Tag Archives: suburbs

Smart Growth in Village Centers: Tonight

22 Jan

Tonight (Wednesday January 22nd) at the Williamsville South High School Auditorium, (Main near Youngs) join a conversation to discuss “smart growth in village centers”. Discussing how WNY villages are models for sustainable suburban development will be John Norquist, the President of the Congress for New Urbanism, Paul Beyer, the New York State director of Smart Growth, and Brian Kulpa, the Mayor of Williamsville

In light of the recent announcement from Congressman Brian Higgins’ office directing that $3 million in federal highway funding be added to $1 million from the Village of Williamsville to reconfigure Main Street to make it  work better for both pedestrians and vehicle traffic, this will be an interesting and important discussion. The recent improvements in the villages of Hamburg and Orchard Park also serve as reminders that compact, walkable commercial neighborhoods go well with suburban living.

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. 

The City Grill Shootings and What Now for Downtown #Buffalo

16 Aug

According to the Buffalo Police Department’s website, there have been 32 homicides in the City of Buffalo so far this year, not including the tragedy that happened this past weekend outside of City Grill on Main Street in the faintly beating heart of downtown Buffalo. Four people’s lives were taken after a couple of parties got shut down at City Grill, and someone outside fired a 9MM into the crowd. 8 people were shot.

The next morning, Buffalo cheerleaders were wringing their hands over how such a tragedy might play in Amherst, and whether it would harm efforts to revive Buffalo’s downtown – namely, Canal Side. Of course, this was a senseless tragedy that was anything but random. It’s interesting to watch the city police come face-to-face with the “Stop Snitching” ethos that’s so prevalent in the African-American community. Responsible voices cry out, “if you know something, say something!” but in the meantime, the police are busy arresting the wrong guy.

I’m not a cop, nor a sociologist, so I’m not going to criticize the police, or that they have no residency requirement. I’m not going to make snarky comments about Derenda’s first real test as commissioner and how he’s doing. I’m not going to rail against the Brown administration and how it routinely plays down crime statistics. I’m not going to write a tome about how the Black community can make its neighborhoods safer, or better cooperate with police.

Instead, I’m going to focus on the suburb/city split and Canal Side and how this shooting may or may not affect them.

Any suburbanite whose confirmation bias about the perceived safety of downtown Buffalo is strengthened by these shootings needs to take a step back and look at what happened. This was a targeted, reactionary shooting – not something random. Downtown Buffalo is hardly a shooting gallery on a regular basis. If anything, it’s a ghost town – a wasteland peppered with a small handful of bars.

There’s been something of an interesting intersect as to how these shootings are being linked in to the public discord over Canal Side. The Fisher brothers, Tielman, and others want Canal Side to be a parkland or a museum or something else that cannot be called a “mall”, because malls are the absolute worst thing that man ever created, or God ever permitted to exist. The suburbanites who would be expected to patronize such a “mall” are now chattering about how Buffalo is very dangerous, so they’ll spend their money in Cheektowaga instead.

It is a perfect storm of status-quo for Buffalo. One asshole with a 9MM did more to ensure that downtown remain lame than any obstructionist lawsuit or prejudiced suburbanite could ever do.

I made the point on Facebook and Twitter that “The City Grill murders aren’t going to hurt any downtown #Buffalo renaissance. It’s the lack of non-drunken things to fucking do.” One person commented with this:

Babeville (TWO floors of performance venues, independent of each other). Hallwalls. WNY Book Arts Center. (Also the new home of Just Buffalo.) Squeaky Wheel. Starlight Studio. The newly revived library. Washington Market. The Canal museum-y site. The Mansion. The Avant. ChocoLogo. The OTHER chocolate-based place whose name I always confuse with CL, neither of which is the Chocolate Bar. New Era. All the co-op housing I scoffed at when it first opened but is completely filled.

That’s just the last few years and thus does not include CEPA and the rest of the Market Arcade building, Irish Classical, the ongoing restorations to Shea’s, Spot Coffee (as social venue), Old Editions, Mohawk Place (you don’t actually have to drink when you’re there, you know)…

I replied with:

An impressive list, but of those, I don’t think a single one is open past 5pm on any regular basis, and a few of them may stretch the definition of “downtown”.

It went on from there, with Chris Smith arguing that there’s nothing impressive about that list, and

It’s a list of things that are mostly open during the day…several of which are not open to the general public all of the time. It’s a depressingly small list of incremental improvements that have happened over ten years and which serve a very specific demographic group.

Once the argument turned with the person who made the Babeville, et al. suggestions writing,

are any of you haters doing a fucking thing to make downtown better yourselves? If not, allow me to suggest a number of cities where you might be more welcome.

I was out. It’s done. I wrote one sentence decrying the fact that there is nothing to do in downtown Buffalo on a nightly basis that doesn’t involve getting hammered and then driving home, and I get the “what are YOU doing? You should just move!” argument.

Well, what I’m doing is spending my money in other parts of the city, and in the suburbs, and other places where there are things to do. The beauty of something like Canal Side is that it could be the spark that sets off a fire of entrepreneurial development downtown. If it had actual things to do that would make regular people come downtown, then other businesses could fill it in, as well as the immediate surrounding areas to support the foot traffic that hadn’t been present on Main Street downtown in generations. Maybe Bass Pro wasn’t going to be the silver bullet everyone thought it’d be, but do you have any better suggestions? A museum or park isn’t going to bring a mass of people downtown on a regular basis. An IKEA? Forget the fact that IKEA is never going to come here, or the fact that there’s an IKEA about an hour up the QEW. If you think the Tielman clique had a conniption over Bass Pro, just wait to see what they’d have to say about IKEA – which is the biggest of big boxes. Wegmans? I can’t begin to understand why that’s a good idea. Put a Wegmans downtown, sure. Put it near some other new lofts or apartments, great. But on the waterfront? What’s next? A massive Dollar General?

Given that no one will ever agree on what should go into Canal Side, and given the fact that the obstructionists will continue to obstruct forever, whatever happens there should be organic growth, and there needs to be an incentive to do so. I’ve said it before, so I’ll say it again – if you want the foot of Main Street to be a mecca for people again, then a portion of downtown needs to be converted into a sales-tax free zone. It is a reverse Empire Zone – instead of the businesses getting the incentive, the consumer gets it directly. People would complain about how unfair it would be to other businesses. Perhaps. But the fact that Pennsylvania’s gas and clothes are less expensive is unfair to Chautauqua County gas and clothing retailers.

Downtown is dead because downtown is dead. If you want downtown to live again, improve the business climate and make it especially attractive.

Toronto’s Suburbia

24 Nov

From Spacing.ca, proof that urbanists don’t have to be haughtily dismissive and condescending of a city’s suburbs. Fascinating:

An upcoming Spacing Magazine theme will be “The Suburbs” — we’ve tried hard to include writing about Toronto’s inner boroughs in our print magazine and on this blog, but think we need to dedicate an entire issue to these interesting places that will be where much of Toronto’s future unfolds. We’ll be putting that issue together in 2009, but until then we’re pleased to be partnering with the Scarborough Arts Council and The Centre for Creative Communications at Centennial College on a series of public discussions on our suburbs…

…Once seen as quiet bedroom communities far from the noise of the urban core, Toronto’s inner suburbs have become centres of activity – culturally vibrant, diverse and ever changing.

Granted, Toronto is the melting pot of all melting pots, and it’s a city that has seen explosive growth over the past few decades, but here there’s a mutual respect as one might expect of a city and region that doesn’t have time for petty nonsense.

Buffalo, by contrast, has time for nothing but petty nonsense.

TonawandaMade

22 Jul

From Business First

The Clarence Town Pool

17 Jul

I can’t believe that this actually merited a news story, (or a blog post – yes, I see the irony).

I would never put a pool in my backyard because it’s a huge outlay of money, dubious return on investment at resale (although I’m not planning on selling anytime soon), and it boosts your insurance rates (attractive nuisance).

So, yeah, we use the town pool and we use the playgrounds at the town parks because I’m too cheap to stick a swingset in the backyard, too.

Walkable Communities: Everywhere But Here

28 May

This story in the Buffalo News is frustrating as all hell. My own town of Clarence has two quaint little shopping districts – the Four Corners and the Hollow – and then there’s Transit Road. Two of three of those are walkable. Guess which.

I honestly cannot fathom why anyone in suburban Buffalo would be opposed to the idea of a walkable neighborhood. Would it kill people to be able to walk down to a corner store or florist or dry cleaner or coffee shop? I’m lucky. I can do that. There are loads of people who can’t, and I’m shocked that a lot of them don’t want to.

Walkable neighborhoods don’t just give you exercise and gas savings. Walkability helps build community. You see your neighbors. You walk by their homes. You become a regular at a local business. Buffalo’s suburbs need more – not less – walkability and mixed-use neighborhoods. But the suburbs aren’t the only victims. Any shops at Waterfront Village?

The Town Centre development that Benderson wants to build in Amherst is a start. It will feature retail, hotel, residential, and commercial in the complex. In Lewiston, there’s the Village at Oxbow – the first new walkable community being planned and built in WNY. I guess, as per the News article, it behooves those of us who support these sustainable, walkable communities to show up at town board meetings and speak in support of them.

How much Buffalo area progress has been stanched by an exceedingly vocal and obnoxious minority>

Try. Something. Different.

15 May

The Buffalo News reports today on a retail project that is proposed to be built on Transit Road in Clarence near County Road. Given the demographics surrounding that area, it’s not surprising that projects such as this are being proposed for that corridor.

The Wellesley, Massachusetts-based developer has a website up showing renderings of the proposed “Carriage Court at Clarence”.

The renderings make it appear to be an upscale shopping plaza (.pdf). Nothing particularly new or different. So, I have a suggestion.

Do you see in the site plan (.pdf) how the bulk of the parking is surrounded by retail? How about reversing that. Put the parking in the back, put the retail in the center, and run a tree-lined little pedestrian area down the middle, sort of like how Benderson proposes to do with its Amherst Centre project on Maple (.pdf).

In 2008, this is how you do it:

Also, kudos to both Benderson and Berkshire for putting the plans on their websites so that one doesn’t need to traipse to town board meetings to see what’s what.

Traffic and the Lack Thereof

28 Apr

Buffalo is the best city for commuters because we have a highway infrastructure designed in the 50s (and looking every day of it) for a population of 500,000+ people, which everyone assumed would just continue to grow.

(If I might just interject a suggestion or two here: 1. If you’re on the I-90 Eastbound by the airport, the I-290 interchange is counterintuitive. Reconfigure the exit so that the left lanes continue straight onto the 290, and the right lanes turn east towards Albany;and 2. Ramps onto and off of our expressways are banked backwards, increasing the risk of truck rollovers. Bank them correctly.)

The reason I bring this up is this thread at Buffalo Rising, which quickly devolved into silliness. But this post from “Prodigal Son” deserves to be highlighted, because I agree with every word:

I have no patience for either end of the urban vs. suburban debate. Einstein put it perfectly – there is more to either side than Transit Road and Fillmore Avenue.

Arbitrary “distinctions” between neighborhoods divide and hold back WNY as much as high taxes. There is no high moral ground to claim for living in the city, or living in a suburb. You live downtown, ride a bike to work, and eat lunch on Elmwood every day? Great for you – I hope you enjoy the lifestyle you’ve picked. The carbon footprint you save on your bike is dwarfed by your huge heating bill each winter as the energy leaks out of your architecturally correct but wasteful 100 year old windows. You live in Williamsville, drive to work downtown, and get take out from Tim Horton’s? Sounds good too. I hope you appreciate the same commute in Vegas would take 90 minutes and cost $15 a trip in your SUV. Nobody’s perfect – I’m a little sick of the vicious judgement on both sides.

You can’t make a suburb without an urb. Surrounding suburbs of Buffalo need a vital core at its center to thrive. The city is not saturated with uzi wielding hooligans (thanks Irv). At the same time, no successful growing city in America is a dense downtown core with no residential suburb surrounding it. Some people want space, and pay for it. That doesn’t make them bad people or a threat to your bohemian downtown existence.

Give it a rest. Both sides need each other. Let’s take all the the energy wasted in downtown vs suburb battles and invest in some businesses, create a few jobs, and start growing again.

Amen.

In the original post, Newell writes this:

If you want to check out some bad traffic, just head over the boarder to Toronto. I don’t know how the daily commuter can handle that mess. If you hit that traffic look out. You can get stuck for hours dealing with total gridlock.

So, Buffalo. A question.

Would you trade an easy-peasy commute for the growth and urban/suburban vitality of a Toronto? A Toronto which, incidentally, also enjoys a TTC subway/bus/trolley network (when not on strike) and Go trains and buses for commuters from Hamilton, Oshawa, or Barrie and all points in-between?

One-Stop Shopping

28 Mar

The Eastgate plaza on Transit Road in Clarence.

Featuring Super Wal*Mart, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Linens & Things, and, evidently, Jimmy’s Cocaine and Ecstasy Emporium.