Tag Archives: bikeshedding

The Wheel

11 Oct

Courtesy Joe Janiak

It’s been a busy week, and it’s Friday, so I leave you with a few things to mull over. 

In 2012, Buffalo Spree writer Julia Burke wrote this article comparing how advanced the bicycle infrastructure was in Madison, Wisconsin as compared with the slow pace of similar change in Buffalo. It was rather uncontroversial. 

A Buffalo native, Burke recently left Buffalo for Madison – a city where she had no job, no family, and no friends. She wrote a compelling article about the reasoning behind her decision to move. This caused a furor on Twitter and Facebook. 

Here are a few passages that stood out for me: 

I moved to one of the Midwestern cities that have made themselves attractive and viable not necessarily through “Rust Belt Chic” but through flexibility and adaptation, by addressing the underlying problems plaguing American cities––struggling schools, segregation, lack of public transportation, violent crime––confident that the “cool factor” will come from real effort and foresight, and the superficial stuff will follow. I’m not interested in urban decay porn; I grew up with it, and I’ve seen how it reflects a hopeless privilege that places preserving the “charm” of detritus above making neighborhoods more accessible, environmentally conscious, livable, and integrated…

…After a recent event involving late-night art exhibits and performance in Buffalo’s grain elevators, a prominent artist friend of mine posted comments on Facebook about how wonderful the concept was and how the event could be improved by emphasizing a higher quality, rather than quantity, of art. Another commenter added that the event, while exciting and visually stunning, was set in a location rather ill equipped for its several thousand attendees, and addressing safety hazards for children and the disabled might be a good goal for next year. One of the event’s organizers jumped in and, rather than thanking the commenters for their very reasonable suggestions, shot back, “Thanks for all the negativity!” 

Growing up in Buffalo gave me most of my best friends and many exciting work opportunities. It imparted to me the toughness and resourcefulness that come from living through harsh winters and making ends meet waiting tables, tending bar, and stocking retail shelves in a city whose thirty-year recession has been recast as “affordability.” It ensured that I will never take snow-plowed streets or writing gigs or the knowledge that I am surrounded by a progressive, liberal mindset for granted. And in Buffalo, where we joke that everyone in the “creative class” has three jobs, the people working against tangible and intangible obstacles to feed their passion are some of the most amazing people I have ever met.

They deserve better than burnout. They deserve to be surrounded by people who have no interest in settling, who want to see their city rise from the ashes and will cut no corners ensuring its long-term viability. They deserve representatives who have traveled and who know what is possible.

Every problem we have in Buffalo has a political cause, and a concomitant political solution. In response to a promising young former resident’s article calling out Buffalo’s complacency, stasis, and inability to react positively to criticism, a Vice President from the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s response was astonishing, claiming that the article was a “Dear John” letter; that it was “throwing mud” and she should “just leave”.  I had a Buffalo city planner repeatedly accuse her of writing criticisms she didn’t write, and which he wouldn’t quote when asked. He claimed that she was being disingenuous about the city’s walkability, which she didn’t criticize, the bus system, which she didn’t mention, and other things. 

I mentioned at one point that we have a bus system that doesn’t feature street furniture at stops which also displays “next bus” information. This is pretty much a standard issue thing in this day and age; even Rochester has this feature. Buffalo will never have it until one of the millionaire Lexus drivers on the NFTA board decides to take a ride to another city and deigns to examine a bus stop in, say, Rochester. Our Thruway system uses 50s era toll-taking technology in 2013, and because it has no incentive to change it (they’re all in Albany), and we’re simply not a priority, it will never, ever change. 

These are obviously little problems, which mask the much more serious socioeconomic and cultural problems that plague the city. We’re told repeatedly that sprawl without growth is unsustainable – I agree, but so is gentrification without growth. Buffalo looks great from the trendy ghettoes in and around Elmwood Avenue and Allentown, but there’s no “renaissance”, no “sense of place”, not a lot to be excited about if you’re part of the city’s vast, poor majority. Burke’s article mentions Geico jobs – jobs that are all but inaccessible to an inner-city kid, because Geico is 25 miles away from where that kid lives, and the bus system isn’t particularly swift. The region has been advancing, sorta – one step forward, two steps back. For all the cranes at Canalside, we have a failing and dysfunctional school district. For all the restaurants and boutiques on Hertel and Elmwood, we have crushing poverty. For all the soccer bars and dog parks, we have a violent crime epidemic and a city that fudges the numbers. Buffalo, for real. 

We have a tendency to cheer for incremental changes and mere attempts, regardless of the outcome. We cheer for our efforts to do things that other cities have long ago figured out. That’s nice, dear. Let’s instead focus on the difficult issues and cheer when we, I don’t know, establish a regional plan for what we want this area to look like in 20 or 50 years, and then create the infrastructure and personnel to get us there. That takes hard work and we have a population that is exquisitely resistant to change. Activism doesn’t just mean preaching to the choir, but convincing the public at-large that the deep changes we need benefit everybody; we have to stop pitting one group against another and lift all goddamn boats. 

What do you think our regional priorities should be? How do we sell fundamental, deep regional political, social, educational, and economic change to a conservative and resistant population? How can we sell these big ideas while convincing people (a) that they aren’t going to “lose” while others “win”, and that these changes will benefit them, too? 

The wheel is turning and you can’t slow down, 
You can’t let go and you can’t hold on, 
You can’t go back and you can’t stand still, 
If the thunder don’t get you then the lightning will. 

Won’t you try just a little bit harder, 
Couldn’t you try just a little bit more? 
Won’t you try just a little bit harder, 
Couldn’t you try just a little bit more? 

Round, round robin run round, got to get back to where you belong, 
Little bit harder, just a little bit more, 
A little bit further than you gone before. 

The wheel is turning and you can’t slow down, 
You can’t let go and you can’t hold on, 
You can’t go back and you can’t stand still, 
If the thunder don’t get you then the lightning will. 

Small wheel turn by the fire and rod, 
Big wheel turn by the grace of God, 
Every time that wheel turn ’round, 
Bound to cover just a little more ground. 

The wheel is turning and you can’t slow down, 
You can’t let go and you can’t hold on, 
You can’t go back and you can’t stand still, 
If the thunder don’t get you then the lightning will. 

Won’t you try just a little bit harder, 
Couldn’t you try just a little bit more? 
Won’t you try just a little bit harder, 
Couldn’t you try just a little bit more 

What Old White People Like: Waterfront Edition

24 Nov

I’ve learned a lot during the last two weeks of attending/viewing the series of open houses hosted by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) at which they are soliciting public input on the Canal Side Modified General Project Plan (MGPP).

Most importantly, I’ve learned a lot about what old white people want to see on the waterfront.  Of course, there is a difference between “places” and “things”, but that nuance seems to escape them. We’ve already written a couple hundred thousand words discussing Bass Pro, Canal Side and our analysis of the project, but I’ll write a few more.  I’ll also encourage you to attend the final session tomorrow at the ECHDC offices between 10AM-Noon.

Here’s a summary of what I’ve learned from the various public speakers at this event:

Roughly 75% of the speakers have informed the ECHDC that the Hamburg Drain needs to be moved.  What’s the Hamburg Drain you ask? It’s the fourth largest and third most active Combined Sewer Overflow in the Buffalo Sewer Authority. It’s kind of a big deal in the sewage community.    Click here to read why its important, seriously.  As part of the environmental review process, the ECHDC did an analysis of the drain and its impact on the project, you can and should read it here.  It also sits directly under the Aud Block and its location prohibits the types of structures or canals that can be placed on the site.

The presence of the drain prohibits the digging of navigable canals thus necessitating the dreaded “faux” canal, for instance.  The Hamburg Drain was modified at great expense several years ago to make room for the Commercial Slip on the Inner Harbor.  Estimates to remove it or completely redirect it range anywhere from $75-100MM.  Of course, the sum total of available monies for the Canal Side project are somewhere around $100-140MM.  None of the people, when questioned by ECHDC officials have any concept as to what is involved with removal, the scope of the project nor the cost.  They just want it removed.   So, there’s that.

Each speaker is demanding “dialogue”.  Going back through available press releases, we were notified and then notified our readers of 26 public meetings of the ECHDC since 2007.   That does not include the mandated environmental review meetings which were well-attended, we even streamed those meetings online.  There are very simple ways to contact the ECHDC on their website and their doors are always open.  The ECHDC has initiated several community committees that have been working with them on the historic narrative, museums, public art, recreation, public market, boating, and other issues.  Involvement and dialogue have been everywhere for three years.  That didn’t stop one speaker yesterday from saying “I wasn’t even aware any of this was happening until Mark Goldman told me about it.”  Of course, she wants a pause until she can get caught up on what’s happening.  Also, she hasn’t read all the information yet, she just knows it’s not authentic.

Let’s make a short list of the things people have told us they would like to see implemented at the Inner Harbor and/or their opinions about what is planned.  Note my purposeful overuse of the word “need”, I heard it during each speaker’s comments.  Also, none of this is exaggerated or made up.  These are all things people asked for or said.

  • We need to move the Hamburg drain so we can have navigable canals connected to the lake and the river
  • We need an Ellis Island like historical museum replete with a huge statue of John Wilkinson, a museum which lists all of the people who ever traveled on the Erie Canal on a “Wall of Fame”.
  • Tucker Curtin of Dug’s Dive wants us to slow this 50 year process the fuck down and “jam it in reverse”.  Of course, in the interim, he’d be glad to open a series of food stands at which he can sell moderately priced delicacies to the people coming to look at the hole in the ground.
  • We need restrooms with showers so boaters can get clean.
  • We need to look to Dunkirk’s waterfront for inspiration on how things should look
  • We need an underground parking garage, no we don’t, yes we do, people can walk, no they won’t, they can take the train, build a new train, maybe an outdoor airport-style people mover, connect the train to UB/Hamburg/Tonawanda.  It’s all real easy!  Why is ECHDC making it so tough?
  • We need to make authentic fake history, not fake fake history.  We need authentic low slung docks with handicap accessibility for kayakers who struggle with stairs.  Yes, really.  We also need special parking for kayakers.
  • It would be cool if we had radio controlled boats on the authentic canal, not fake canals because that would be tacky.
  • We need to have authentic boats, not toy boats or paddle boats.  Radio controlled boat guy visibly annoyed.
  • We should dig up a schooner off the coast of Dunkirk (80% of the ship has been consumed by the elements) and put it in a huge tank of water on the aud block.  Which, of course, necessitates the need to move the Hamburg drain as the imagined tank of water containing 20% of a schooner would presumably be too heavy.
  • One speaker has independently been trying to “lure” LL Bean here for a decade.  Can ECHDC finish what he started?
  • We need wading pools, spray fountains, the schooner, oh and it would be great if we had ice rinks and that solar powered carousel thing and “food sources”.
  • We need whimsical and serendipitous situations inspired by nature.  We don’t need buildings, we need trees, green roofs, community gardens, and we can reduce the need for the hamburg drain by using vegetative swails.
  • Kayak lady wants authenticity while asking for kayak accommodations.  Early 19th century recreational kayakers agree.
  • Bike museum from Orchard Park was mentioned ten times on Tuesday, seven times on Monday, five times last week.  Bike museum guy is looking to sell it to ECHDC or someone else, it’s his retirement fund.
  • All streets must be authentically cobbled, preferably with era-sensitive stones.  Authenticity is a must and the Hamburg drain needs to be moved, and I quote, “I have no idea what’s involved in that, but it needs to go, ASAP”
  • We need this to look like San Antonio.  In fact, I once read about a guy from Hawaii who does really nice murals.  I don’t know his name or who he is, but ECHDC should definitely call him.
  • A guy from Buffalo who says, “The Authority lacks expertise, the whole thing looks fake,  It needs more authenticity, what’s being put in brand new here looks worse than brand new stuff being put in in other places.”  His qualifications?  He was wearing a blue shirt.
  • It would be great if we could put in a houseboat community or shantytown that exaggerates the scale of the grain silos.  In fact, we can use the grain silos as ice climbing structures.
  • We should connect the light rail with UB
  • We need a museum that features other museums and tells people how to get to the bigger museum
  • We need to move the Central Library or Convention Center to this neighborhood.  But, those buildings should be authentic.
  • Connect the light rail with the central terminal and hire blues performers and historical interpreters to walk the streets of Canal Side year round.

None of these things are necessarily dumb or bad ideas.  They are all valid things that people would like to see built with their tax dollars.  The problem is that if their idea is not built, they’ll have a sad.  Some might even decide to sue or work actively against the implementation of a different idea.  It’s what often happens with crowdsourced solutions.  They can’t ALL be used and many people who spoke have not read the actual MGPP to know what’s actually happening at Canal Side.  Also, who has the time to properly vet each and every one of these ideas?  Who decides what gets considered and what doesn’t?  Do we not like those deciders or do we need different deciders?  It’s all quite bizarre.

Anyone here familiar with the term bikeshedding? It is a geeky term used to describe lengthy technical disputes over minor, marginal issues while more serious issues are being overlooked. The implied image is of people arguing over what color to paint the bicycle shed while the house is not finished. This process DEFINES bikeshedding. This series of blue sky brainstorming sessions with a crowd is happening when we should be working seriously with professionals appointed by our elected leaders to create the infrastructure to support a new neighborhood.

At this point, the ECHDC staff and board are meeting regularly with Mark and Tony Goldman and other members of the Canal Side Community Alliance to discuss the “things” their community of people wants to see built. The problem is, we haven’t yet created a “place”.

Cobble It
Electrify It
Zone It
Incentivize It

Once we’ve done that, we can start worrying about the things we want to see there, because people with money, resources and a business model will be able to build there.

Imagineering® Buffalo’s Waterfront: Part 1

24 Nov

It’s become a pattern.

A major public works project begins, is planned and plotted, goes through the required comment period and environmental reviews – and at the very last minute a small, usually ad-hoc interest group pipes up and demands that everything halt.  It happened with the Route 5 reconfiguration, and it’s happening now with the Canal Side process.

As happened a few years ago with Route 5, the obstructionist cadre uses outrageous and untrue hyperbole to attack the extant plan, culminating in a lawsuit when they don’t get their precise way.  Back then, we were told that the bermed Route 5 was a “wall” separating Buffalo’s waterfront from its downtown, ignoring the presence of the Skyway, the I-190, the Buffalo River, and the excruciatingly ugly brownfields on the east side of Route 5.

Now, we’re being told about the horrors of “faux canals” and perennial bogeyman, parking.

A couple of weeks ago, Mark Goldman became the self-appointed leader of the Canal Side opposition, which has dubbed itself the “Canal Side Community Alliance“, made up of groups whose dedication to the waterfront is unsurpassed – groups like “Prisoners are People, Too” and Sweet_ness 7 .  Goldman organized a talk at City Honors’ auditorium where the West Side intelligentsia and its foundation benefactors let their vision for the waterfront be known.  Naturally, it eschews parking, is heavy on public art, museums, and other not-for-profit things.  Watch this video:

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1. Goldman insists that the process must be “democratic and inclusive”.

2. At around 0:58 in the video, when Goldman demands procedural inclusion, the imagery is of older white males like himself – one of whom is Goldman’s own brother. He cites a need for “more creative thinking… more imaginitive…more artistic” points of view.

3. At around 1:33, Goldman discusses a “luncheon” he held for a very carefully selected subset of the Buffalo old money and arts elites.  He invited “about thirty people” and “made sure that they represented a broad range of work and life and activities in Buffalo.”  That “broad range”?  “Artists, curators and teachers and librarians, and businesspeople…” At 1:48, the camera pans over the sea of white, privileged city residents. He goes on, “…and a whole range of men and women who are active in this community.”  He cites “wonderful ideas” like that from former Erie County Legislator Joan Bozer – that of a “solar-powered carousel” on the waterfront.  This wonderful idea works for an average kid for about 3 minutes on a sunny day; then what?  Other luncheon attendees included the Baird Foundation’s Catherine Schweitzer, (at 2:20) who understands that whatever gets built at Canal Side, “don’t do something that reflects, or is a faux treatment of our history, but do it in an authentic way”.   He mentions Tucker Curtin, a restaurateur who wants there to be food and beverage places down there, but Goldman warns, “not too many, but enough to create a nice synergy”.  Also there was an Albright-Knox curator, and someone advocating for “interactive programming”, meaning people walking around in period dress giving historical interpretation.  From 2:54 until about 3:15, Goldman again express how “broad, varied” the attendees and speakers were.  The camera shows middle aged white folk who are already connected to the arts, politics, and local old-money foundations.

4. Goldman complains that all of the above are, “people who have not been talked to”.

5. Three art pieces were specifically commissioned (by whom, for how much?) to make a statement about the waterfront.  These included an art installation made from garbage, a puppet show, and a “soundscape” showing off the sounds of the waterfront. (3:30 – 4:13).

6. The two main speakers included Fred Kent from the Project for Public Spaces, and Goldman’s brother, Tony.  Kent’s mantra: lighter, quicker, cheaper. Tony Goldman was involved with the gentrification of certain neighborhoods in New York City and Miami, where forgotten neighborhoods were revived through an influx of bargain-hunting artists.

7. Tony Goldman takes his brother and others on a tour of the abandoned grain elevators and imagines what could happen there – a mural, bleachers overlooking a light show, all projected or painted onto the elevators themselves.  The emphasis is on what people will “look at” (see, e.g., 7:09 – 7:19).  “It can be a gallery center, it can be a market”.

8. Mark Goldman envisions the inner, outer, and “middle” harbors being linked together by Ohio Street, and they “shouldn’t be developed separately.”  The inner harbor should be a “village”, the middle harbor with grain elevators should be an “arts and industry island” – a national heritage site with a “canyon of art and theater”, then to the outer harbor where Dug’s Dive will spin off with the Freezer Queen plant as a “node of waterfront recreation”.  Then “the rest will fill in”.

9. Goldman specifically thanks the Rupp Family Foundation, Baird Foundation, Citizens for Common Sense, Partners for a Livable Western New York.

Now, take another look at WNYMedia’s own video about the Canal project, made in 2007.

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There will be an ECHDC open house / meeting as follows.  I urge you to attend:

·        Wednesday, November 24, 2010, 10:00-12:00 p.m.

The sessions will be held at the offices of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, 95 Perry St., Suite 500, Buffalo, NY 14203. There is free, two-hour parking on Mississippi St. on the side of the building.

Anyone who is interested in presenting their ideas to ECHDC, but is unable to attend one of the public sessions is encouraged to contact:

Erich Weyant, Assistant Director, Communications

Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.
95 Perry St., Suite 500, Buffalo, NY  14203
716.846.8258
716.846.8262 fax
eweyant@empire.state.ny.us

Read Part 2 here

Imagineering® Buffalo’s Waterfront: Part 2

24 Nov

By now, you’ve watched this video and read what I’ve pulled out from it.

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And you’ve hopefully watched our own 3 year-old video.

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And make sure your voice is heard:

·        Wednesday, November 24, 2010, 10:00-12:00 p.m.

The sessions will be held at the offices of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, 95 Perry St., Suite 500, Buffalo, NY 14203. There is free, two-hour parking on Mississippi St. on the side of the building.

Anyone who is interested in presenting their ideas to ECHDC, but is unable to attend one of the public sessions is encouraged to contact:

Erich Weyant, Assistant Director, Communications

Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.
95 Perry St., Suite 500, Buffalo, NY  14203
716.846.8258
716.846.8262 fax
eweyant@empire.state.ny.us

Back to the post…

When Goldman complains that the Canal Side process must be democratic and inclusive, he implies that it hasn’t been up until now.  That’s quite clearly false both in fact and in perception. In fact, democratically elected leaders created the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC), funded it, and empowered it to help develop Buffalo’s inner harbor area. At the time of its creation, development of the inner harbor was non-existent.  It had been several years since the “exploding rocks” debacle that Pataki and Empire State Development helped bring about, and there was neither activity there, nor funding for it.  Since then, the ECHDC has solicited and received public input several times.  A deal with the New York Power Authority funded ECHDC, and a modification of that deal funded it even more.

In Goldman’s video, the word “inclusion” gets thrown around a lot.  But in analyzing what’s going on in those videos, inclusion appears only to have so many definitions and sources.  Goldman’s process is devoid of people of color, average Joes, or  suburbanites.  Only the usual activist cliques, arts promoters, foundation heads, and other typical Elmwood, Parkside, Allentown folks were deemed worthy of input.  Starting at 1:15, Goldman discusses the rationale behind his “Inspirations and Aspirations” event, and some of the speakers are shown.  Older white males, all.

And that luncheon – what a damning self-indictment of this entire movement.  How can you whine about a lack of inclusiveness by hosting an exclusive gathering of Buffalo VIPs?  Were you or I invited to speak to that group and provide our points of view?  Has anyone “talked to” you?  The entire Goldman movement is operating under a preconceived conclusion, and the “process” is being jury rigged to reach it.

And since when does Buffalo’s west side intelligentsia need an engraved invitation from anyone to talk to someone?  Hell, when Chris Smith and I attended Monday’s ECHDC public hearing, we went in after another meeting had just broken up – a meeting that Mark Goldman attended. Artists, curators and teachers and librarians, and businesspeople should all be heard about the waterfront, if they wish to be.  So should parents and car engine manufacturers and construction laborers and plumbers and financial analysts and waiters and deli counterpeople.  No one group has any monopoly on community input – no one group gets to say it speaks on behalf of the community at large.  Only ECHDC can make that claim, since it is created by, and appointed by the people’s duly elected representatives.

We can put in all the solar powered carousels and wind powered ferris wheels and nuclear powered bumper cars we want at the waterfront, but how does that fit in with this group’s other main bugaboo – that of ensuring not faux or fake, but “authentic” history?

Ten years ago, Canal Side was made up of parking lots, the mothballed Aud, the Skyway, the Donovan Building, and more parking.  There was nothing there of an historic nature, except remains that might be excavated.  By definition, all canals are “faux” – they’re faux rivers, artificial waterways.  Even if one was to remove the Hamburg Drain, you’d still have a canal to nowhere. Since the old canal district was long ago demolished, everything that goes there will, by its very definition, be “faux”.  Let’s get over that.

The “middle harbor” where some grain elevators still supply General Mills, and others lie dormant – rusting hulks representing a massive collection of environmental hazards – I don’t understand the burning need to preserve these things.  If they are no longer used, perhaps we could tear them down.  Their presence and age alone do not justify keeping them, nor do they justify preservation by virtue of their ties to Buffalo’s history as a lake port.  Ohio Street from runs along a particularly sad stretch of properties, and some sort of artistic neighborhood, if it is to happen, should happen “organically”, and there’s nothing preventing that from happening now.  Its ongoing uselessness is underscored by its emptiness. There’s no demand for anything there, probably due to the incredible costs associated with maintaining, renovating, or demolishing what’s there now.

You can’t advocate for organic growth within the context of imposing top-down planning decisions for that area.  The hypocrisy at play here is palpable.

The foundations – Baird and Rupp being specifically cited – are shadowy, minimally transparent organizations that wield disproportionately huge, unaccountable power in this town.  No one elects them, no one hires them – they just grant money to worthy organizations or the trustees’ friends.  The foundations run the nonprofits in this town – that’s Buffalo’s version of capitalist entrepreneurs running businesses.

At Monday’s public hearing, there were several who spoke, asking the ECHDC for inclusion of their pet projects or issues, including solar-powered carousels, the elimination of parking,  a bicycle-friendly environment, and the raising of a 200 year-old schooner from the lakebed at a cost of $2 million, and installing it in a tank at the site of the Aud (the weight of which would prohibit a parking garage underneath).

All of these people and groups claim to be speaking for “the” community – but they don’t.  They speak for “a” community.  If you want “organic” growth and bottom-up planning, then you can’t come up with pie-in-the-sky impositions of your top-down vision that’s been vetted only by a small group of people who are exactly like you in almost every way.  Organic growth comes about organically – whereby the ECHDC creates an atmosphere and infrastructure that is conducive to that growth.  You cobble the streets, install utilities, zone it, create a stringent building design/architectural standard for developers to follow, solicit bids, and possibly create a sales-tax free zone, together with other available incentives and let whoever come in and build something.  If someone can pull together the money and resources to raise a ship and place it in the Aud, then he can do so.  If someone wants to lease or buy land to install a solar powered carousel, then they can do so.  If someone wants to put in a tchotchke shop, then they should be free to do so – but in the end, the state agency should be in charge of enabling growth, and entrepreneurs should be in charge of creating it.

Anything else – whether it be a Benderson shopping plaza or a minutely planned arts district – would be Buffalo’s EPCOT.

(Updated to add a few lines, clean up paragraphs, and fix some spelling)

The Scarmistakedisaster

12 May

Perhaps it’s time to capitulate on the biggest socio-economic issue facing Buffalo and WNY. Perhaps everyone’s right and what plagues this area – promotes urban decay, maintains mediocre schools, chases businesses and residents away, raises our taxes, promotes bad government, gets into petty political pissing matches, spends too much – maybe it’s not the politicians or the policies or the people who vote them in.

It’s clearly the highways.

The plague of the four-lane limited-access highway is clearly what has kept Buffalo down and is the sine qua non of its 50-year decline. If only we could obliterate them all, everything would suddenly be fine and Buffalo would resemble Toronto, London, New York, Boston, and all of those other cities that are both world-class and four-lane-limited-access-highway-free.

It was the removal of the Gardiner, Don Valley, and 427 that led Toronto to become the largest, most vibrant city in Canada. The historic obliteration of the FDR drive led to Manhattan’s rebirth, and the removal of the BQE and Gowanus led directly to Brooklyn’s revival as a boho powerhouse. London got rid of the Westway and suddenly became a thriving metropolis, and Boston. What would Boston be now if they hadn’t gotten rid of the Mass Pike, and Storrow Drive? Thank God they spent 15 years covering up the Central Artery, where there’s now loads of parkland that is enjoyed by literally tens of people. Green space: what if no one came?

In other words, the more people concern themselves with issues of little import, like the location and configuration of access roads into town, the less attention is paid to real issues like bad government, taxes, and crappy schools.

Sort of like how Carl Paladino thinks making it harder for the cops to determine which guns were used in a crime is important to help New York become a better place.

(And I’m not saying the 33 was a great idea or that it shouldn’t be removed. Someday. But let’s stop – just stop – pretending that its downgrading is somehow miraculously going to make Buffalo great again, just like the bermed Route 5 doesn’t hinder a damned thing).

Priority fail.

Southtowns Connector Protest Saturday

13 Sep

You can read all about it here (with a special Jim Ostrowski comment about “socialized roads”). I won’t be going.

If the protesters had any sense of irony, they’d go protest during the height of afternoon rush hour on any given weekday. I’d say 5:15 pm. After all, why not publicize their point of view to the people whom it most directly affects? There aren’t any residents out on the Outer Harbor adversely affected by Route 5. There aren’t any businesses adversely affected by Route 5. The only people affected would be commuters. That’s the only rational target audience.

10am on a Saturday? Total cop-out.

Losing Hope

26 Aug

Mark from All Things Buffalo hangs up his blogging hat, and explains why. The kicker is:

And then Byron Brown wrote the most pathetic letter to Forbes magazine explaining why Buffalo isn’t dying.

I came back and after one day of being downtown I’m already done. Please don’t explain to me all the good things that are happening around here-I’m well aware of them. Its simply too little-and dare I say-too late.

Thank you to all the readers and commenters. I hope you enjoyed the material and even found it informative perhaps.

I never stopped caring. I just stopped hoping.

And Geek chimes in with this spot-on comment:

The difference between Cleveland and Pittsburgh and cities that are booming is the presence of a regional master plan and leaders in the government and business community who are united behind those goals. Here, we engage in bikeshedding. What’s bikeshedding you ask?

Futile investment of time and energy in marginal issues, often including annoying propaganda while more serious issues are being overlooked. The implied image is of people arguing over what color to paint the bicycle shed while the house is not finished.

If that doesn’t describe this town to a fucking “t”, I don’t know what does.

Here, we are run by people like Brown and Casey, who are busy trying to engineer a party-political coup (and failing), or by people like Chris Collins who sweats the small stuff just fine (GPS in cars, running government “like a business”), but doesn’t really have any sort of overall vision for what he wants WNY to become. Brown and Casey are hacky members of a cliquey politburo; Collins is bureaucrat-in-chief.

I still care and I hope, but at this point it would be great positive if we could, as Geek suggests, agree on what we want the region to look like in the future and then work towards that goal. Right now, we have micro-goals of returning 2-way traffic to a block’s worth of Main Street, or extending our one-line rail out a few more miles. Others wax poetic on whether there are quite enough boutiques within which to buy $200 fugly sneakers or $300 designer jeans, as if this were some 1979 remix. There’s no vision here.