Another Reader Responds...
Last week I posted a short piece about the work of Jane Jacobs and my own obervations about "demolition season" here on the City's near East-Side. I re-posted an update reflecting one reader's own work and obervations about Jane's urban analysis. This update contains numerous more scholarly references to Jane's work. The full-text of the papers presented at a Boston College symposium, Jane Jacobs & the New Urban Ecology are all available.

A second reader responded with some additional personal observations about the decline and "detroitization" of Buffalo. He sent me two e-mails.

This is the first...containing a number of personal observations and reflections about the neighborhood where he was raised.
I am originally from the Old East Side. When I was a child it was an all German neighborhood, cohesive, beautifully kept -- a real joy. During the 1950s it turned into the terrible ghetto, the remains of which are still sitting in ruins today. The "downfall" started right where we lived -- between what is now the Masten neighborhood and Humboldt Park -- and spread like a fast-growing cancer. My grandmother and parents did not flee because they were racist. The story has never been properly told or documented. It's hard to get people not to misunderstand that describing the Jacobesque downfall of the East Side and Downtown -- the two were simultaneous -- is not somehow "racist," since African American "migrants" were used in the scheme and made the new ghetto-dwellers. It's just the most sad story.

When I was last in Buffalo after my mother died and walked the streets where I was a child, I literally almost wept. The lovely buildings on Dodge Street boarded up, with a "For Sale" sign by Scott Wizig; the Home of the Good Shepherd, two city blocks full of wonderful Gothic buildings between Best and North, Timon and Johnson, with the originally buff-colored walls painted gray (to cover the graffiti) and the remnants of barbed wire left from the days when it was the juvenile corrections facility still visible; the houses my great-grandfather built that served us for four generations razed; wonderful "walking-lifestyle" shopping streets like Genesee and Jefferson completely decimated and "vacant."

People who don't have roots and first-hand knowledge of this story get some "stilted" viewpoint that comes from academic imaginations -- they just rave on about "racism" having killed Buffalo. That is so superficial and insensitive! I hope before too many years pass to be able to be resident there again and do research on exactly what happened.
This is the second e-mail and contains a number of references to the work of Jane Jacobs.
The piece is very interesting. The fact that your intro starts by speaking of your pondering all the demolitions in the Masten area lately is also. I will assume whoever reads what I say has read what you highlighted.

Jane Jacobs says in so many ways what people never seem to "get" -- i.e. that there has to be an indigenous economic engine for there to be a vital city. You can't put "trinkets" copied from other cities in the midst of an empty or "poor" core and expect the accoutrements themselves to draw and keep people. So ideas of convention centers, casinos, and other "big item" "deals" to "bring people into Buffalo" are nonsense. First there has to be something "organic," something that represents vital activity that is in and from and about Buffalo to "be there" before any of the "adornments" of cities will work.

The fact that Buffalo is "empty" to a great extent, particularly its East Side, is that the indigenous ethnic groups who inhabited it and "fed" the adjacent downtown were broken up and moved to the suburbs in the '50s and '60s. Here's where some of the "slumlording" and other city-smashing ideas Jacobs writes about elsewhere need to be understood -- i.e. if one wants to understand how Buffalo became "so empty." A ghetto of alienated, welfare-dependent victims of nefarious schemes could not replace economically or in any viable way the strong middle classes of the indigenous ethnic groups (which I will continue to maintain, as I know so from my own personal observation and upbringing in the midst of the fiasco, was not an "organic" development). Then, too, in the interview quoted with Bromley and Tielman, Jacobs makes the point that Buffalo did see itself as a "branch plant" town, and doing so was a very hurtful thing to do. Bringing "things" in to provide a non-indigenous economy, if it is all a city is depending on, is always a mistake. The "enterprises" use the city they were "brought to" to their own profit, then skip town when labor is cheaper elsewhere or other advantages that are selfish on their part motivate them.

The main point Jacobs is making is that you have to have "indigenous" vitality and economic and other activity that provides an "engine" (my term) for a city.

Given that Buffalo has lost so much population and suffered so many schemes that displaced people to the suburbs (Jacobs says it herself -- people who "flee" to suburbs and claim to like them have had negative experiences as they were caught in the midst of urban problems -- Yes -- so true!), it needs a "huge" new "engine."

So what large new engine could there be that is comprised of Buffalo's people, important processes, and major affairs and that serves Buffalo and could serve it uniquely even more?

It has been proposed on this list and in many circles that Buffalo's large, locally indigenous and productive "engine" is unfortunately stuck out in Amherst -- viz. "SUNY Buffalo." When the University OF Buffalo was "talking about" joining the "state system," people had just the fear and reservation that came true -- viz. that the City of Buffalo would not be the focus of the university any more, that Buffalo would "lose control" of it. Behind closed doors and in an amazing display of secrecy, SUNY (at first called SUNYAB -- yuck!) was put out, in gray, stolid pieces on the wind-swept plains of Amherst.

The most sensible way for Buffalo to regenerate is to bring a major -- probably the only left -- part of its "heart" back into the City and spread it out amidst Downtown and the East Side, the areas most needing the economic engine. Can't you visualize the restored buildings, the dense housing, much of it also restored, the services, the support businesses, the trolley cars and light rail, all the activities? This would make Buffalo an interesting place for people to come to. A casino to drive to and away from, a sports arena, or a convention center -- none of these do anything like the university. Universities are famous for being great supporters of local small businesses -- they breed them in exponential ways. The creative talent, the education of people, the service to community -- all are inherent in an urban university. Right now SUNY - Buffalo is absolutely a misnomer.

The largest project being done that is similar to this idea is occurring right now in Phoenix, AZ, of all places, where the President of the State University and the Mayors of Phoenix, Tempe, and most "valley" cities are all in agreement that the entire community, especially the previously quite uninteresting and somewhat "down" downtown in a metro area of some 6 million people, needed the economic, cultural, and social vitalilty that the huge university inherently promotes. The entire idea has seen no "split" between the state university and the city. Ideas like this one have been tried and succeeded to fruition in many areas of the U.S.A.

Why can Buffalo not "get to" this ideal? It is so insane to imagine that convention centers or pedestrian malls can make a city when there is no social-cultural-economic core to the city!!!

Waiting only for small shops to constitute an entire gutted city is also naive. These small businesses thrive around a "heavier," more central indigenous core
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