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Long Story Short: Halloween edition


Illustration by JP Thimot


The madness

It’s frighteningly strong. It’s growing fast. And it’s not stopping anytime soon. People in its path are doing desperate things. It’s Western New York’s housing market. And if you want in, you may be swallowed by the boom.


The details:

It used to be you could take your time looking for a house in Buffalo’s modestly priced market, bid lower than the asking rate, and negotiate a mutually agreeable price. Not anymore. If you want to buy a house now, you better bid fast and bid high. And you still might be beat by someone willing to pay cash, forego an inspection, or buy the house contingency-free.


The red-hot local housing market has reached a fevered pitch the likes of which hasn’t been seen at least since last decade’s bubble burst. Monthly median sale prices for homes in Buffalo have increased every month for the last six months, even as the pace of sales exceeds the existing inventory, and demand increases. Some hot properties stay on the market for no more than a week.  Buyers routinely pay more than the asking price, and bidding wars are common. Nobody sees this changing in the foreseeable future. The result: buyer frustration.


Of course, prices have not increased evenly across the region. Certain neighborhoods have outpaced others. But overall, home values have been appreciating faster than in most other cities. Housing in Buffalo was always a bargain compared to many other regions of the US, which may be why we are one of ten areas recovering quickest from the housing crash. According to the Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors, the average home sale price hit $171,000 in June and $173,000 in July. This is record-breaking territory, and, of course, higher housing prices mean higher rental prices. Buffalo also has the third fastest growing rent in the nation.


So why is all this happening? It seems like the greatest factor is that WNY has become a more desirable location to settle down. Call it smoke and mirrors if you want, but the perception is a city on the cusp of greatness.


The takeaway:

If you bought a house in the city years ago, because you love urban life, and appreciate historic architecture, you did well. The value of my own house has increased 1400% since we bought it forty years ago. Now you might say that’s great, and, in some ways, it is. But we only profit on that increase if we sell (or refinance again). Until then, it’s the same house it’s always been; we just pay a whole lot more taxes for it. For everyone else, the battle to buy is on.



Smashing pumpkins

You’ve got to hand it to Depew High School. Students there won the Longest Single Throw prize at the twelfth annual trebuchet competition at Clarence’s Great Pumpkin Farm, by flinging a pumpkin 502 feet, and setting a new record. The students built their trebuchet as an assignment for their engineering design and development class, and they were really psyched to watch the big orange squash squash upon impact. The Buffalo Academy of Science charter school team—made up mostly of female robotics students—won the prize for accuracy. Thirteen schools participated. It’s a great way for students to learn about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by applying learned-knowledge to a real-world problem.


Is anyone else slightly troubled by this?


The details:

As any role-playing fantasy gamer knows, a trebuchet is a weapon used to catapult projectiles into midlevel castle walls. They are pretty cool, as weapons go. The students work as teams to make full-sized versions for the pumpkin-flinging competition. There are other ways to learn about such things as velocity, gravity, energy, counterweights, payloads, and Newton’s Second Law, but “It’s not the same as launching a pumpkin 500 feet and watching it splat,” says Douglas Borzynski, STEM coordinator at Buffalo Academy of Science, in a Buffalo News article


And there’s the troubling part: watching a pumpkin splat. Pumpkins are food—darn nutritious food, too. Can we Americans think of nothing better to do with these orbs of nourishment than chuck then across a field? There are 870 million people in the world who are hungry at this moment. If you were hurling pumpkins in, say, Burundi, where three quarters of the population is undernourished, there would be crowds of people appreciatively scrambling for the shattered pumpkin pieces, so that they would have something to eat that day. But here, they just rot.


The image of kids gleefully sending food through the air got me thinking, so I looked up some statistics. In this country we grow 1.91 billion pounds of pumpkins annually. Four out of five of those become Jack-o-lanterns, or otherwise go on seasonal display for their visual attractiveness. And some are catapulted for amusement. That’s about one and a half billion pounds of food rotting away for a couple weeks of holiday entertainment. Then what happens to this billion and a half pounds of organic material? It goes into landfills, where—the U.S. Energy Department warns—it generates greenhouse gas emissions. Yeah, that’s right, your pumpkin causes climate change!


The takeaway:

I get it. Jack-o-lanterns are a tradition that goes back centuries. And fake ones aren’t as fun. But when it comes to trebuchets, why not launch something inedible and reusable, like bowling balls? Buffalo certainly has enough of those. While we’re teaching children about physics, maybe we should also teach them about global hunger.



Winter forecast: it’s anybody’s guess

The science of weather forecasting has grown in sophistication over the years. Various forecasters now predict general weather conditions for whole seasons. And the good news is, there’s a forecast to fit everyone’s needs. 


The details:

The Washington Post predicts the third straight mild winter for almost the whole country!  It’s climate change they say: rising concentrations of carbon dioxide. The last two winters were among the top ten warmest ever. The Post isn’t expecting a third record-breaker, but there will be none of that polar vortex nonsense like in 2013-14. They expect winter to be wetter and warmer than normal.


WKBW First Alert Chief Meteorologist Aaron Mentkowski, along with meteorologists Andy Parker and Don Paul, put their collective scientific heads together and decided that the good times are over. They see more frequent instances of polar air coming into the Great Lakes. Since Lake Erie is warmer than normal, this means more of the dreaded lake effect snow.  They say the worst comes in early 2018.


The Buffalo News cut and pasted the Washington Post article.


The National Weather Service predicts normal to above normal temperatures for Buffalo, with more rain than usual.


One source never lets you down: The Farmers' Almanac. It never lets you down because it bases its predictions on folk wisdom, which you can count on being useless. They use sunspot solar activity to predict long-range weather forecasts, which is about as close to fortune-telling as meteorology gets. So what do they predict? Well I suppose you might say they fall into the hedging-their-bets category of weather forecasting. NYUP.com  quotes the almanac as saying this about upstate New York: “The 2018 Farmers' Almanac predicts a return to a cold and snowier-than-normal winter from January to March 2018.” Yet, on the almanac website they have Upstate New York in the “mild and wet” zone. And elsewhere they say, “Winter will be warmer than normal, with slightly above-normal precipitation. The coldest periods will be in early to mid-December, early January, and mid-February.” So it’s like the Bible; whatever you want to believe, you can find it in the Almanac somewhere. 


The takeaway:

According to various forecasts, Buffalo’s winter will be colder, warmer, snowier, and wetter. Plan accordingly.



Event pick of the week:

I told you about the first event staged by four dynamic women collectively known as ArtReach of WNY.  If you missed it, you can still attend the  group’s second event, titled Sugatory,  which brings new meaning to the phrase sugar shock. Besides food and drink, the evening features a silent auction of twenty-seven uniquely imaginative "skullptures" created by area artists. I’ve seen many of these, and there are some spectacular works, all based on the same ceramic scull, provided by ArtReach (full disclosure, I made one myself that I’m very excited about). It’s just in time for Halloween and Day of the Dead celebrations, and there will be a live Exquisite Corpse drawing event, in which four talented artists will create a work of art, which guests can win.


Best of all, ArtReach does this for charity, with profits split between Crisis Services, Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology, and Hamburg Mutts for Freedom. Artists are also paid for their work.


The details:

This Thursday, November 2 , 7-10 p.m.,  Atrium, 500 Seneca Street, Buffalo
The event includes:
unlimited wine and beer
Salsaritas taco bar
Margarita jello shots
candy and cookies
$20 dollars individual tickets, $35 dollars per pair



Artist and educator Bruce Adams is a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.


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