Tag Archive for 'labor'

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.