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Buffalo, Youngstown, Hartford and other dying cities: justify your existence

Dan

Dear Leader
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
17,044
Points
49
The past four years, I lived in the Denver, Colorado area -- a city that is oft cited for its efforts to revitalize downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods, where suburbs sprawl but tough design standards promote very high quality development that reinforces community identity, where affluent, educated residents are returning to inner city neighborhoods that, only a few years before, were thought of as questionable. Now, I’m in Orlando, Florida – another boomtown that is experiencing an influx of new residents, gentrification of inner city neighborhoods, and heightened recognition among its residents of the role the built environment plays in day-to-day life.

Recently, I was thinking about the places that are slowly withering, despite the economic boom of recent years -- Buffalo, Rochester, Niagara Falls, Hartford, Youngstown. Buffalo, for instance, is ethnically and socioeconomically insular, socially isolated, no longer has economic relevance, is bleeding its youngest and brightest, and from a planning and governance standpoint, has managed to go against the grain and do _everything_ wrong.

Tough architectural design, site planning and signage regulations, construction of New Urbanist communities, lofts and warehouse districts, metro consolidation, managed racial integration of transitional areas – commonplace throughout the country, but not even on the agenda in Buffalo. While homebuyers throughout the country flock to New Urbanist communities such as Kentlands, Celebration, and Lowry, developers in suburban Buffalo continue to build a web of sprawling, loop n’ lollypop streets far on the urban fringe, cheered on by their host communities.

Other cities are expanding their rail systems, and promoting high-density development near their stations; in Buffalo, McDonald’s opens up outlets with drive-through windows next to stations of a rail system that hasn’t expand, isn’t going to expand. Suburban communities throughout the country are begging for rail; in Buffalo, residents are scared that minorities will go out to their precious subdivisions, and cart stolen television sets back to the East Side on Metro Rail.

Low housing costs and low demand result in no market pressure to revitalize old housing stock and inner city neighborhoods. “For Sale” signs pop up minutes after the first minority appears on a block in some neighborhoods. Young, well educated men and women find it harder to identify with the blue collar, old-school ethnic culture that permeates Buffalo, a culture that has not given way despite the economic and realities of today. Even with world-class high culture and more four-year colleges than many cities three or four times the size, Bills fanaticism still proves to be a more powerful force than cultural and educational enrichment. Buffalo's politics and mindset more closely resembles that of Chicago in 1960 – a working class neighborhood in Chicago, at that -- in 1960 than Portland, or even Cleveland, in 2000. Among American cities, Buffalo seems to be a living anachronism.

A century ago, if a city lost its reason for existing -- the gold was extracted, the price of silver dropped -- no government subsidies propped up the place. Would we all be better off if the Buffalos and Hartfords and Youngstowns were just abandoned? Their architectural treasures can be preserved, made a part of a national park; their art and library collections can be relocated to more prosperous cities; their people and businesses can move away like they have been for the past 50 years. Should Buffalo be allowed to die with dignity?

Buffalo, justify your existence.
 
Messages
1
Points
0
One problem I found was that it is very difficult (impossible?) to get any buy-in to better zoning and site plan controls when a community is in a situation where economic/population growth is stagnant or declining. The politicians want development (any development!), and anything - even existing development controls - which stands in the way, is avoided. The developers know this, so any attempt to impose an "onerous" condition (such as paving the parking lot) is appealed...
 

mike gurnee

Cyburbian
Messages
3,066
Points
30
damned is on target. My previous community was on the fringe of the rust belt, the commissioners were in favor of Main Street, neighborhood revitalization, and up dated zoning. But when our three year effort for a community park and gateway improvements stood in the way of a cigarette outlet which would employ 20 or so part time people, guess who won?

The racial issue mentioned by Dan will take a totally separate dialogue that I am trying to grasp.
 

Lee Nellis

Cyburbian
Messages
1,371
Points
28
Dan's posting made me think back to the early '70's when I was in graduate school at a large midwestern university where one of the economics faculty had recently suggested a triage system that would end all aid (grants, tax shares, etc.) to a large number of small towns in that state. Needless to say, that person was soon in search of a job someplace far far away … And strangely enough, a lot (not all) of those same small towns started growing again and have, to some extent at least, revitalized. The obstacles for a rust belt city may be greater than for a farm belt town. I have no experience in such places. But I do wonder what will happen in Buffalo over the course of, say, 20 years? What if energy insecurity continues and increases, with energy prices beginning to approach real costs? Will people reinvest in a central place like Buffalo? And will those surficially attractive 'burbs of Denver prove to be sustainable? I think there is at least the possibility that the present appearances are deceptive …
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,464
Points
29
I agree somewhat with Mr. Nellis last post. I work in an outer suburb of San Francisco (which exists because of the fantastically high housing prices near the City itself). The City is TOTALLY dependent on the automobile and air conditioning.

People like it because it allows the suburban dream-but at what cost? Maybe I am far too visual, but one of the problems with these "dream suburbs" is their inherent lack of any design quality. Buffalo has great churches, beautiful old buildings and a dense fabric that could be revitalized. Our biggest church is a tacky geodesic dome, and the new subdivisions (at $400,000+) are, to my biased eyes, depressing.

And, although weakened, Budffalo has a real economy. Our homeowners have no jobs except for an Air Force base and a few strip malls and sub living wage light industrial plants. What will these homeowners do if gas reaches $4.00/gallon, or electricity doubles?

So-the long term viability of these suburban Sunbelt dream towns-I don't know??
 

Ian Anderson

Cyburbian
Messages
41
Points
2
...and what about Detroit? Do residents of Detroit have to justify their reasons for living here? 950,000 Detroiters call this place home, and aparently, several million more like the adjacent suburbs. Should Detroit close up shop, scoot its residents out to the suburbs, and throw away the key? Probably not... those folks in the burbs would move further out into the sprawling landscape of five counties. Decline happens and for those of you who read "Good City Form" by David Lynch are aware of the necessity of possibly planning for decline. What are planners in Seattle doing today? What does the departure of Boeing mean? Can more firms get up and leave? Imagine Seattle looking like Detroit in 50 years... hard to think about. We can never predict the future, and to suggest that old, declining cities should close-up shop is a narrow assertion in my opinion. As planners, we can learn from these cities, like Buffalo and Detroit, and try to prevent similar scenarios in our country's greatest cities, like Seattle and Denver.
 

Wannaplan?

Galactic Superstar
Messages
3,081
Points
26
Seattle: recent and upcoming Boeing layoffs

Well, looks like Ian was on to something, even before anyone could conceive of terrorist attacks like the ones on 9/11/01 and the resulting economic troubles for the airlines. I was listening to NPR today and a marketplace report stated that Boeing was going to layoff thousands of workers since airlines have stopped orders for new planes and have no use for the ones coming off the assembly line. The losses are devastating, about 30-40% for Boeing. The only hope for Boeing is the recent millitary build-up.

But back to Dan's original issue and the nuanced discussion from the re-posts: decline and reasons for a city to continue to exist. After reviewing the discussion here, can anyone envision a decimated, economically insignificant Seattle? What if the airline companies suffer from low ridersip based on justifiable consumer fears and sustain an extensive decline for years? Could Seattle become another Detroit, or is Seattle fortunate enough to benefit from a diverse economy?

You can read up on Boeing layoffs at:

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/134351850_boeingbenefits100.html
 

slackdammit

Member
Messages
3
Points
0
Buffalo is a great place for slack. I own a 110-year-old, 1600sq. ft. house on a double lot. It is 100m from Main St., 2 blocks from the Metro stop. I paid $10,000 for the building. Taxes and fees are under $400 / yr. The city's great asset, left over from the glory days, is a 4:00am last call at the bars. This must be the cheapest large city between, say, Bismark, ND and Warsaw, Poland. I have slacked in Olympia, WA and Bisbee, AZ. I regard Buffalo as their equal. I wouldn't go to Orlando, even if you PAID me. Don't much care for Mickey and his fans.
 

planasaurus

Cyburbian
Messages
215
Points
9
...and what about Detroit? Do residents of Detroit have to justify their reasons for living here? 950,000 Detroiters call this place home,

Hey - don't listen to the Census - there is well over a million people in Detroit. They just didn't count the people living in my alley!
 

Dan

Dear Leader
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
17,044
Points
49
slackdammit said:
Buffalo is a great place for slack. I own a 110-year-old, 1600sq. ft. house on a double lot. It is 100m from Main St., 2 blocks from the Metro stop. I paid $10,000 for the building. Taxes and fees are under $400 / yr. The city's great asset, left over from the glory days, is a 4:00am last call at the bars. This must be the cheapest large city between, say, Bismark, ND and Warsaw, Poland. I have slacked in Olympia, WA and Bisbee, AZ. I regard Buffalo as their equal. I wouldn't go to Orlando, even if you PAID me. Don't much care for Mickey and his fans.
[hijack]

Unfortunately, it was not Bob's will for me to stay in Buffalo. I 'm slack-filled, but perhaps Bob still deems me a wee bit too pink to call The City of No Illusions home. Being a Buffalonian is also a state of mind, forging a sense of regional identity among some that's stronger than how some associate with nationalities. Despite my ragging on the region, and feeling like I'm a bit out of place whenever I've lived there, it's home. The lack of planning jobs in local government, and the lack of political connections needed to land the majority of the positions that are left, is the major contributing factor to my being yet another member of the Buffalo Gen-X diaspora.

Go Bills.

[/hijack]
 

LouisvilleSlugger

Cyburbian
Messages
216
Points
9
there was recently a NY Times article (insert joke here) about how Hartford is redifining it's self..the article is about how Hartford has changed from it's Puritan beginnings through its insurance mecca days. very good article.
 

DetroitPlanner

Cyburbian
Messages
6,241
Points
26
I would tend to agree with Planasaurus. Many neighborhoods in Detroit are filling up with non-english speaking minorities. My neighborhood is one of them. When I moved onto my block the neighborhood was principally retirees; with only one or two persons per household. Eleven years later the block's population has doubled, but those that speak english or are not foreign born have decreased remarkably. Many immigrants come from areas where they distrust government, some may be here and want to hide their immigration status.

In addition, Detroit does have a large homeless population. While I don't have evidence of people living in my alleys, I think the combination of the two hard to count populations equates to a severe undercount in Detroit's population.
 

Bear Up North

Cyburbian Emeritus
Messages
9,329
Points
30
DetroitPlanner said:
I would tend to agree with Planasaurus. Many neighborhoods in Detroit are filling up with non-english speaking minorities. My neighborhood is one of them. When I moved onto my block the neighborhood was principally retirees; with only one or two persons per household. Eleven years later the block's population has doubled, but those that speak english or are not foreign born have decreased remarkably. Many immigrants come from areas where they distrust government, some may be here and want to hide their immigration status.

In addition, Detroit does have a large homeless population. While I don't have evidence of people living in my alleys, I think the combination of the two hard to count populations equates to a severe undercount in Detroit's population.
Slightly OT.....

Counting the homeless who are in the alleys will give a city, such as Detroit, access to more fed funds, right? But.....and this question is asked with a good heart, not a cold-hearted racial underclass type motive.....exactly what city services are given to the homeless?

Police protection, perhaps somewhat limited. Fire protection, thinking outside of and past "the box", because this homeless person might be in a building that is served by fire protectors. But, what else?

The homeless don't really use tax-funded services. Services provided by tax-exempt charities, churches.....yes.

If I'm way off base in my thinking......somebody please correct me.

Bear Thinking Outside The (Cardboard Home) Box
 

Kovanovich

Cyburbian
Messages
180
Points
7
The return to the "dying city" issue gives me reason to quote the following median household income stats from Census 2000:

Benton Harbor 17,500
E. Cleveland 20,500
E. St. Louis 21,300
Camden 23,400
Youngstown 24,200
Buffalo 24,500
Hartford 24,800
E. Chicago 26,500
Gary 27,200

These are most of the cities cited by Cyburbia posters as among the most distressed in the country, though I read last week that according to the Census Bureau (I used to work there, BTW), Cleveland's median household has fallen to 26,000, Detroit to 29,500. Does this mean that Benton Harbor is the worst case? Even allowing for differences in cost of living in different parts of the country, at some point a city must approach an absolute low...Admitedly, this list probably omits some even poorer (small) cities in the south or the infamous colonias along the Texas-Mexico border...But of these cities, Benton Harbor does stand out. Surely Camden has a better built environment with more worth preserving than Benton Harbor. We have seen that E. St. Louis, long the most notorious city in America, retains a salvageable infrastructure. The poverty of East Cleveland is truly shocking, especially given that it is immediately adjacent to middle income Cleveland Hghts and Little Italy (the latter being inside Cleveland's borders). The Coventry Village neighborhood of Cleveland Hghts (many great pics from there have recently been posted to Cyburbia) is just a couple blocks from E. Cleveland. Of course, the fate of the residents of these cities saddens me, but I am also concerned for how poverty and disinvestment is likely to spread into adjacent jurisdictions. Of course, this phenomenon is already well-advanced, as we create the next generation of Camdens, on the one hand, and (say) Bloomfield Hills, on the other...I will leave it at this for now, but I wish to use this segue into a related issue in a future post....

I'm told that Youngstown doesn't even have a gas station -- isn't that ironic? One more point for now...The pics of Buffalo et al. should be enough enough to justify these cities continued existence, as well as the likelihood that they will survive longer than a late 20th century sprawl "city." But the argument that such dying cities should be dismantled reminded me of a position advanced a few years ago by Witold Rybczynski that impoverished cities should sell off certain of their sections, forming new municipalities, perhaps completely surronded by the distressed city. His thinking is that people who, because of schools and city services, were unwilling to live in the impoverished city, would be willing to live in a middle class enclave with good public schools. This argument struck me as ludicrous at the time and still does today.
 

steel

Cyburbian
Messages
456
Points
14
Kovanovich said:
The return to the "dying city" issue gives me reason to quote the following median household income stats from Census 2000:

Benton Harbor 17,500
E. Cleveland 20,500
E. St. Louis 21,300
Camden 23,400
Youngstown 24,200
Buffalo 24,500
Hartford 24,800
E. Chicago 26,500
Gary 27,200

These are most of the cities cited by Cyburbia posters as among the most distressed in the country, though I read last week that according to the Census Bureau (I used to work there, BTW), Cleveland's median household has fallen to 26,000, Detroit to 29,500. Does this mean that Benton Harbor is the worst case? Even allowing for differences in cost of living in different parts of the country, at some point a city must approach an absolute low...Admitedly, this list probably omits some even poorer (small) cities in the south or the infamous colonias along the Texas-Mexico border...But of these cities, Benton Harbor does stand out. Surely Camden has a better built environment with more worth preserving than Benton Harbor. We have seen that E. St. Louis, long the most notorious city in America, retains a salvageable infrastructure. The poverty of East Cleveland is truly shocking, especially given that it is immediately adjacent to middle income Cleveland Hghts and Little Italy (the latter being inside Cleveland's borders). The Coventry Village neighborhood of Cleveland Hghts (many great pics from there have recently been posted to Cyburbia) is just a couple blocks from E. Cleveland. Of course, the fate of the residents of these cities saddens me, but I am also concerned for how poverty and disinvestment is likely to spread into adjacent jurisdictions. Of course, this phenomenon is already well-advanced, as we create the next generation of Camdens, on the one hand, and (say) Bloomfield Hills, on the other...I will leave it at this for now, but I wish to use this segue into a related issue in a future post....

I'm told that Youngstown doesn't even have a gas station -- isn't that ironic? One more point for now...The pics of Buffalo et al. should be enough enough to justify these cities continued existence, as well as the likelihood that they will survive longer than a late 20th century sprawl "city." But the argument that such dying cities should be dismantled reminded me of a position advanced a few years ago by Witold Rybczynski that impoverished cities should sell off certain of their sections, forming new municipalities, perhaps completely surronded by the distressed city. His thinking is that people who, because of schools and city services, were unwilling to live in the impoverished city, would be willing to live in a middle class enclave with good public schools. This argument struck me as ludicrous at the time and still does today.

I do not know how Buffalo gets lumped into a catagory with Gary and E St Louis etc. It is much bigger and in a different class. It does have its problems but is also the central city of its metro unlike most on this list. It has world class cultural institutions (not an exageration...see the Albright Knox Art Gallery) it has a tremendous infrastrcuture, universities, and a great natural setting among other assets.

Your final statement about selling off parts of cities to save the best parts from destrcution is ludicrous as you point out. However isn't this basically what has happened were the suburbs retain all the wealth but take no responsibility for caryinig their share of the burden?

In Buffalo for instance.

None of the suburban governments provide subsidies to the philharmonic, the museums or other cultural intitutions. Buffalo has, even with its budgetary distress

None of the suburbs has a pubic housing authority! They do not even have public housing! Why not? wgy is this the responsibility of the city?

The suburbs do not pay higher costs for shared utilities even though they have a need for greater quantity of infrastrcuture per capita than the much denser city

The suburbs do not pay their fare share of the costs for the additional roads and highways which are needed in a much higher ammount per capita than in the city.

and yet if the city with all of its burdens asks for additional help from the county to fund its budget gap it is denied with the statement that the county will provide no hand outs. As if they are making some kind of moral judgement
 
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oulevin

Cyburbian
Messages
178
Points
7
I don't know how the power structure is built in Buffalo, but in my home city, whenever I pose a new idea to some of my contemporaries there, a common response is, "Maybe we just have to wait until they (the current power wielders) die off."

Too long, for sure, but if some young, motivated, and dyed-in-the-wool Buffaloans (?) stick it out and keep pushing change, step by step and diplomatically, things can change. It's an evolutionary process.

Idealism can be so easy...
 

Kovanovich

Cyburbian
Messages
180
Points
7
All points are only too true...As has been pointed out, Buffalo at one time was in the first rank of American cities. Most of the most distressed -- East Cleveland, Gary, East Chicago, East St. Louis, Camden -- are inner ring, working class (now lower class) suburbs or industrial satellite cities. None has anything to compare with Buffalo's cultural and architectural attractions. Buffalo, like all American cities, has been forced to subsidize its own destruction. And yet people have the temerity to ask, "What's wrong with the cities? We subsidize and subsidize (which is not true, when you take into account all the factors that you point out) them and yet they can't get by"...And as they say this they continue to move further and further out from the city's core, to a life that is demonstrably inferior to what they have given up on and left behind...

I also want to point out an error in my previous post. Cleveland's estimated 2003 median household income is 23,000, down from 26,000 in 2000, and Detroit stood at 26,200 in 2003, down from 29,500...so things have gotten appreciably worse in both in a remarkably short period of time. Quite an accomplishment. So much for those who (prematurely) proclaimed the return of the city in the 1990s...
 

Rumpy Tunanator

Cyburbian
Messages
4,473
Points
25
oulevin said:
I don't know how the power structure is built in Buffalo, but in my home city, whenever I pose a new idea to some of my contemporaries there, a common response is, "Maybe we just have to wait until they (the current power wielders) die off."

Too long, for sure, but if some young, motivated, and dyed-in-the-wool Buffaloans (?) stick it out and keep pushing change, step by step and diplomatically, things can change. It's an evolutionary process.
I don't know how much longer I'm going to last here. Same old shat, different day attitude by the elected. Got to either blackmail somebody to get a job around here, or get under their desks and assume the routine.

Some people are pushing for change, and I hope they keep pushing. Its the one fight this place has left.

If this this place is really going to change, it needs a cutthroat, no BS mayor who takes this dysfunctional government and flips it upside down and kicks it in the ass. Unfortunately, next years mayoral canidates look lame and there isn't that person who can make a difference. Unless a certian angry person I know runs :eek:| :eek:| :eek:| :-@ :eek:|

Hell, I thought there was a little hope when the new Executive Director of Strategic Planning was hired, but now he just seems like a pawn who does what the mayor says, even if its wrong. Come on, building an expanded gas station right on the transit-overlay zone? WTF :gagged:

I'll stop here_
 

thestip

Cyburbian
Messages
113
Points
6
Rumpy Tunanator said:
Hell, I thought there was a little hope when the new Executive Director of Strategic Planning was hired, but now he just seems like a pawn who does what the mayor says, even if its wrong. Come on, building an expanded gas station right on the transit-overlay zone? WTF :gagged:

I'll stop here_
Slightly OT:

Yeah I was thinking the same thing too... But then that debacle happened and I just could not belive it. It's a transit-overlay zone, there are not supposed to be auto-related land uses built in it!! We really need to give the developers a wake up call on TOD in Buffalo, since gee we have a $600 million LRT that will never be expanded unless we start making better land use choices around what we currently have. Ugh! +o(
 
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