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Commentator Says Buffalo Keeps Making the Same Mistakes

By Jennifer Gold

Buffalo, NY – So there I was, at the meeting about planning the city and in particular downtown, and I was pleased to see that the art gallery's auditorium was full. Not bulging at the seams, but full. Mostly white people in the audience and five white men and one white woman on the panel. Nobody looked poor or needy. No one was there to speak for the jobless and homeless.

My happy, hopeful feeling drained away as the panel, mostly developers talked about how the buildings downtown were in such bad shape that they could not be renovated. No one asked why the buildings had been left vacant for thirty years or why they had been allowed to deteriorate into such a state in the first place. No one asked how other cities manage to use existing buildings rather than build concrete prisons.

Question time was skillfully handled with more developers talking about the great things they had done and how Wilson Farms was interested in being part of different developments. No one asked if local people had been approached to start family owned, and operated, businesses in the area. The corner store, the bakery, the sandwich shop.

Someone on the panel mentioned, with pride, about the Commons on the Amherst Campus of the University at Buffalo. How they built it out of a hay field. No one mentioned that there are an awful lot of people who would have preferred to still have the hayfield. Or that the students don't like the Amherst Campus very much at all. Of course they use the facilities out there because they are stuck out there. But they don't like it.

No one said how much better the city would have been if the campus had been built downtown - the campus and the football stadium. A lot of folks think that those two being downtown would have done a lot to save the city. But nobody said that. The questions and comments were really, skillfully, handled. Just think, I thought to myself, how vibrant and vital downtown would be with all those students milling around. Coffee shops, bookstores, apartments and stores galore.

So the panelists talked some more about what they'd like to see in Buffalo but no one asked why we have over a dozen white men on the new "Let's Plan Buffalo" team. All white, all male, all middle aged and middle class. Know what we're going to get? We are going to get more of the same. What's that you ask? Surely you jest.

Look at Main Street - opposite the beautiful South Campus of the University. Instead of the golden buffalo I imagined standing in a shallow reflecting pool we have a Tim Hortons. "Nice, I heard someone say, we can walk and get a coffee now." "Yep," I thought, "and if you'd walked five hundred yards you could have gone to Starbucks!" So now, in the space of one quarter of a mile we have - I can't believe I'm giving these corporations air time - Wendy's, Sub-Way, McDonalds, Tim Hortons, Walgreens, Starbucks, and Burger King.

It's as if Buffalo stuck its stubborn little hooves in the muddy snow, shook its great hairy dumb head, lowered its horns and said "No! No! No! Nothing innovative and different for this city! Let's have a crappy, commercial Main Street just like the thousands of other crappy, commercial Main Streets all over the country. And that's what we've got. And it's what we'll continue to get until we have some cultural diversity, of all ages and both sexes on the decision making team.

And while I'm on the subject of revitalizing the city, I found it interesting that no one asked why the University hasn't done more to create a charming student village around the South Campus. Lisbon, Minnesota and Stockbridge could be part of a thriving neighborhood with bike shops, food stores, and cafes etc. etc. at every corner. And so much money would have been saved instead of building isolation blocks in Amherst. I thought the University was going to do that at one time. Work with the established neighborhood, create a sense of belonging to .... something. Take care of the environs. What happened to that idea? I know I read about it in the Buffalo News.

But, as you well know, I am not a woman who gives up easily, and I have an idea. We can still have our bronze buffalo and squeeze it in between one of the fast food places. Only, this buffalo will be on its back with its legs sticking stiffly up in the air. Like the old Monty Python skit about the dead parrot. It is dead, gone to meet its maker, it is no more, and it is an ex. Buffalo. And the plaque can read - "History repeats itself. Once again, shortsighted white men kill buffalo for absolutely no good reason. No good reason at all."

Commentary by Jennifer Gold is a monthly feature of WBFO News.