Tag Archives: conceit

Esmonde’s Conceit Bucket

4 Aug

Donn Esmonde wrote a very nice story about how people are moving into dilapidated buildings in rough parts of the West Side and gentrifying them; they’re taking an interest in their properties, fixing them up, keeping them up, and otherwise reversing blight. This is a great thing, and there’s no need to cast aspersions against anyone, right?  No need to call anyone out, except perhaps for the formerly negligent property owners.

But Esmonde can always find a villain – he has to, because it’s easy. It’s funny because it’s usually a personal conceit, packed with poignant irony (how many typical Esmondian anti-parking screeds has he penned against the News’ fugly surface lot on Scott St.?), so he writes this:

They are not yuppies looking to gentrify. They are working-class folks eager to stabilize a multicultural neighborhood. The light of true believers is in their eyes. The energy and commitment are typical of the new-homeowner posse.

So what if they were “yuppies looking to gentrify”? People with cash who drive BMWs  installing Poggenpohl kitchens would be a bad thing in a rough, abandoned city neighborhood? If the gentrifiers were suburban folks looking to return to the city, would that be okay?

It’s like Esmonde’s writing is always just a facile bundle of conceits wrapped around a story that shouldn’t have been controversial at all.  Oh, this gentrification is okay because they’re “working-class” people.  Are they? One is a massage therapist, which is an allied health profession, and the other is a teacher, who gets great benefits and has a distinctly white-collar job. Neither of them works the third shift at Carborundum or the Tonawanda engine plant.

Did you also notice that the owners of the dilapidated homes all “fled to the suburbs”? Did he poll the neighborhood? Did he look it up at the clerk’s office? Is he sure they didn’t possibly move away from the area altogether? Or to a different part of the city? Yet another Esmonde conceit, clumsily hurled without factual basis.

I’ll tell you what – when a neighborhood is characterized as “hot” because the average home price is $80,000, then there’s still a lot of work to do.  We can start by not hurling invective at phantoms.

Buffalo: It Gets Better #buffslogan

11 May

Yesterday morning, Visit Buffalo Niagara (f/k/a the Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors’ Bureau) released its new branding idea for Buffalo.

Buffalo For Real.

According to news reports, this was “developed by a volunteer team of local advertising and marketing executives” and will promote the region’s “architecture, culture, museums and historical sites.”

County Executive Chris Collins has pushed throughout his administration to wrest control of the CVB and install his own hand-picked choices. Not surprisingly, he’s thrilled with their work-product, saying that “Buffalo For Real” is “exactly what this community needs at this point in time…It covers all of the treasures we have.” Drawing a parallel that no one’s ever drawn, he added, “We’re not Disney World. We’re not trying to be Disney World. I look at this branding campaign, and I say maybe I need to go see what this is all about.”

Sites such as the Olmsted Parks, the Roycroft campus in East Aurora and the Darwin Martin House can be powerful magnets for the empty-nesters and the highly educated “bifocal” class that are drawn to architectural and cultural attractions, Gallagher-Cohen said. That also includes travelers interested in gardening and those partial to independent local restaurants…

…”For people in that targeted demographic, we have the Disney World of cultural travel. Among that group, we have something to sell,” Gallagher-Cohen said. “You should come to Buffalo because you can also see Niagara Falls.”

Astonishing as it is to see how Chris Collins will be petulant and combative even when he’s pleased with something, his political ally, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown added, “This campaign pulls that all together…The product is as good as the community we are branding.”

The branding wasn’t done by a professional PR or advertising firm working pursuant to a paid contract. It was done by a committee of volunteers “on a shoestring“. I don’t doubt the professionalism or sincerity of the people who came together to dream this up, but there’s a reason not everything is designed by committee, and there’s a reason why PR and advertising agencies charge clients fees. If the politicians behind Visit Buffalo Niagara were serious about promoting the region in a professional way, they’d likely have solicited pitches for a campaign, and selected and retained their favorite.

There’s a video to accompany and introduce this new branding campaign, too:


It’s beautifully shot and produced. It makes the city look a lot prettier than it generally does. But I hate this video. Viscerally. I hate the Sarah Palin-lite “real America” conceit. I hate the constant repetition of “we were awesome once, we’ll be awesome again” and “we’re right on the cusp of a rebirth” type language. The subtext of that is, of course, that since we’re in an interregnum between periods of past and future greatness, we’re pretty mediocre right now. The plodding narration of what amounts to a long apologia for the region is tired, repetitive, and its content is jejune. Conceits, dull, repetition, a backhanded insult, and chock full of wistful feelings and nostalgia.

I’m so sick of hearing how great and important Buffalo once was, especially when it comes to promoting tourism. Who cares about how good it once was? I want to know what’s good NOW. If you’re someone looking to pop down to Buffalo from the Falls, or a day trip from a city that’s within a 3 or 4 hour radius of here, you need to know what there is to do NOW.

I didn’t like “Sense of Place” when it came out, and this new “Buffalo For Real” video reminds me a lot of the video that Mark Goldman commissioned to promote his personal vision for Buffalo’s waterfront.

In response, Twitter blew up yesterday with proposed slogans for Buffalo that are more appropriate than “Buffalo For Real”. A scan of the #buffslogan hashtag will reveal what was discussed (Buffalo: Like Canada Without the Free Medical; Buffalo: Let’s Pretend it Works), and the movement moved virally eastward, where Rochester-based tweeps came up with #rocslogan. (My entry was: “We Invented Wegmans. You’re Welcome“. Sarcasm and gallows humor is a great way to vent frustration at poor marketing choices and years of political, economic, and social stasis. Naturally, a few people got upset about “poisonous cynicism” and “downers” or “haters“.

Buffalo For Real is stupid. It’s stupid because if you add some punctuation, it becomes a negative slogan. (Buffalo. For Real?) It’s designed to market the region to one specific subset of traveler – old people who like to look at architecture, and to dine out at indy restaurants. It is almost exactly what Brian Castner referred to as the “Donn Esmonde plan” for promoting Buffalo in a piece he wrote about a year ago.

I love Buffalo and I’m an inveterate day-tripper. I have little kids and we don’t much give a crap about looking at buildings, instead preferring to see and do some fun stuff. In Cleveland, we go to the zoo, a museum, and do some shopping/browsing/walking. In Toronto, we go to the ROM, the AGO, the zoo, the CN Tower, and take strolls along Yonge or Queen West or the Kensington Market area. When we visit these types of places, we don’t much consider cities’ past or future greatness. We don’t much consider their political, economic, or social worries, much less pay attention to apologia for them. But if someone told me that a trip to Cleveland is a trip to “real America”, I’d think that to be quite obnoxious and presumptuous, implying that other places aren’t “real” or “authentic”.

Nostalgia and authenticity are what we fall back on to promote this region. Too bad they’re only important to small subsets of locals and travelers alike. A professional, apolitical convention and visitor’s bureau could probably come up with a reasonably effective way to market the region to all sorts of potential travelers, not just the older art ‘n architecture buffs. It’s designed to help the city-based intelligentsia feel good about Buffalo, and promotes the things that they hold dear. Hell, it even excluded our lovely, family-friendly zoo.

I’d also like to know why the CVB’s Twitter account features a picture of “Karen”, the woman who posts its Tweets. Why doesn’t it show something, oh, I don’t know, like Buffalo?!

The whole thing is thrown together and embarrassing. People will continue to visit, but it will mostly be expats and these “cultural tourists” everyone’s trying to attract. People will continue to visit, but it will be in spite of the CVB’s efforts, not because of them.