Has Buffalo Hit the Bottom? Or Is it Rising Again?

It’s been some time since Buffalo, N.Y. has gotten a break. Buffalo has seen some of the worst decline of the entire Rust Belt — perhaps because it has had the furthest to fall. Once mighty, Buffalo is now home to what the Associated Press has dubbed “America’s emptiest neighborhood.”

Buffalo’s population was on the decline long before this current recession’s bout with foreclosures. Unable to keep ahead of the technological curve back in the early 1900s, Buffalo was overlooked. As means of transportation increased, the city’s most valuable asset — the Erie Canal — was no longer necessary for trade. Subsequently, industry shut down. People fled the city in search of jobs. Home-owning costs fell, inviting an influx of poor and lower middle-class families. Thus, the tax revenue fell and the city further declined.

Buffalo Central Terminal, abandoned in 1979. Photo by dmealiffe.
Now with 10,000 vacant homes scattered among the streets of Buffalo, city officials come to the decision that demolishing them is the best plan of action. So far, 1,107 homes have been removed. Leaving locals to decide whether the depreciating, vacant homes were actually better than the junk-filled lots that come to replace them.

But our idea of Buffalo is relenting. A recent New York magazine article, “What Could Make Someone Want to Leave New York and Move to Buffalo” has author Adam Sternbergh describing Buffalo as a “frontier.”

Sternbergh says, “It offers the chance to live on the cheap and start a nonprofit organization, or rent an abandoned church for $1,000 a month, or finish your album without having to hold down two temp jobs at the same time, or simply have more space and a better view and enough money left over each month to buy yourself a painting once in awhile.”

Who wouldn’t want to be among the first to make their mark on uncharted territory? Many of the people described in the article, as well as online commenters seem to agree. Their collective sentiment is that Buffalo is on the rise.

Despite hope, from outsiders and locals alike, it seems like city officials are giving up. Who can blame them? Considering their past efforts — not to mention the million of dollars spent — to revitalize Buffalo, by the way of a rail system and complete waterfront makeover, it doesn’t seem like the city will ever budge. However, I can’t steadily agree with the idea of using what little tax money they have to demolish property either.

Where’s the innovation?

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