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Nowhere to Land

by on June 17, 2011

When everyone owns something, no one really does. The tough part is trying to act surprised when communal property is inevitably neglected.

For example, it’s both frustrating and predictable that the government let a key patch of Buffalo’s real estate go to waste for decades. Thanks to their non-efforts, the waterfront’s outer portion has frustratingly been festering like a jar of mayonnaise stored on the sidewalk in August. Why bother keeping what you didn’t buy yourself from spoiling?

But at least the government is responding to circumstances by trying to sell property that they never should have owned in the first place. Sure, the adjective “promptly” can’t be applied to the attempted transaction. But, to be fair, the move has only been delayed for half a century:

The NFTA is putting up for sale the Small Boat Harbor and a 60 acre piece of vacant property adjacent to it that contain two warehouses.

The City of Buffalo deeded the Outer Harbor land to what was then the “Niagara Frontier Port Authority” 55 years ago when the area was looking to expand its bustling port and shipping business.

Who says our servants react slowly? Letting a private entity make money by efficiently offering a service is a relatively novel concept in Buffalo, so give them time. After all, they’re coping with a challenge that emerged the same year that Ben-Hur was released:

That business was crippled by the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, but the NFTA held on to the land for all these years and did very little with it.

Blaming a waterway that opened during Frank Sedita’s first mayoral stint for the troubles of the Byron Brown era is the precise sort of attitude that perpetuates decline. We may as will stick Buffalo’s contemporary troubles on the flame-happy British; all that charred junk took awhile to clear, you know. But at least everyone’s favorite free market-adoring congressman is on the case:

Congressman Brian Higgins has been pushing for the NFTA to get out of the waterfront business for years.

Brian Higgins: “There’s great promise for those lands, they have great potential and getting it into the hands of an operator that realizes that potential and runs with it is going to be very, very important.”

It’s nice of him to claim that the government isn’t the best trustee, at least for once. Of course, that doesn’t explain why the prototypical Democrat frequently votes for as much governmental intervention as possible. Neither his emblematic support for Obamacare nor the stimulus quite seem to represent a desire to get anything into a potential-realizing operator’s hands.

Higgins’s desire to reduce meddling is an aberration. On a related note, the outer harbor’s woeful state serves as a reminder of why health care costs so much, namely that people don’t care about something they don’t really own. Recipients feel free to spend away without worry when an employer buys it.

Removing the responsibility of ownership is guaranteed to cause waste. But don’t worry: people will be much more eager to monitor their health expenses when government exchanges are in place. If not, well, that’s why we’ll have rationing.

As for the local bureaucratic incompetence in question, the land’s status demonstrates that there’s no reason to care for a chunk of land without motive. While it’s nice that the NFTA’s woeful record as a property owner proves that the government isn’t working for our benefit, we could have done without one more real world example.

The only real monopoly possesses no reason to make people happy. The NFTA won’t go out of business if customers aren’t pleased. As a result, a crucial stretch of Buffalo’s waterfront looks like a zombie movie set. Ironically, such a gloomy situation was created by a lack of braaaaains.

There are countless potential uses for the Outer Harbor portion in question. By contrast, an organization with “Authority” in its name hasn’t done much with what they have owned for an 11-presidency span. They’ll sell it one of these years. Until then, Buffalo’s water remains as underutilized as much of the land.

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