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Thread: Some random thoughts on Buffalo

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Some random thoughts on Buffalo

    I found this while doing a Web search. They're posts of mine about Buffalo, on a long-forgotten message board.

    Metropolitan area population:

    Buffalo
    1950 - 1,089,230
    1997 - 1,164,721

    Las Vegas
    1950 - 48,289
    1997 - 1,262,099
    (1950 Las Vegas equivalent now - Flagstaff, Arizona - 57,700)

    Charlotte
    1950 - 197,052
    1997 - 1,350,243
    (1950 Charlotte equivalent now - Merced, California - 196,123)

    Orlando
    1950 - 141,833
    1997 - 1,467,045
    (1950 Orlando equivalent now - Las Cruces - 168,470)

    Columbus
    1950 - 503,410
    1997 - 1,460,242
    (1950 Columbus equivalent now - Colorado Springs - 480,041)

    Indianapolis
    1950 - 551,777
    1997 - 1,503,468
    (1950 Indianapolis equivalent now - Mobile - 527,118)

    Kansas City
    1950 - 814,357
    1997 - 1,709,273
    (1950 Kansas City equivalent now - Fresno - 868,703)

    Portland
    1950 - 704,829
    1997 - 2,112,802
    (1950 Portland equivalent now - Knoxville - 654,181)

    Denver
    1950 - 612,128
    1997 - 2,318,355
    (1950 Denver equivalent now - Bakersfield - 628,605)

    Phoenix
    1950 - 331,770
    1997 - 2,839,539
    (1950 Phoenix equivalent now - Boise - 383,843)

    Miami
    1950 - 579,017
    1997 - 3,515,358
    (1950 Miami equivalent now - Stockton, California - 542,504)

    Atlanta
    1950 - 726,789
    1997 - 3,627,184
    (1950 Atlanta equivalent now - Albuquerque - 674,837)

    Think about it. Who would have thought, fifty years ago, that the Phoenix, Miami, Denver and Atlanta metro areas would be bigger than the Buffalo metro? In 2050, Knoxville, Stockton or Las Cruces could be waving at Buffalo as they pass by ...
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  2. #2
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    There's a lot of skyline and waterfront images around for Buffalo. You'll also find plenty of images for its historic architecture, both commercial and residential. There's plenty of "good old days, before the neighborhood changed" shots on many sites. I haven't found much in the way of street scenes, though. I have a couple hundred Elmwood Village shots on film; I have to scan 'em in and slap 'em online.

    Buffalo, though, is one of those places that really forms a distinct, clear impression on your personality, your character, your being. Being "Buffalonian" goes beyond that of having been born in a certain place; it's almost akin to an ethnic group that shares a unique language, culture, common heritage and spirit. IT NEVER LEAVES YOU. So many young, educated Buffalonians I know who have left seem to share a common mindset -- the place where they end up settling down doesn't quite seem like home, and it never will. There is truly a diaspora of Buffalonians.

    Still, though, we identify with Buffalo, even though it's a place that really isn't ours for some reason -- it's too blue-collar when they went to college, too Catholic when they're Jewish or Lutheran, too insular when they've got a sense of wanderlust. Despite our feeling out-of-place when we lived there, we feel removed from our natural surroundings when we leave. We order pizza from back home, and have it FedExed to Charlotte or Tampa or wherever. We could give a damn about sports when we lived in the tundra off I-90, but plunk us down in Atlanta or Nashville, and all of a sudden we transform into Bills fanatics. We see Web sites like http://www.zxcproductions.com/web/Quik.html , and cry at the memories of an innocent childhood, of snow days and AM rock radio and digging tunnels in the front yard and "for sale" signs popping up on the lawns where our best friends lived.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  3. #3
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Often, I've madde the claim that Buffalo really doesn't have a reason to exist anymore ... it's still there only because it's there, that a place one settled usually tends to stay settled. People stay because their relatives are there, and because they often don't know of the world that exists beyond Western New York.

    When I'm back home, exploring the neighborhoods if the inner city, I notice that Buffalonians tend to be very grounded. They don't move if they don't have to. Head down to the Fillmore-Leroy neighborhood, a northeast Buffalo "bungalow belt" neighborhood that experienced racial transition in the early 1970s, and you'll still find a white family or two remaining on every block. I grew up in Kensington in the 1970s and 1980s. Racial transition began in the early 1980s. My parents left Kensington in 1992, settling down in Amher$t. (Amherst is a Chesterfield/Overland Park/old Southfield like "power suburb." Drive back down to the old neighborhood, though, and you'll find that about a third of the families on my old block are "old timers," folks who have been there since the 1940s and 1950s. You'll still see the odd Polish family here and there blocks from Martin Luther King Park.

    It's common to find little old ladies who have stayed in the same rental flat or apartment for decades. There's few of the sprawling apartment complexes that you'll find in the suburbs of other cities; the few that you do encounter wil be inhabited by residents that have rented there for years.

    For some reason, strong roots are in our blood. Maybe that's why we still reel whenever Buffalo experiences another punch, even though we're thousands of miles away. Disney lays off some imagineers ... who cares. Cutbacks at Harrison Radiator ... ouch.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  4. #4
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Urbanity - Buffalo doesn't have the "uptown downtowns" of Kansas City, St. Louis, or Detroit. There's just the one downtown, at the center of the spoke-and-hub street plan laid out by Joseph Ellicott. Buffao's downtown is very linear, stretching about a two kilometer distance along Main Street (the Buffalo Place transit mall). Downtown is never really more than about four or five blocks wide at any given point, though -- head east, and you'll hit warehouses and mechanical trade uses such as electrical and plumbing supply firms. West, and it's land cleared in 1960s urban renewal, the Thruway, and the waterfront.

    Buffalo was always a blue collar city, so its downtown was never developed to the density of other cities of a similar size that developed through the era. Buffalo never really had any major corporate headquarters; it was always a back office town, so it's a miracle that it developed a huge arts community and thick Blue Book without the corporate backing that Pittsburgh, Detroit or St. Louis had. Some claim that Buffalo's decline actually started in the late 1800s, when out-of-town corporations set up factories and back office operations in Buffalo. Locally owned forms were never given a chance to grow or prosper, so the firms that could have provided a sense of "corporate citizenship" never got established.

    Outside of downtown, the most urban area is probably the Delaware District, which includes a collection of neighborhoods between downtown, Main Street, Delaware Park and Richmond Street. Buffalo's "Millionare's Row" really never declined to the extent of Euclid Avenue in Cleveland or Woodward in Detroit. The area is about a mile wide, four miles long, and contains the bulk of the city's historic districts, bohemian neighborhoods, high rise apartments and co-ops, and urban blue bloods. An equivalent in another city might be the Central West End in St. Louis, or Hyde Park in Chicago. Visit the Delaware District, and you don't feel like you're in a declining city. Streets are immaculate, pedestrians are everywhere, homes are well maintained, the urban blue bloods still call it home, and there's more than enough high rise apartment buildings to keep a skyscraper fan's camera busy.

    Here's a good Delaware District shot ... picture that, only over a three or four mile stretch.

    [snip]

    Outside of the Delaware District, North Buffalo (Central Park, Parkside and North Park) is a stable middle to upper-middle income residential district, developed through the 1920s. South Buffalo is mostly working class to middle class Irish, and is fairly stable. Otherwise, most of the city has seen better days -- either they're rough blue collar ethnic neighborhoods like Riverside, Black Rock, Kaisertown, St. John Kanty and Lovejoy; once middle and upper middle class neighborhoods on the East Side that have gone the way of North St. Louis and Cleveland's East Side since the 1960s; or small middle and upper income enclaves like Cleveland Hill, University Heights and D'Youville, holding out against 'da hood.

    I grew up in Kensington; a middle class neighborhood in northeast Buffalo filled with what were at the time called "semi-bungalows." Kensington is now thought of as a predominantly lower-middle income African American community; Bailey Avenue's stores cater mainly to urban tastes (lots of urban clothing stores, beeper stores, and so on), about a fourth of the lots along Bailey are now vacant, and there's quite a bit of drug crime. Still, though, drive down Kensington's streets, and there's holdouts a'plenty ... the neighborhood is still about 40% white, half of 'em at the neighborhood's outer fringes by the city line, the other half scattered about.

    I grabbed these Kensington semi-bungalow images off a real estate Web site ...

    [snip]

    I think the following link says it all -- it's a house on a rather nice street in the University Heights neighborhood.

    http://www.buffaloniagarahomes.com/p...ch=NO&src=bnh#

    There are no "urban suburbs" like Clayton or Chevy Chase. There also aren't any real edge cities; some will say Amherst is one, but it's just where the bulk of upscale office parks are. Amherst's zoning limits building height to six stories.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  5. #5
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Oh man, we Buffalonians love our aluminum siding. Owe it to Buffalo's severe weather, the flood of German immigrant carpenters into the region in the late 1800s, and the city's location next to what was once the largest lumber transshipment point in the United States. The vast majority of houses were built from wood, which made sense economically. Considering the weather, though ... well, there wasn't much foresight.

    Wood details that would last forever in Kansas City or Columbus cracked, rotted away or fell off about 40 to 50 years after houses were built. Middle income folks could afford the costs of constant exterior maintenance. Working class, lower middle class and elderly folks in the bungalow belt couldn't.

    Paint peeled from wood slats in just a few years. Corbels and other decorative details didn't last long. Porch roof support columns rotted away, and they were usually replaced with decorative metal structures. (Italian-Americans in Buffalo go absolutely all out with it, for some reason). It was cheaper to strip off the remaining details, cover the house in siding, maybe install small, "energy efficient" windows to replace drafty old casement windows, and be done with it.

    Buffalonains also love interior wood paneling and above-ground pools. I have no idea why.

    It's as if just about everything outside of North Buffalo, the Delaware District and better parts of South Buffalo is covered in aluminum or vinyl siding. Wiping out architectural details in the name of a "maintainence free exterior" is another factor that will make gentrification of many neighborhoods in Buffalo unlikely. Very few wood houses in Buffalo built before World War II as starter homes are worth renovating -- why dump the money into renovating some beast that had every ounce of charm "modernized" away, while the same money can get you a wonderful, well-preserved home in an already thriving area?

    Here's the dark side of the city architectural historians rave about.

    [snip/images]

    This one made me go "wow!" It's a few houses down from where I grew up! I think it's the Mancuso house ... Sauers on the left, Ingersons on the right. $24K, and it's yours!

    [snip/images]

    One further down my old street, next to what used to be Helen's Corner Store. It's a Yemenese bodega now, selling moldy Wonder Bread and cold forty-dogs of St. Ides.

    [snip/images]

    At least St. Louis has brick, and the aluminum siding craze didn't hit Detroit with the intensity with which Buffalonians embraced it.

    There's worse, though ... far worse. It's gotta' be in other places, but in the miltitude of cities I've visited, I've only seen it in Buffalo.

    It's called ghetto brick. It gets the name from the place where it's most prominent -- semi-bungalows in East Side neighborhoods. Ghetto brick are sheets of asphalt-based siding, approximately 2'x4', that are colored and stamped in a way that resembles brick or slate. You'll often find houses that have wood slats, composition board or aluminum siding on the front, with the sides and rear covered in ghetto brick.

    Nothing is worse than Buffalo ghetto brick. Not formstone in Baltimore, brickface in New Jersey, vertical aluminum siding on mobile homes, pink stucco in Albuquerque, or exposed cinder block on 1950s era starter homes in southern Florida.

    [snip/images]

    I can't explain this one.

    [snip/images]

    Here's a few rare semi-bungalows that are relatively intact.

    [snip/images]
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  6. #6
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Ooooh .... ooooh .... ooooh .... this would be a perfect background image for a Web site on Buffalo's working class residential architecture.

    [snip/images]

    I forgot ... I've also heard it called "Polish brick."

    Oh man, I'm feeling homesick ... some Genny Cream ale-induced trots and slush-filled boots would make it complete.

    Found this house for sale while surfing online. If you were looking for a typical worker bee-type house in the city, this is it. Even the way it's advertised screams BUFFALO! "South Buffalo Dollhouse ... Vinyl siding ... above ground pool ... St Ambrose Parish".

    Yes, folks really do care about the church parish. Buffalo Catholicism makes Salt Lake City Mormonism seem like a passing interest in comparison.

    [snip/images]

    Fake shutters, decorative metal rail, big 'ol double pane vinyl windows ... perfect. I'll bet there's a basement rec room with paneling, a neon Genny sign and a wet bar; large gruesome crucifixes in every room; light switch panels with chrome lattices, and a summer screen for the garage.

    Buffalo, you bitch ... I love you and hate you at the same time.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  7. #7
    Cyburbian thestip's avatar
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    Dan, you can't resist it. It's calling to you. Come home Dan, come home!


    The funny thing is it really does. My cousin moved to LA a year ago, he grew up not in Buffalo but in NW Indiana. But because he spent many of his holidays and summer vacations here, everytime he comes back all he talks about is if he just could get a job here and move here. It really is amazing how it draws you in.
    'Planning Rockstar in training';-)

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Rumpy Tunanator's avatar
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    I don't think city (and region) will come back unless some laws are changed at the state and local levels. Tax burdens for one, inept local and state politicians, outdated laws that hold back cities from rebounding (i.e. pvc piping not allowed to be used in rehabs of older buildings, although I think it just got repealed), no state level smart growth plan, red-tape X 100, etc., etc.

    As for MSA's, being on the border of another country doesn't help (in census rankings), even though the region along the border is pretty well intergrated with each side. I also wonder why Chautauqua & Catt. Counties were never included, while Rochester has some really rural counties attached to its MSA (i.e.Orleans, Wayne county).

    Oh well, time to go.
    A guy once told me, "Do not have any attachments, do not have anything in your life you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner."


    Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro): Heat 1995

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    Cyburbian jsk1983's avatar
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    "It's called ghetto brick. It gets the name from the place where it's most prominent -- semi-bungalows in East Side neighborhoods. Ghetto brick are sheets of asphalt-based siding, approximately 2'x4', that are colored and stamped in a way that resembles brick or slate. You'll often find houses that have wood slats, composition board or aluminum siding on the front, with the sides and rear covered in ghetto brick." -Dan

    Ah yes, asphalt brick. My parents house around Bailey/E. Delevan had that. My grandmother's house, next to Schiller Park, had a plastic bricks covering the original wainscoating in the kitchen, and to top that off the floor had some sort of linoleum brick pattern.

  10. #10

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    Ah yes, Buffalo. Now there's a real city. And it once was a first rank city, which most today find hard to believe. It's interesting that you still feel this way about Buffalo, even though I believe that you now live in another real city (Cleveland). I mean, it's not like you ended up (for now) in Washington DC! Do you think that a native Clevelander could feel as strongly about their hometown as you do about yours?

  11. #11
    You might argue that it is the Pheonix's of the world that do not really have a reason to exist. Why is it there? What purpose does it serve being were it is? I guess that there is no reason for any city to be anyplace if a huge metro can grow out of a desert in a far flung empty corner of the country. If this is the case then there is no reason Buffalo can not regain its greatness. As for Pheonix. What happens when it ages and becomes less attractive? Is there anything there that people will feel passionate about once its strip malls have no shine and its subdivisions do not have the current stylish place names?

  12. #12
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    Comment about stats in random thoughts thread

    Geez, Vegas grew that much! Yeah, that's about right. I'll be glad I'll be six feet under or ash before the day I see Flagstaff grow like Vega - not just in population, but to become a plastic-y, Disneyland-esque, cigarette-smoke casinoland of waddling, visceral-addicted tourists. Caveat to Las Vegas residents - I know, I know, the strip & et al that crap is not the real Las Vegas where people live! One fellow in Sedona sez most residents stay totally away from casinos unless they want to hit a buffet/show, or have to work their. Interesting growth stats about other cities!

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    Quote Originally posted by steel
    You might argue that it is the Pheonix's of the world that do not really have a reason to exist. Why is it there? What purpose does it serve being were it is? I guess that there is no reason for any city to be anyplace if a huge metro can grow out of a desert in a far flung empty corner of the country. If this is the case then there is no reason Buffalo can not regain its greatness. As for Pheonix. What happens when it ages and becomes less attractive? Is there anything there that people will feel passionate about once its strip malls have no shine and its subdivisions do not have the current stylish place names?
    You've nailed it right on the head.

    You can already see this in the postwar suburbs. They were built so quickly and uniformly, and the quality of the architecture and planning is so mediocre (not poor-back to back hovels and tenements are poor, 1957 suburbia is just...mediocre ). In metropolitan areas with population growth/artifical housing shortages, they may retain their quality. In a stagnant place like my hometown-will they? (Of course, my mom's 1957 neighborhood looks pretty nice because all the trees have grown in. Its actually wooded now!)

    Will people learn to love the first generation strip malls? Is there a legacy? Or-are we just too close to the previous generations to dispasionately critique the earlier architecture (remember, the Art Deco era and 1950s modernists disdained Victorians!)

  14. #14
    We always go through a stage in each era where we have a hatred for previous eras. That is how we move on and advance. To a certain degree it is needed to promote progress and advancement. America works becasue we are not afraid to start fresh. We often do not gain appreciation for the qualities of the past era until we have started to destroy that era. Sometimes we wake up on time to save the most valuable assets from our past. Often we are slow to come to our senses and we lose valuable pieces of our herritage such as a historic neighborhood or a major work of art such as Wright's Larkin Administration Building or even a whole city (Detroit for example).

    The big problem is that in the past we replaced high quality with higher quality. Today high quality is deemed to be unnecessary. So as we destroy the quality environments handed to us from the past or eliminate our natural landscape for developements built on a 10 year amortization schedule it is hard to see what there will be worth saving from today's newer cities when the next era takes hold.

  15. #15

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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    You've nailed it right on the head.

    You can already see this in the postwar suburbs. They were built so quickly and uniformly, and the quality of the architecture and planning is so mediocre (not poor-back to back hovels and tenements are poor, 1957 suburbia is just...mediocre ). In metropolitan areas with population growth/artifical housing shortages, they may retain their quality. In a stagnant place like my hometown-will they? (Of course, my mom's 1957 neighborhood looks pretty nice because all the trees have grown in. Its actually wooded now!)

    Will people learn to love the first generation strip malls? Is there a legacy? Or-are we just too close to the previous generations to dispasionately critique the earlier architecture (remember, the Art Deco era and 1950s modernists disdained Victorians!)
    When they are in economically viable areas, the old strip mall or shopping mall will be redeveloped, in effect destroying the original. More often, dead malls are in declining neighborhoods and these malls will become fallow. There are many smaller strip malls in my economically distressed hometown that are completely vacant or nearly so. What value could one ever seen in them? Downtown is also, of course, mostly vacant, but people occasionally take an interest in it because it contains buildings and public spaces of interest. Not just because they are older. The architectural quality is simply higher, and it doesn't take an architect or art historian to make that observation. Still, despite the inherent value of their downtowns, economically distressed cities in economically stagnant regions face a bleak future. To think otherwise is simply Pollyannish.

    But don't worry. New housing starts are up! It's all good.

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