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  • The Regular Buffalo Person's Manifesto

    By Alan Bedenko, Brian Castner and Christopher Smith

    The Manifesto of Buffalo’s Regular People

    We are regular people; neither obstructionist nor unnecessarily permissive. We believe that development projects should be reviewed and debated on a case-by-case basis, on their own merits. They shouldn’t be demagogued, lied about, or otherwise treated unfairly.

    We also believe that small cliques of people whose public personae are defined by their opposition to new development don’t speak for the entire community, despite their claims. We believe that we can speak for ourselves and don’t need to have our interests represented by people who perhaps unintentionally advocate for the failed status quo.

    What follows is the manifesto. Live it, learn it, love it.

    As a Regular Buffalo Person, I wouldn’t trust heart surgery to a barber, so I believe that city planning should be left to the professional city planners. We have too many hobbyist planners in this town, and they strut about pretending to be experts whilst loaded down with suppositions, overwhelming emotion, and little training. Calling yourself a city planner does not make you one, and whether a particular plan may cause harm or benefit must be weighed on the merits – not on hypothetical situations and feelings.

    As a Regular Buffalo Person, I believe that small groups of tightly connected amateur planners with anti-commercial prejudices shouldn’t be the deciding factor in regional planning decisions. As Regular Buffalo Person, I am interested in projects that would lead me to go out of my way; off the beaten track, where I can spend my money and do something fun with my kids.

    As a Regular Buffalo Person, I believe that small groups of tightly connected amateur planners and professional plaintiffs should be consistent in the application of their outrage. If millions of dollars ought not be spent to lure a big anchor retailer, those millions ought not be spent to house trendy art galleries, either. But when people appointed by our duly elected officials decide to spend that kind of money, I won’t disingenuously suggest that this happened without public consent, and I won’t be a hypocrite, either.

    As a Buffalo Regular Person, I eschew propaganda buzzwords like “big box”, and will not liken the existence of “parking spots” to some unspeakable evil. I recognize contemporary reality, and prefer to look at a particular project as a whole. I’ll also be sure to ask obstructionists why it would be so horrible to duplicate the pedestrian success of the Walden Galleria in a far more attractive waterfront location not unlike what exists at Quincy Market, Byward Market, or any other public marketplace up and down the eastern half of North America.

    As a Regular Buffalo Person, I won’t make-believe that small entrepreneurs will somehow be a significant regional draw for a waterfront that is all but uninhabitable for six months out of every year. Sometimes, you have to go big or go home.

    As a Regular Buffalo Person, I believe that city planning decisions should be made based on a project’s business plan and likelihood of success. Appeals to “values” or “ideals” or “aspirations” of the region invite divisive, subjective debate, leaving no one happy. There is a reason why development projects are seldom subjected to referenda. When proposed projects have undergone a decade’s worth of vetting, it’s somewhat silly to suggest that they’re sudden, novel, or being rammed down anyone’s throat. As a Regular Buffalo Person, I won’t wait until the absolute last minute to express my displeasure with a project that’s all but ready to go.

    The absolute last thing that should be done about Buffalo’s inner harbor is to subject it to a citywide citizens’ committee of ideas. Each person – each participant would have a different idea, and implementation of it might be a fun civic exercise, but little else. If the obstructionist class in Buffalo is intent on opposing every single project that is suggested for the inner harbor, then there’s little sense in doing anything at all. The street grid should be re-established and cobbled, utilities should be brought in, the area should be zoned, and then the city should let the market have at it.

    As a Regular Buffalo Person, I don’t want to participate in some sort of “submit your idea” crowdsourcing method of planning. The people whose idea or vision is rejected will simply become the next round of obstructionists, lying and suing to get their way.

    As a Regular Buffalo Person, I will not define my support or objection to a proposed development or project based primarily on whomever is leading the effort. I will be open-minded, listen to proposals and make educated evaluations. I will be judicious and serious and will weigh the costs and benefits before speaking my mind.

    As a Regular Buffalo Person, I will not define each and every project as an epic class warfare struggle nor will I support others who engage in such behavior.

    As a Regular Buffalo Person, I will evaluate the merits of a project on its value to the region, writ large. No more parochial thinking, we are a region that will either rise or fall as one, we must begin to act like it.

    Given the current economic state of western New York, given the fact that downtown Buffalo is completely bereft of any meaningful retail whatsoever – and has been thus for thirty-something years – and given the fact that the Canal Side area has been bare for more decades still, the ultimate obstructionist dream is to let it lie fallow under the shadow of the Skyway, an empty memorial to what might have been.

    Perhaps we could file a suit to express our displeasure at the Bass Pro deal being killed. Perhaps we should recognize that without a huge, well-paying employer like HSBC, there will be significantly fewer people in town to visit art galleries, drink wine at trendy-yet-gritty bars, buy tchotchkes, and sup at the taco truck.

    Neither the obstructionist few, nor the developers speak for us. We speak for ourselves.

    That is our Regular Buffalo Person’s manifesto.

    Alan Bedenko, Brian Castner and Christopher Smith are writers on WNYmedia.net, home to a number of placeblogs about the Buffalo, New York area. "A Regular Buffalo Person's Manifesto" was originally published on WNYmedia.net on August 5, 2010 and republished on October 18 in honor of the recent National Preservation Conference that took place in Buffalo.
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Seabishop's avatar
      Seabishop -
      That made me happy.
    1. Linda_D's avatar
      Linda_D -
      Knowing a lot about the issues involved here, I have to mostly disagree with Al et al. This op-ed piece was in response to the end of the infamous "Bass Pro project" on the Buffalo waterfront, a project that was first proposed in 2002 IIRC. The problems with the Bass Pro project were NOT really based on Buffalo's typical obstructionist mentally (which Al got absolutely correct), but with an out-of-state corporation that tried to get local and state governments to essentially pay them to build a store in downtown Buffalo.

      Originally, Bass Pro was going to convert the old Buffalo Memorial Auditorium into a huge "destination" retail store plus a Great Lakes museum plus a hotel and restaurants. Over the years, the "destination" aspect disappeared, the museum died, the hotel and restaurants vanished, and the Aud had to be demo'd rather than reused, while the $$$ and concessions that Bass Pro demanded kept rising. In other words, BP was stringing the city, county, and state along for years. This is Bass Pro's modus operandus in many parts of the country where it takes advantage of communities desperate for "economic development". The Bass Pro store in suburban Pittsburgh, for example, which was proposed less than a year after the Buffalo store, also has yet to open, and maybe that project has been cancelled as well. While obstructionism is a serious issue in Buffalo, the "failure" of the BP project wasn't because of it.

      FTR, the Bass Pro Project was hardly the result of "professional planning". It resulted from a conversation between the head of Rich Products, a former Buffalo resident who retired to Florida, and his neighbor, the head of Bass Pro. There were no marketing surveys or feasibility studies by either Bass Pro or by the COB or Erie County to judge the merits of this undertaking, and no linking this to any master plan for the city or county: just pie-in-sky claims of creating economic prosperity based on primarily part-time retail jobs.

      Moreover, the city's request for citizen suggestions for what they'd like to do with the waterfront was a good one. Obviously, the writers of this op-ed piece haven't been down to the Inner Harbor on a nice week-end day/evening to see the thousands of Buffalonians (and others) who flock to be near the water. In fact, even in winter, Buffalonians flock to their waterfront whenever there's not a blizzard, as the many ice fishermen and the ice-sailors will attest. The general consensus from the citizen suggestions was for more walkable access along the water, various places to eat and sit, and some entertainment. While there were some suggestions for shopping in small and unique shops (which would have made it much more like Faneuil Hall on the Boston Harbor), there was absolutely no interest in having a Walden Galleria on the waterfront.

      For a fraction of what Bass Pro was demanding up front, the COB has created a small beach at the water's edge and has expanded the public spaces along the waterfront. There's a water taxi service, concerts, and an expanded snack outlet (the Hatch). There's going to be a restaurant next year at the Naval and Servicemen's Park. New York State also added a major walking/biking trail on the Outer Harbor from the Coast Guard Station (across the Inner Harbor from the Erie Basin Marina and the former Bass Pro site) south to Small Boat Harbor.