Tag Archives: regionalism

The Politics of Resentment

8 Nov

What does the Rob Ford scandal have to do with Erie County politics? At first glance, there are no similarities. 

While Buffalo’s mayor is a mild-mannered, African-American professional who has henchmen and cronies to do his dirty work whilst he is out cutting ribbons, Toronto’s mayor is a blond-haired, 300-pound, lying, crack-smoking drunkard who is as completely in denial as he is out of control and enabled by his own henchmen and cronies

As Buffalo struggles to find its way amidst a storm of population loss, educational crisis, crime, lack of jobs, and crushing poverty, Toronto is now the 4th largest city on the continent and growing. Toronto’s boom over the last 30 years has been amazing to see, and the city has invested in the infrastructure and quality of life changes that attract residents and businesses. It’s as if the Swiss ran New York City. 

Rob Ford, however, would not be mayor of Toronto if that city hadn’t undergone a change in the mid-50s to regional government, culminating in amalgamation in the late 1990s. Rob Ford is a politician who is of, and for, the Toronto suburbs. His home and political base of operations is in the western suburb of Etobicoke (the k is silent), which was dissolved as a separate political entity in 1998 and became part of Toronto. 

Ford’s refusal to resign has to do with his loyal fan base, known as “Ford Nation”. Xenophobic, urbanophobic, and virulently anti-tax, Ford Nation will back Rob and his city councillor brother Doug without question. This constituency sees in them the only hope for reducing government waste and lowering taxes; it is, simply put, a tax revolt cult of personality. 

No longer run by the Swiss, Toronto is instead being run by a loud tea party addict. Rob Ford has the personal cult and conservative anti-tax ethos of a Carl Paladino, the in-your-face obnoxiousness of Chris Christie, and the personal problems of a Marion Barry, Chris Farley, John Belushi, and Artie Lange. 

The City of Buffalo has almost nothing in common with Toronto, except perhaps a Great Lakes locus and climate, and having “City of” preceding its name. Toronto is a world-class city with a booming economy based on knowledge and creativity, while Buffalo is a grande dame-turned -provincial backwater with a struggling economy based on government handouts and nostalgia porn. Amalgamated Toronto has 44 city councillors, each representing about 55,000 residents, and a non-partisan city council, overseeing an $11 billion budget. 

But the lessons Toronto teaches us are the perils of regionalism, and the ugliness of the politics of insular suburban resentment. Rob Ford ran on a platform whereby he attacked former mayor David Miller. Miller was a charismatic Harvard-educated lawyer who cleaned up the lobbying system, rejuvenated Toronto’s waterfront, improved public transit, attacked unaccountable public authorities, demanded that landed immigrants be enfranchised, and made huge investments in public housing, child care, and other civic services. 

But with taxes being spent on social services for inner-city poor, the Ford Nation backlash came in 2010 with Ford’s platform of, “putting people and families first, focusing on the fundamentals, reducing waste and eliminating unnecessary taxes”.  He would do all this without cutting services. 

There’s nothing magical about suburban politicians sowing resentment against inner-city poor. We know that sort of thing all too well in Buffalo.

I’m not a big fan of the suburb/urban divide, and firmly believe that it’s incumbent on everyone to realize that our shrinking, poor region sinks or swims together. Toronto is swimming. At best, Buffalo is treading water. In a storm. Without a life vest. In winter. 

But what we saw on election day this past Tuesday was primarily brought about by one thing – low turnout. For the vast majority of people who aren’t political junkies, Tuesday’s elections were hardly exciting or compelling. Races for sheriff or comptroller don’t bring out the non-prime voters. When you add to the mix the fact that Byron Brown’s conspiracy with the county Republicans to completely ignore Republican Mayoral candidate Sergio Rodriguez helped to depress city turnout, Republican countywide candidates could be guaranteed an anemic Democratic turnout.

This wasn’t a campaign season based on ideas as much as it was based on tactical cynicism. So, Democrats had a bad cycle and will have to endure another year’s worth of concern-trolling from nominal Democrats who actively and passively helped to sabotage Democratic candidates to gain some unknown advantage in an internecine war they could end tomorrow. 

The only mandate anyone can claim based on Tuesday’s election is that people are so unmotivated and uninspired by local politics that 70% of them stayed home. “None of the above” won in a landslide, which allowed flawed incumbents to skate without breaking much of a sweat. 

Who can blame them? Who cares? What’s Stefan Mychajliw going to do? Chase headlines for 1 or 2 more years until he finds himself a promotion. Tim Howard will sit there and wait to collect his pension. The County Legislature will fight with Poloncarz over the small fraction of the county budget over which they have discretion in spending. They will demand more money for suburban roads and less money for things that people in the city count on, like culturals and social services. Our own Ford Nation will cynically deepen further the chasm between the city and suburbs – a chasm that distracts from ways to bridge the joys and richness of city living with the good government and prosperity of the suburbs.

The “us vs. them” mentality rings about resentment and bad policy in Toronto, as it does here. Urbanist philosopher Richard Florida is promoting a governmental “rethink” as he watches Toronto’s mayor embarrass itself with no recourse to deal with the problem. Part of this has to do with the new suburbanization of Canada, 60 years after America’s. Canadian commentators call the anti-urbanist suburban political blocs as the “New Hosers” with hockey commentator Don Cherry as their lord and king. 

Florida says cities succeed when they embrace diversity and creativity. He says that “creativity is the new economy“. He has a point, and Toronto is still growing and thriving in spite of its political problems. Buffalo, by contrast, has a political and regulatory system that stifles growth and creativity. It has a horrible transit system and dumb infrastructure. But most importantly, it is busy looking for silver bullets and attracting outsiders instead of making life better for the people already there. The schools are a Ford-like embarrassment on a daily basis, crime hasn’t been meaningfully addressed, there is no opportunity for poor residents, and jobs are few, far-between, and pay too little to attract talent to town. 

A good start would be a regional vision and plan. One that lifts all boats and reduces achievement gaps and resentment. A good start would be to focus on people’s quality of life and figure how to achieve the bare minimum of what constitutes good government.  Let’s give people good schools, safe streets, and fewer barriers to prosperity and growth. 

Welcome the Eager Student

14 Aug

Suburban school districts should welcome students from failing Buffalo schools whose families care enough about education to do something about it, so long as Buffalo (or some other source ) covers each district’s cost to educate each student. 

It could be the first step towards convincing people that some sort of regionwide district alliance – if not a unified school district – is one of the solutions to be considered to the rising costs of education and reducing administrative and fiscal redundancy. 

Every kid deserves an excellent education, and we can’t ask families to wait around for substandard schools to get better. Districts should welcome motivated and eager students from failing city schools. It’s really as simple as that. The great societal challenge is to get the people who don’t care, to care. Good luck with that. 

Donn Esmonde Is An Ass: Culverts and Charters

11 Aug

Another week, another opportunity for the Buffalo News’ most retired columnist to bring up regionalism and hatred of suburbs. 

Friday

HAHAHAHAHA Donn Esmonde is a card. He wants you to think he’s got a sense of humor via Friday’s column about a bridge in Lancaster that needs fixing, yet no one wants to fix. 

Love me, it cries. Do not forsake me. Do not leave me to fend for myself against rain, sleet, snow and ice.

Help me to help myself. Patch my wounds. Fill my holes.

If concrete and asphalt could talk, these are the pleas this crossing would utter.

It is the cry of an orphan. It needs care, commitment, concern. Yet no one will claim it.

Why, it’s downright Shakespearean, isn’t it? To top it off, he morphs an intergovernmental dispute about whether it’s a bridge or a culvert into a tome on regionalism and abolishing village government. Great. Issue nostalgia

Many of the suburban villages we have – e.g., Williamsville, East Aurora, pay a surtax for the privilege. Recent efforts to abolish the villages and wrap them into the adjacent towns failed; people voted to maintain what they like and know, and to pay more tax. I don’t care – good for them. 

If there was no village government in Lancaster, the town would simply take care of the Erie Street span. One less orphan, one less absurdity.

Point : repetitive argument : restated point. The bridge or culvert or whatever the hell it is will eventually be fixed. Also, if you have two putative parents fighting over whose responsibility the bridge is, it’s not an orphan. So, dumb metaphor, too.  

Sunday

Oh, God, not the schools again. Esmonde returns to whitesplain to everyone why the schools in Buffalo are failing. As best I can manage, here are the points he makes: 

1. State Education Commissioner John King was speaking directly to Donn Esmonde when he “lashed out” last week in a “conference call with the Buffalo News editorial board” when someone (Donn) pointed to socioeconomic factors to “excuse” Buffalo’s failing schools. (Let’s remind ourselves for a moment that the very best high school in the entire region – public or private – is a Buffalo public school). 

2. Esmonde spends a paragraph fending off strawmen, insisting that Buffalo teachers are good – just as good as those in the suburbs! 

3. Donn then attacks state testing, which is “one size fits all” and unfairly judges inner-city districts. We also spend a little time hearing about how bad the teachers’ union (of which Esmonde’s wife is a member & he fails – again – to disclose, although he does bother to mention that she is a “nonclassroom” Buffalo teacher) is, and how it’s perfectly reasonable to require professional teachers with masters degrees to also play janitor and clean up after their kids have breakfast in the classroom, rather than a cafeteria. Maybe if his wife was in a classroom and being asked to clean up breakfast, he’d have a different opinion of the policy. 

4. Charter schools are great, because they enable kids without special needs who come from parents who care to escape the kids from homes where parents don’t care, and to get a better education – i.e., Donn thinks charter schools are great because they help to provide certain kids a suburban school experience in a non-suburban environment. As much as Donn hates the suburbs, it’s clear that he loves everything about them, except location.  

5. Some parents just don’t care. 

I have heard countless stories – and seen a few myself – of houses where kids are barely spoken to, much less read to. Where there is not a book to be seen, including a coloring book. Where a blaring TV doubles as a baby sitter. Where kids grow up without leaving the neighborhood, much less going on a vacation. What ought to be seen as a national crisis is instead shrugged off as a fact of life.

But ignoring reality does not make it go away.

“Failing” urban schools, to my mind, are largely a symptom of a society that essentially warehouses its poor and broken families in inner cities. The concentration of poverty and problems only intensifies the dysfunction.

Here’s the thing about the “warehousing” argument. Our society doesn’t warehouse anyone anywhere. What our society does is provide some people with a choice, and others with none. To use the term “warehousing” is, first and foremost, offensive beyond measure – people warehouse goods, and to say society “warehouses” people is to reduce those people to little more than chattel.

I don’t think that’s a reasonable or fair thing to do – to literally dehumanize an entire population to assuage one’s conscience. It’s completely backwards. Someone genuinely concerned about the socioeconomic plight of people in the inner city would likely choose a different terminology to describe the fact that most of our poorest and least privileged fellow citizens are caught in a spiral of poverty, family crisis, crime, and economic despair. They’re not chattel – they’re people in desperate need of help. Calling them things isn’t helping them. 

And who better knows the plight of the inner city than a white baby boomer surrounded by people just like him. As much resentment as Esmonde has for suburbanites, he is guilty of everything he hates about them – choosing to live in and around people with a similar way of life. 

“Warehousing” implies that someone has made a conscious decision or grand plan to place people in the inner city. It’s not that – it’s that other people exercised a choice to leave that location. The great challenge is to help lift up the people left behind, not to reduce them to things. 

6. Here’s more misguided suburbophobia: 

The roadblocks of home and car ownership, along with high rents and little lower-income housing, have for decades barred poor people – many of them minorities – from upscale suburbs and their schools, which predictably are not on any “failing” list. It is not mainly a matter of “better” superintendents, principals and teachers. It is because those schools are filled with the offspring of higher-income, college-educated parents. It’s a built-for-test-success clientele. If you are blind to that reality, whether your name is John King or John Doe, I think you are missing the larger picture.

Reformers from regionalism guru David Rusk to economic-integration advocate Richard Kahlenberg say the only way the school dynamic changes is by lightening urban America’s load of poor people. That happens either by busing kids to economically balanced schools, or by building more mixed-income housing in the ’burbs. I don’t see either happening here anytime soon. The walls already are up, and they’re high.

Just because the barriers are invisible does not mean they do not exist. Those “walls” explain a lot, for those who can get their minds off of test scores.

Right. This is why Esmonde went out of his way to advocate for disinvestment in Clarence schools. So deep and burning is his hatred and resentment, he wants to systematically make the suburbs less desirable by doing harm to the people who live there.  And their kids. But the people “warehoused” in the inner city – he cares about them, despite the fact that the per-pupil rate of spending in those poorer districts is almost double that of Clarence. 

Successful people with good educations place a high value on education and work hard to make sure their kids get a good one, too. Let’s assume (a complete fallacy, but whatever) that every family in WNY started out in Buffalo. Some choose to keep their kids in the regular public schools. Some want their kids to go to a charter, or maybe a parochial or private school. Some decide to move to a particular neighborhood to get a shot at a particular school. How the hell is that different from moving to Amherst?

And Esmonde capitulates on the never-uttered notion that many inner-city poor people want their kids to do better and have things that they themselves could never have. He rejects by omission any notion of social mobility – the American dream itself. You want to talk about prejudice and racism, which is the oft-silent undercurrent of Esmonde’s suburbophobia? How about the fact that you “warehouse” yourself with other white professionals in a particular part of the city, and reject even the notion that your poorer counterparts could want better? Notice he’s talking about the test scores Albany wants, and throws up his hands and complains about the poor that we “warehouse”. He never suggests that any affected families want better, or are doing what they can with nothing. And what of the teachers? Seems as if Esmonde takes a very complicated equation, dumbs it down, and denigrates teachers and poor families as hopelessly stuck. 

His answer is to invoke David Rusk (again) and that the government impose a Stalinist master plan with quotas and governmental orders as to who can live where. Bus inner-city kids to the suburbs, because every kid will excel with a 2 hour daily commute, right? And force those mean suburbanites to relocate to the inner city (of course, white people who “warehouse” themselves within walking distance of the Bidwell Farmer’s Market or Spot Coffee would be exempt). 

Donn Esmonde is such a disingenuous, hypocritical Ass.™ 

One Region Forward – Likely Without You

30 Jan

Last night, something called the “Community Congress” as part of a new regional planning effort called “One Region Forward” was held at Babeville. First I heard of it was when I started seeing pictures and Tweets about it as it was going on.

Admittedly, this is partly my own fault, since both the Buffalo News and Buffalo Rising had regurgitated key points from its press release in the last week, but regionalism and regional planning are things that I’m extremely interested in – I think it’s a huge component of what may be WNY’s improvement, if not renaissance. 

So, given that I pay at least marginally more attention to this stuff than the average person, I was genuinely disappointed that I knew nothing about it, and had no idea that it was going on. It was, however, well-attended, so that’s why I’m so surprised. One way the effort could have gotten the word out would have been to follow lots of people on Twitter – the moment you get followed by a local regionalism congress, chances are you’d check it out. Instead, as of this morning, it’s following 39 people. On Facebook, it has a paltry 208 followers.  That’s a crappy job getting the word out, if you ask me. Given that we have more marketing, PR, and social media experts per capita than we deserve, this is amazing to me.

UPDATE: I learned today that no one at the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation knew about it at all. 

So, what’s this all about? 

 One Region Forward is an effort to better plan how we grow or shrink western New York through a collaborative process; a way to reduce wasteful sprawl without population growth that wastes resources and empties existing communities, rather than trying to repair or reverse their stressors. It is a huge issue that is fraught with difficulty related to racism and classism. From the press release, 

The regional vision will help guide development of One Region Forward, an initiative aimed at ensuring long-term economic prosperity, environmental quality, and community strength across the two counties and 64 municipalities of the Buffalo Niagara Region.

“We will face enormous challenges as a region in the 21st century,” Hal Morse, executive director of the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council said. “Where we work, how we get around, what kind of neighborhoods we live in, and many other aspects of our daily lives – even where we get our food and water – will be under pressure. One Region Forward is about repositioning our assets to support long-term sustainable growth and development.”

The One Region Forward effort is building on a series of recent planning initiatives aimed at reviving the Buffalo Niagara economy, reducing our regional “carbon footprint,” regenerating core cities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls, developing the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, and growing the University at Buffalo, among others.

“We’re not starting from scratch,” Howard A. Zemsky, chair of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, a leading partner in the effort, and co-chair of the Regional Economic Development Council, said. “Our commitment is to make sure that all the plans for our region are working toward the same ends.”

Discussions at the Community Congresses will build on recent planning work in the region – not just the Regional Economic Development Council strategy, the “Buffalo Billion,” the Buffalo Green Code, and others – but others including more than 160 regional, municipal, and special purpose plans throughout Buffalo Niagara.

“We’ve read all of these plans and abstracted a series of statements about what values are common across them – statements about economic development, parks and recreation, transportation, housing and neighborhoods, climate change, water resources, food access, and more,” continued Shibley

“It will be up to citizens participating in the Community Congresses to tell us whether or not we got these right,” Shibley added, “and how we have to change them if we didn’t.”

Based on this direction from the general public, detailed implementation strategies will be developed by a series of working teams on land use and economic development, housing and neighborhoods, transportation, food systems, and climate change mitigation and adaptation. A subsequent Community Congress will review these strategies later in 2013. Further work will produce a Regional Plan for Sustainable Development, a document that will give our region priority status for funding opportunities today and into the future.

One Region Forward will develop more than just a plan, it will build capacity and tools to support local decision-making, conduct public education activities, and launch implementation campaigns for prototypical projects around key issues such as redevelopment of suburban retail strips, strengthening village Main Streets, or rejuvenating urban neighborhoods.

The effort is led by a broad-based steering committee that includes representatives from both counties; mayors and supervisors from across the region, the cities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls, major community based organizations, major public agencies in housing, education, and transportation, and the leading business sector organization in the region.

One Region Forward is funded by a highly competitive, first-of-its kind, $2M federal grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as part of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities Initiative, an interagency partnership among HUD, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority is administering the program through our region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council.

 One Region Forward is sponsored by the following entities: Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council (GBNRTC), Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA), Erie County, Niagara County, City of Buffalo, City of Niagara Falls, Association of Erie County Governments, Niagara County Supervisors Association, University at Buffalo Regional Institute and Urban Design Project (UBRI/UDP), Daemen College Center for Sustainable Communities and Civic Engagement (CSCCE), VOICE Buffalo, Local Initiatives Support Corporation Buffalo (LISC), The John R. Oishei Foundation, Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC), Belmont Housing Resources for WNY, Inc. (Belmont), Buffalo Niagara Partnership (BNP), Empire State Development, Niagara County Department of Social Services, and Niagara Falls Housing Authority.

There will be a second congress held in the Niagara Falls Conference Center on Saturday February 2nd from 2pm – 4pm.  

[From the Vault] Regionalism: Time to Party Like it’s 1999

25 May

photo.JPGI’ve heard it said that Buffalo is where good ideas go to die. I don’t think of it like that.

Buffalo is where good ideas are made to inhale chloroform, dragged around to the back of the abandoned house, and murdered by status-quo driven self-interest.

Buffalo in 2011 (and 2012) is besotted with the same problems, the same issues, the same concerns, and – strikingly – the same debates it had a decade ago.  Save one.

Regionalism.

Regionalism was murdered in 2005 after being debilitated by people who have an interest in maintaining the status quo, and then unintentionally killed by a politically beleaguered Joel Giambra; it was manslaughter.  After all, during the last few years of his 16th floor Rath Building tenancy, Joel Giambra was political poison. If he was for pink bunny rabbits and sun-shiny days, polls would show that 20% of WNYers agreed with him, while 70% hated bunnies and sunshine, and a further 10% didn’t know.

But as wrong as Joel Giambra was about a lot of things, he was right about one – that western New York needed to seriously consider the implementation of regional, metropolitan government. The champion of this idea was Kevin Gaughan.

Gaughan recognized that regionalism – a concept whose entry in the regional socio-economic-political discussion began through a forum held in 1997 at the Chautauqua Institution – was a non-starter due to its support from, and association with the toxic Giambra.  He turned his attention to another crusade – the “Cost“, which studied and determined that we ought to remedy a symptom of too many governments in WNY – i.e., too many politicians and appointees – and begin eliminating villages and downsizing town boards and other legislatures.  That has been met with some success, more failure, and bypasses the disease itself.

Yet those familiar with the internet’s Way Back Machine can still access Gaughan’s arguments for regional metropolitan government.

One of the opinions I’m most known for is the idea that county government ought to be abolished. It was done in 1997 in Massachusetts, which recognized that county government largely adds no value to the work already done by cities, towns, villages, and – most importantly – the state.

We have so many redundant and needless governments in western New York that the regional is factionalized and fragmented.  The Balkanization of western New York helps ensure that there is no unified plan – with a set vision, and a series of distinct goals – for moving a region into a 21st century reality.

We rely on the Sabres and the Bills to keep convincing ourselves that this is a major league city. It isn’t. Our infrastructure planning assumed that the City of Buffalo and Erie County would grow to a population of over 2 million people. It hasn’t; it’s shrunken. People clamor for change, yet moan about its actual implementation. As if by abolishing a village government you abolish the village itself and displace its people.

We are the ultimate hoarders; hoarders of pointless governmental entities that add no value to the civic equation. Why? Could it be as simple as my hypothesis – that there are too many people dependent on the maintenance of the status quo to permit change to be implemented?

It’s time for us, the people of Erie County and western New York, to start talking again about looking forward.  The governmental number and structure of the 50s needs to change, or this region will continue to decline.  The age of industry has given way to the age of knowledge and information.

The city of Toronto, Ontario is a municipal entity comprising over 2 million people. It has a directly elected mayor and a unicameral legislature made up of 44 councilmembers representing a geographical constituency. In 1998, Toronto and six surrounding municipalities joined, making up the amalgamated Metro Toronto. Buffalo also has a changed demographic reality, one that could do with some radical change.  You mean to tell me that 45 elected officials to handle a population of 900,000 isn’t doable? Western New York has 45 separate and distinct governments, comprised of well over 300 elected officials.

This is the first in a series, and it’s my hope that we can re-spark this discussion and come up with ways to implement and design this new reality for western New York. I sincerely think that by making this switch to metropolitan government is the best chance for lurching us out of a 50s growth & infrastructure mentality that has been an anachronism for decades. This is an idea that will be fought tooth & nail by those who benefit from our stagnated status quo, but some of their points will be valid and need to be addressed.  I hope to conclude with an action plan that will enable people to lobby, advocate, agitate, and cajole for this idea.

Downsize? Let’s downsize from 45 to 1.

Sometimes, old forgotten ideas are worth reviving.  Let’s do that.

The foregoing article was first published on March 8, 2011. Unfortunately, it didn’t really become a “series”, and that’s my own fault. Maybe by re-publishing it here, thanks to the archives of my old 2006 – 2011 posts that is now back online, I’ll remind myself further to pursue this line of thought and debate. 

Two Stupid Twitter Arguments

18 Aug

Two of the dumbest arguments broke out in Buffalo’s Twittersphere yesterday afternoon, and it all started with this simple question:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/nateatsbuffalo/status/103922579991048192″%5D

The suggestions came in fast: San Marco, Siena, Trattoria Aroma, Carmine’s – people came up with helpful ideas almost instantaneously; Twitter is all about instant gratification in 140 characters.

Then came this:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/nxtARROWpres/status/103922814737846272″%5D

Twitter is also all about seeing stuff that makes you shake your head in astonishment.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/nateatsbuffalo/status/103923543850487808″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103924656817442816″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/nateatsbuffalo/status/103926644858826752″%5D

I think you see where this is going. It’s another 2005 vintage suburbs vs. city online argument, in this case begun by a self-described “city snob” who remains deliberately ignorant of the suburbs; someone whose business is to attract entrepreneurs to the region.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/nxtARROWpres/status/103924047670284288″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/nxtARROWpres/status/103926170134913024″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103926404403560448″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/nxtARROWpres/status/103926531218350080″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103926640035368960″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/nxtARROWpres/status/103927278907555840″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103927558369837056″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103927715274559490″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/nxtARROWpres/status/103928095920226305″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/nxtARROWpres/status/103928674981642240″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103928615326064640″%5D

It went on and on from there, and I tried to redirect the conversation with this:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103929636001546240″%5D

But @nxtARROWpres kept trying to backtrack and change the subject to how sprawl “kills” and how ignorant and insensitive suburbanites are. He called for MetroRail to be expanded for the sole purpose of bringing suburbanites downtown to see all of the city’s cultural wonders, ignoring the fact that an improved Metro system would also help city dwellers reach jobs located in the ‘burbs.

So, argument #1 was a group of people rebutting some vividly ignorant views on regionalism. Thanks to @nateatsbuffalo, @buffalucci, @edwardmichael, and @speljamr for fighting the good fight. Regional cooperation trumps dumb city/suburb cleaves every day.

Ah, but I promised two dumb arguments.

In the midst of all of this, “@BuffaloRach” tweeted this:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/BuffaloRach/status/103932240349761536″%5D

Now, let me be clear – I had given @nateatsbuffalo the San Marco and Aroma suggestions. I didn’t jack the thread – @nxtARROWpres did, never giving a suggestion thanks to his deliberate ignorance of all things suburbs. Furthermore, I haven’t argued with @nxtARROWpres on Twitter for literally months, about anything. So, I thought @BuffaloRach was out of line and full of crap, so I defended myself. That’s when, for the second time in as many weeks, I got this argument:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103932500170113024″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/BuffaloRach/status/103932695117176832″%5D

There’s this meme that’s started in town about how I react to the opinions of others. Essentially, it breaks down like this:

a. Someone writes something stupid;

b. I argue with the person, inviting them to defend their stupid statement;

c. I am accused of not respecting the opinions of others.

That’s not how it works. If you write or think something stupid, you don’t just get to do so without challenge.

Hey, Obama is a socialist! Thank you for your opinion!

Hey, the suburbs suck and the city is the greatest! Let’s agree to disagree and not discuss this at all!

No.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/BuffaloRach/status/103935144959803392″%5D

What does that even mean?

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103935528927379456″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/BuffaloRach/status/103935725514399744″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103936118654906368″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103936282853523456″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103936696478998528″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/BuffaloRach/status/103936480673665025″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/BuffaloRach/status/103936939664748544″%5D

Again, it went on from there. Now, I was using Twitter to argue a deeply existential argument about our very region – the political, economic, and social future of Buffalo and WNY hinges, I think, on government consolidation, regional government, and the city and suburbs working together. That is extremely important to me, and here I am arguing with somebody who thinks I shouldn’t argue on Twitter because it annoys her that I don’t just instantly roll over for stupid opinions.

If the topic is “Twitter threads that annoy me”, I should go ballistic every night of every fall, winter, and spring with idiotic and facile one-word-Sabres Tweets as people watch hockey – stuff that belongs on an IRC chat, not for the public’s benefit. If the topic is “Twitter threads that annoy me”, I should call out the little PR/social media expert Twitter cliques that like to prove what great friends they are and what fantastic social lives they have as they make plans – in public, on Twitter – to meet for drinks and food after work – stuff that belongs in a text message, not for the public’s benefit.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103952753679810560″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103941811655028737″%5D

So, to recap:

1. Arguments about how the city sucks and the suburbs are great, and vice-versa, are idiotic and counterproductive. They are damaging to the region as a whole, which needs to work together to move forward;

2. When I am confronted with a stupid argument, such as the one shown in number 1, supra, please don’t tell me what I can and can’t argue about, or that I’m wrong to not just roll over and quietly accept other people’s dumb opinions; and

3. If you have a bad Twitter habit like making plans for drinks on the patio of the Mansion with your Twique every other day, and otherwise using a public platform for your private conversations, don’t hammer me for my bad Twitter habit of engaging in arguments about important political, economic, or social issues.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/BuffaloRach/status/103950207305265152″%5D

Thanks!

Regionalism: Time to Party Like it’s 1999

8 Mar
Erie County Hall. Buffalo NY

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve heard it said that Buffalo is where good ideas go to die.

I don’t think of it like that. Buffalo is where good ideas are made to inhale chloroform, dragged around to the back of the abandoned house, and murdered by status-quo driven self-interest.

Buffalo in 2011 is besotted with the same problems, the same issues, the same concerns, and – strikingly – the same debates it had a decade ago.  Save one.

Regionalism.

Regionalism was murdered in 2005 after being debilitated by people who have an interest in maintaining the status quo, and then unintentionally killed by a politically beleaguered Joel Giambra; it was manslaughter.  After all, during the last few years of his 16th floor Rath Building tenancy, Joel Giambra was political poison. If he was for pink bunny rabbits and sun-shiny days, polls would show that 20% of WNYers agreed with him, while 70% hated bunnies and sunshine, and a further 10% didn’t know.

But as wrong as Joel Giambra was about a lot of things, he was right about one – that western New York needed to seriously consider the implementation of regional, metropolitan government. The champion of this idea was Kevin Gaughan.

Gaughan recognized that regionalism – a concept whose entry in the regional socio-economic-political discussion began through a forum held in 1997 at the Chautauqua Institution – was a non-starter due to its support from, and association with the toxic Giambra.  He turned his attention to another crusade – the “Cost“, which studied and determined that we ought to remedy a symptom of too many governments in WNY – i.e., too many politicians and appointees – and begin eliminating villages and downsizing town boards and other legislatures.  That has been met with some success, more failure, and bypasses the disease itself.

Yet those familiar with the internet’s Way Back Machine can still access Gaughan’s arguments for regional metropolitan government.

One of the opinions I’m most known for is the idea that county government ought to be abolished. It was done in 1997 in Massachusetts, which recognized that county government largely adds no value to the work already done by cities, towns, villages, and – most importantly – the state.

We have so many redundant and needless governments in western New York that the regional is factionalized and fragmented.  The Balkanization of western New York helps ensure that there is no unified plan – with a set vision, and a series of distinct goals – for moving a region into a 21st century reality.

We rely on the Sabres and the Bills to keep convincing ourselves that this is a major league city. It isn’t. Our infrastructure planning assumed that the City of Buffalo and Erie County would grow to a population of over 2 million people. It hasn’t; it’s shrunken. People clamor for change, yet moan about its actual implementation. As if by abolishing a village government you abolish the village itself and displace its people.

We are the ultimate hoarders; hoarders of pointless governmental entities that add no value to the civic equation. Why? Could it be as simple as my hypothesis – that there are too many people dependent on the maintenance of the status quo to permit change to be implemented?

It’s time for us, the people of Erie County and western New York, to start talking again about looking forward.  The governmental number and structure of the 50s needs to change, or this region will continue to decline.  The age of industry has given way to the age of knowledge and information.

The city of Toronto, Ontario is a municipal entity comprising over 2 million people. It has a directly elected mayor and a unicameral legislature made up of 44 councilmembers representing a geographical constituency. In 1998, Toronto and six surrounding municipalities joined, making up the amalgamated Metro Toronto. Buffalo also has a changed demographic reality, one that could do with some radical change.  You mean to tell me that 45 elected officials to handle a population of 900,000 isn’t doable? Western New York has 45 separate and distinct governments, comprised of well over 300 elected officials.

This is the first in a series, and it’s my hope that we can re-spark this discussion and come up with ways to implement and design this new reality for western New York. I sincerely think that by making this switch to metropolitan government is the best chance for lurching us out of a 50s growth & infrastructure mentality that has been an anachronism for decades. This is an idea that will be fought tooth & nail by those who benefit from our stagnated status quo, but some of their points will be valid and need to be addressed.  I hope to conclude with an action plan that will enable people to lobby, advocate, agitate, and cajole for this idea.

Downsize? Let’s downsize from 45 to 1.

Sometimes, old forgotten ideas are worth reviving.  Let’s do that.

Reading, PA as Laboratory

3 Mar

In case you missed this story on last night’s NBC Nightly News:

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Learning Massachusetts’ Lessons

6 Feb
Massachusetts coat of arms.png

We Could Learn a Thing or Two

This is an extraordinarily significant article. Massachusetts, a Northeast liberal bastion if ever there was one, taxes its people far, far less than New York. The Buffalo News’ Tom Precious likens the commonwealth’s Proposition 2 1/2 to Cuomo’s current tax-cap proposal.

How has that shaken things out in the 30 years since Massachusetts property taxes have been limited in growth?

“I can’t remember the last time I talked about anyone’s property taxes,” said Carl Bradford, a retired financial planner whose large colonial home sits a couple miles from the New York border. His property tax bill is at least a third less than that of a comparable home across the border.

Bradford looked a bit confused when asked if property taxes ever made him think about retiring elsewhere.

“It’s never occurred to me,” Bradford said as he cleaned snow off a neighbor’s car one recent day.

His house in western Massachusetts — a mostly rural area but a cultural mecca, especially in the summertime — is worth nearly $600,000. His tax bill is about $4,500.

Just 45 minutes away, in the Albany suburbs, the owner of a house worth half as much is likely to pay nearly twice as much in property taxes.

We can talk about our culturals, preservation of old buildings, and a sense of place all day and night, but the bottom line is that people won’t come here, participate in our economy, and enable us to do all of those wonderful things until and unless the political and taxation climate in New York is fundamentally altered.  Luckily, we’ve just elected a governor who not only promised to do that, but is actually doing so, and has the political capital to get it accomplished.

But how has Massachusetts compensated?  Have services been reduced to something resembling Alabama or New Hampshire?  Do they have a high sales tax?  Nope. They changed their culture.  They adapted.  They learned.

Critics say it reduced services, especially in the early years, in such areas as public education before the state stepped in during the early 1990s with more money for school districts.

But Massachusetts also has undergone a tax attitude change.

Soon after the limit was imposed, more fire agencies and schools merged. Some villages got rid of their local police departments. By the end of the 1990s, county governments — which cannot impose their own separate sales tax — were all but abolished, except for providing a few services such as running jails. Unlike New York, where property owners can receive separate bills for county, municipal and school taxes, Massachusetts residents receive a single bill.

The limit has affected other taxation.

In 1980, Massachusetts had the nation’s second highest state and local tax burden, only slightly behind New York.

By 2008, Massachusetts was number 23 — at $3,600 per capita.

By comparison, New York, at $4,850 per capita, ranked second and was waging a pitched battle against New Jersey for first place, according to U.S. Census data compiled by the Tax Foundation.

New York has the sixth highest sales taxes, while Massachusetts is number 31.

Let’s learn from others’ successes, not repeat our own failure.