Regular visits to Buffalo since the 60’s provide opportunity to watch, explore and reflect on the changes in the ‘Queen City of the Lakes’. On my recent visit I came across Mark Goldman’s City on the Edge Buffalo New York (Prometheus, 2007). It is a well researched accounting of political and economic rise and fall.
Contemporary art, poetry, music and literature are the continuing shining lights as industrial furnaces shut down, dismantle and leave. One gets the impression that Goldman would like to inspire more Seymour Knox’s from the local power elite. War demand, location and strong working class communities spur innovation into high volume production. Then demand drops; local owners sell out; new economic competitors wipe out unions and factories; and political leaders seek and get a series of urban renewal mega grants. Corporate interests use the situation to squeeze city and state concessions, creating more white elephants than foundations.
Demolition trumps rehabilitation of downtown landmarks. Surrounding communities disappear, their residents moving into the suburbs. Canadians shopping in Buffalo don’t go downtown. They join Western New Yorkers in endless suburban malls. Jobs, retail and property taxes go to those surrounding communities.
Yet despite decades of poor decision making, and a declining city population, many strong neighbourhoods remain. From downtown residential projects to community housing initiatives, to a new emphasis on local entrepreneurs Buffalo continues to show resiliency and strength.
My only criticism of Goldman’s book is that it gives little attention to the largest group of hyphenated Americans – the Poles. Are a handful of conservative politicians their only contribution to this edgy place?