Tag Archives: mind-set

On Curses and Mind-Sets

12 Jul

It was Dan Shaughnessy, a sports columnist for the Boston Globe, who in 1990 popularized the “Curse of the Bambino” – that the sale of Babe Ruth from Boston to New York was responsible for the Red Sox’ failure to win a World Series – a curse broken in 2004.

In yesterday’s Buffalo News, Denise Jewell Gee suggests that Buffalo has its own curse – she calls it the “Curse of the Grand Announcement”.  It’s a story we’re all familiar with in this town – big announcement, lots of politicians, promises of big things beginning imminently, a lurch into the present. Peace Bridge, Bass Pro, Metro Rail, Bashar Issa, etc.

She’s right, of course.  We often make big announcements before all our ducks are lined up in the correct row, and invariably something goes wrong. Or the right people with the right connections complain effectively enough. Or the money dries up. Or the byzantine environmental regulations are invoked through litigation. Or we give up and crowdsource.

It’s a familiar refrain, but Gee concludes her piece thusly:

The reality is, each of these disappointments has been of our own making. We’ve chased after retail outlets not worth chasing. We’ve fallen for so-called developers whose talk was cheap. We’ve dilly-dallied on decisions until time or money ran out.

Maybe, just maybe, we’ve learned a thing or two from all these letdowns.

We’ve come to recognize that organic progress is far better than big dreams bound to go bust. We’ve learned to celebrate all we have, rather than all that’s planned. We’ve seen that a grand announcement is not nearly as important as a grand opening.

In Boston, 86 years of believing the Red Sox were cursed evaporated with a 2004 World Series win. But that hex mentality never marred the city’s image. Officials even managed to complete a Christian Menn cable bridge along with one of the largest public infrastructure projects in history—despite mismanagement and serious delays in the “big dig” highway project.

In Buffalo, it’s never been a curse. It’s a mind-set. And we’re finally breaking free.

We are? How so? I see no evidence of us breaking free from any mind-set.  If anything, the freshness of the news that there will be no new Peace Bridge is a palpable indication of the strength of that “don’t” mind-set.  The ECHDC is holding what they’re literally calling “crowdsourcing” workshops with respect to the proposed at-grade crossing from the inner to outer harbor. What is going to happen on the Aud and Donovan blocks is still unsettled. The Statler went from Issa to dead to possible floor-by-floor rehabilitation.  The Lafayette Hotel is due a renovation. Maybe. AM&A remains empty. We’re great at dreaming up stuff, bad at implementing it.

So, no. I don’t see any indication that we’re breaking free of any mind-set. If anything, it’s gotten worse.

Which brings me to another point.

Critical thinking and analysis has a place in the local blogosphere and Twitterverse, but when it happens, its practitioners are commonly derided as negative haters. The Bashar Issa fiasco is a perfect example. He came to town with nice clothes, smooth talk, daddy’s money, a lot of debt, no real accomplishments, and said stuff people wanted to hear. New tower! New Statler! Parking under Niagara Square! It turned out he was an Iraqi-Mancunian version of the “monorail” guy from the Simpsons.

Yet we were skeptical and critical, while others were pushing and publishing his BS completely uncritically. It came, therefore, as no surprise that he was sound and fury, signifying nothing. It came as no surprise that he’s now a bankrupt charged with gross negligence and manslaughter.

There’s a lot of snake-oil being sold in town, and there’s too many people around who are desperate for happy things and good news that the claims and promises aren’t vetted, much less criticized.  I see no indication that this is changing. It’s not a question of being “pro” or “con”, by the way. When a certain population in town is against Bass Pro or massive improvements to Route 5 on the Outer Harbor, they are cheered as visionaries, even when they’re quite obviously lying or making stuff up. When a crowdsourcing advocate for “placemaking” comes to town, our public benefit corporation for building out the waterfront is manipulated into taking him seriously and paying him six figures for a Powerpoint made up of fantasies and Google Image Searches. Yet when a different population expresses an opinion about regional development (or lack thereof), they are derided by the first group as haters, suburban malcontents, and ignoramuses.

No, the mind-set isn’t changing. If anything, it’s getting worse.