Tag Archives: Regular Buffalo People

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.