common Council news, while the members were bickering and nickel-and-diming each other, the council punted again on proposed Food Truck legislation, sending it to the Legislative Committee, which meets next on Wednesday January 4th at 2pm.


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Photo by dhnieman.

 

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