I'm typing this from a coffee house in the Quainte Ye Olde Newe Englande-style Village of Wiilliamsville, New York. It's one of the streetcar suburbs in north suburban Buffalo, close to my ancestral home. Most of my family are Northtowners, born and raised in the north end of the City of Buffalo or its northern suburbs.
A couple of hours ago, I walked about 7,500 steps through the "Irish Heritage District" along Abbot Road and up and down its side streets in South Buffalo, wearing a burnt orange-colored henley, and made it out alive. South Buffalo is one of the most Irish neighborhoods one will find outside of Boston.
Being a Northtowner, it's been a while since I've been to South Buffalo. It's really Buffalo's forgotten neighborhood; pedestrian-oriented, with a soling housing stock ranging from working class-oriented two-flats, to a type of middle-class bungalow that isn't seen elsewhere in the region, to jaw-dropping "Oh my God I had no idea this was here" pockets of affluence. South Buffalo has perhaps Buffalo's largest collection of parkway and remaining brick roads. Streets are laid out in connected blocks, with local streets perpendicular to radial arterials that sprout branches every mile or so This makes South Buffalo a very challenging place to navigate; roads change names frequently, intersect at odd angles, and create an environment with a very interesting fabric compared to the more rectangular and curvilinear blocks found elsewhere in the city.
South Buffalo, despite being off the collective radar screen of the region, is also the heart of Buffalo's old Irish political machine. A disproportionately large percentage of high-ranking city officials, policemen, firemen, and patronage workers call South Buffalo home; it's the city's "blue ghetto".
The main problem with South Buffalo is that it's remote; not geographically, but culturally. Buffalo's major cultural institutions, most colleges and universities, and its young professionals, yuppies and hipsters are north of downtown. A zone of half-abandoned Rust Belt industrial wasteland separates South Buffalo from downtown, creating a psychological barrier as well. The hipster blog scene in Buffalo largely ignores South Buffalo, except when St. Patrick's Day approaches. A Chicago equivalent might be ... oh, Beverly and the middle-class neighborhoods at the southwestern portion of the city. My 100% Irish-American grandfather grew up in South Buffalo, the man I was named after, told me stories about gangs of youths who would beat up anyone who didn't even look remotely Irish if they so much as stepped south of the Buffalo River. Those days are long gone, but there's still a strong "you need a passport to visit" vibe.
Photos to follow next week in the Cities and Places forum.