Basketcase City

Here is an interesting item in the Buffalo News… it seems former mayor James D. “Jimmy” Griffin is starting a “grass-roots” campaign to recall his successor, Mayor Masiello. Just as Buffalo is starting to do the right things it needs to do to get out of financial chaos, past specters responsible for the mess the city finds itself in are in are resurfacing to reassert their influence.

There is no money in the city coffers, and NY State is occupied with rebuilding NY City… yet Griffin finds it necessary to stir up populist anger at the mayor’s insistence that a city of 290,000 cannot afford 2-man police cars.

Now, I’m supportive of unions, and labor in general. But, they’ve got the city hijacked—it’s just not the city of half-million that it was in 1905. My suburban childhood town, Amherst, probably has more class-A office space that 10 Buffalos… the reigning culture there is one of the automobile.

If You Build it, They Will Come
The State built the new campus of the University at Buffalo—on undeveloped land in Amherst in the 60s—in such a way as to confuse pedestrians. The parking lots and mega-steel-and-glass-box buildings are on a scale unfathomable to the pedestrian. It could take you thirty minutes to walk from the dormitories to class, and the only thing that separates you are vast parking lots and curving 8-lane roads. This sort of destructive and unprecedented planning will make an agoraphobe out of anyone that isn’t high on something… There is no urban fabric—you can’t comfortably walk down a block and buy a coke at the news stand on the way to statistics. The street isn’t lined with a buffer of parked cars or trees to insulate the pedestrian from the street. No. This would be the traditional way of planning. Are the streets planned at all?

The fact is, the only way the University at Buffalo makes any coherent sense is from 75 mph out your car window on Interstate-990, (incidentally a useless, sprawl-inducing highway built to link yet-to-be-built shoddy cul-de-sacs north of the city, to the new campus). And from a reactionary administrative point of view, this kind of building assures total control over the “streets”, a worry of these types in the turbulent 1960s.

A Culture of Dashboards
Where was I? Oh yes. The automobile. The Culture in Buffalo. It must be changed. Or at least modified, and we’ve got to for once put an end to people like Jimmy Griffin. Irish politicians, generally speaking, have a particular knack for killing cities for their own personal gain. In my mind, James D. Griffin was the most corrupt city mayor of the past 25 years, eclipsed recently only by Buddy Cianci in Providence. His neighborhood cronies ran the city into the ground, going so far as to poison the man-made lake in Delaware Park, by dumping chemicals such that it wouldn’t freeze for ice-skaters. No, Griffin is only interested in taking care of his clan in South Buffalo, and the whole damn rest of you can go fuck yourselves.

Speaking of his Irish clan, always mindful to underline their white, and therefore privileged status, the Irish politicians identify status symbols that might hide the otherwise sad state of the city. The car, and suburban development in general, are precisely their chosen symbols. They can’t necessarily move into a 4 bed-room McMansion in Amherst, however they can afford a five-year old Chevy or Ford—and avoid taking the subway or, god-forbid, the bus system (which are primarily employed by the African-American population). They envy the new suburban, car-oriented development of strip malls and parking lots, and politician like Griffin decided that this was precisely the kind of construction needed in the city. What resulted, was a mess. Drive down main street from the 198 to downtown to see what i mean. You can literally drive through there without seeing people on the street for blocks—and this is a 4-lane road

Cities should be organized to facilitate suburbanite commuters. Right? Well, this kind of thing isn’t going to be sustainable in Miami, Las Vegas, Philadelphia or Detroit—much less Buffalo. In fact, the financial realities that are starting to surface in less-off places like Buffalo should be a kind of warning. We won’t always have cheap oil, and it should be evident that cities actually offer a healthy way of life. Walk to work. Ride a subway car with people from different clans than you. Preserve our historical buildings, because they were built better than any building in the past 50 years.

The Restoration
Walk to work? These sort of ideas belong to elites, and that explains why the Irish politicians (and others like James Pitts, the African-American Common Council President), resist efforts in this direction. They’re too caught up in what they perceive to be status symbols, i.e., cars, krispy kremes, that they don’t realize that the health of the city and region depends on the health of its neighborhoods. And, yes Mr. Pitts, we will have to invest in the minority neighborhoods. But until we put some money in the coffers, and work on eroding the perception that cities are for non-car driving public-housing types. It’s a mania that cannot sustain itself.

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