Tag Archives: Manifesto

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.

Spectating the Spectacles

11 Aug

An explanation of my thinking behind the “Regular Buffalo Person’s Manifesto”, composed as a response to an email I received from a member of the Public Accountability Initiative last week.

I read the Quinn interview in Artvoice and the accompanying “ideas” from local luminaries whose opinions are absolutely no more or less valid than mine or yours, and found it to be emblematic, if not a concise distillation of every single thing that’s wrong with Buffalo. Scot Fisher’s idea – that we should find the 21st century’s “Olmsted” and build a park down there. A park. Seriously. Seriously? The problem isn’t that he wants a park – it’s that if he doesn’t get a park, he’ll sue continuously to block anything that isn’t a park.

The irony completely missed by these people is that Olmsted came to Buffalo when entrepreneurs in this town made money, employed people, created wealth, became moneyed elites, supped in clubs, cut deals on golf courses, and hired Olmsted to come design parks.

In Buffalo, we embrace Olmsted and Wright and Richardson – the greats of the late 19th/early 20th century – they came to Buffalo thanks to very tight-knit, wealthy Buffalo elites. Nowadays, we get nothing of the sort – instead we fight it every step of the way. Meanwhile, in Toronto, they have a brand new Gehry building. We could never have that because (a) no one can afford to hire him; and (b) even if we could, the opposition to building something so controversial would be so strong that it just wouldn’t happen.

Buffalo today has almost none of that anymore. The wealth that we have in Buffalo is very concentrated and most of it is out in Spaulding Lake. The city’s elites are long gone, with the wealth generated by great companies that have long gone away replaced instead by those families’ foundations, which are very judicious in funding projects that are favored by the un-moneyed elites in Buffalo, and you know whom I’m talking about.

Perhaps the PAI could do a similar study of the local foundations, who sits on their boards, and who gets their money. I think you’ll find that the foundations’ wealth and the identity of its recipients is just as – if not more – incestuous than the coalitions of “developers, wealthy business leaders”, etc.

Nothing will ever happen on that waterfront because no one is every satisfied, and if they’re not satisfied they’re prepared to sue. The most recent lawsuit is astonishing because the people who brought it are foundation-support-junkies or other elites whose entire existence is founded not on self-generated wealth from business decisions, but from public money or foundation money – handouts, if you will. They believe that _their_ projects are worthy of funding, but heaven forfend we have a “suburban big box mall with surface parking”.

What you’re missing, in other words, is that there is an extant elite class that does battle regularly with the elite class dominating, as you say, ECHDC. In between this clash of elites, we regular people sit getting absolutely nothing. We get to be spectators to a battle royal, fought between rich development types on one hand, and rich foundation babies on the other. It’s a battle between one incestuous clique and another with us in the middle rooting for neither.

I’m sick and tired of being caught in the middle, and sick and tired of people pretending that the foundation babies are somehow more worthy and honest and righteous than any other moneyed elite clique in Buffalo. That’s why the manifesto was written. That’s why we’re turning this into something.

The Coalition of Enough, Already

9 Aug

I was on with Dave Debo on Hardline yesterday to discuss the Regular Buffalo Person’s Manifesto, and had promised to post a link to the Coalition of Enough Already’s Facebook Page. Here it is. Join!