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Buffalo Needs to Stop Slumming

by on August 24, 2009

You can tell a lot about people by the company they keep.  If that maxim also applies to urban areas, Buffalo is in trouble.  Queen City delegates recently convened to compare notes with fellow blighted former jewels:

They met at the Dayton Convention Center last weekend to swap ideas about how to halt the long skid that’s turned cities like Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo, N.Y., into shorthand for dystopia.

In an attempt to turn around their fortunes, cities with corroded hulls swapped tales about their respective failures and how they plan to have less of them.  It sounds bad on its own, and the ideas tossed about may actually reveal how municipal desolation came about in the first place.  For example, instead of plans for building up, a local attendee revealed strategies for tearing down more efficiently:

In a historic reversal, the cities are embracing plans that emphasize growing smaller. In Buffalo, where more than a third of the students drop out of high school, Michael Gainer, executive director of Buffalo ReUse, is putting young people to work dismantling some of the thousands of abandoned homes and selling the scrap materials.

We’re in trouble if our best hopes lie in schemes to thoroughly mine empty residences after they’ve been razed.  The fact that Gainer was recently fired doesn’t speak well for that vision of progress.

Buffalo has it backwards.  Participating in conferences with fellow troubled regions won’t help: those who lust for success should ask the successful for advice.  Our leaders ought to pick the brains of Boardwalk residents in lieu of wallowing with Baltic Avenue-dwellers.

For one, Buffalo’s envoys could ask representatives of, say, cities in North Carolina why there are so many Sabres fans living within their state.  They might discover that the path to affluence begins with low commerce costs.  Next, their Carolina counterparts may teach them that government’s role is to set up conditions for success while leaving companies to achieve the actual success.

Reinvention starts with reducing the rate at which bureaucracy intervenes in private lives and companies.  Specifically, those in charge must look to reduce both taxes and directives if they want a city to thrive.  Our honchos could obviously benefit from hearing Tar Heeled-officials preach that philosophy.  Oh, and we should invite some folks from Texas, too, for the sake of those who remain skeptical that cutting taxes works.

Best, the Buffalo people can use it as an opportunity to bring in some cash.  Namely, those looking to improve Western New York’s position can invite the North Carolinians and Texans to the Niagara Frontier as an alternative to meeting in one of the nation’s Daytons.

Buffalo’s prominent citizens can not only learn fundamental economic lessons from the guests: they will also be bringing in people to fill a few of Erie County’s hotel rooms while simultaneously generating business for the Anchor Bar and Chop House.  It would be a way for local big shots to bring money here while learning how to bring even more money here.  That sounds worlds more useful than traveling to Ohio to hear some guy from Detroit’s plans for renewal.

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