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Here's a switch: Buffalo's ability to attract new residents

An increasingly urban America is good news for cities like Buffalo that can attract millennials and other residents. That's what's going on around the world, according to Next City CEO and Publisher Tom Dallessio.

Speaking at the Buffalo Urban Futures Forum at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Dallessio said more than half the population of the world now lives in cities and towns, as people move out of more rural areas. The urban planner said that is a change from not many decades ago, when people, jobs and corporations moved from central cities to the suburbs.

He said this offers development and environmental advantages, as long as those who run cities can recognize the issues, like diversity and public transit.

"We're seeing the largest demographic groups choosing cities and towns, aging baby boomers who are looking at empty nesting situations and moving to places where they can walk and finding culture," he said. "We're looking at millennials and we're seeing, in particular, people who are graduating college and deciding to stay in more urban environments."

Dallessio said immigrants are moving to cities with their families. Along with everyone else, they are more interested in the classic mixed-use communities, with mixed income and transit friendly options.

"Mixed-use that we're talking about is the classic downtown in places that you have here in Buffalo, places you can live, work, shop and play, you can walk to, you can enjoy," he said. "Your children can go to the store. They can walk to school. We need to again rebuild our communities in ways that we know how to do but somehow we lost some of our direction."

He said older, empty-nesters also are moving back into cities, to take advantage of the urban life made possible by population concentrations helping cultural groups, and getting around made possible by public transit.

The problem across the country is that roads and bridges and utilities are wearing out, according to Dallessio.

"Those of us who are children of the Greatest Generation, people who were born and fought in World War II and lived through the Great Depression, sacrificed a lot to get us to this point," he said. "We are living off of that infrastructure investment. We have not been making the investment over the last 20-40 years and a lot of it's because we have not been willing to say, 'We're willing to pay for it.' The day of reckoning is coming."

Dallessio said cities across the world are looking at similar problems and finding different solutions which might be applicable here or in other American cities.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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