Long Story Short: Not so fast, renaissance!
Canalside is one of the reasons Buffalo was chosen as a great weekend getaway.
What came first?
The Buffalo News recently published an article titled: Buffalo's economic renaissance is missing one thing: jobs. The opening one-sentence paragraph echoes the title, as does the next passage, and the next. This reflects what a lot of “Buffalo renaissance” deniers claim: you don’t have a renaissance without jobs.
It takes News business reporter David Robinson all the way to the fourth, two-line paragraph of the article to get to the heart of the matter: “But for the first time in decades, the problem isn't a struggling economy. Buffalo Niagara badly needs more people.”
The real problem
The article goes on to say that companies want to hire but can’t find people to fill jobs. Baby Boomers (of which Buffalo has an abundance) are retiring, and while the region’s population has stopped shrinking, it’s not growing. Unemployment is low.
"It's a people problem," says State Labor Department regional economist Timothy Glass, "Either companies aren't finding the people with the qualifications they're looking for or the skills they're looking for, or they're just not finding enough people."
If companies can’t find the workers they need, the article claims, they must either turn down business, or move to where the workers are.
This is where the article ends.
What can we do?
Well for one thing, we can elect a new President. I’m not looking for ways to blame Trump for our problems; they just present themselves. An AP article from 2018 tells the story. The title: Trump refugee cuts slow resurgence of cities like Buffalo.
“When thousands of others fled the struggling Rust Belt city of Buffalo,” the article begins, “refugees poured in to fill the void and invigorate the economy. Blighted blocks were tidied up by new arrivals from Iraq. Shops selling Ethiopian cuisine opened, and employers snapped up workers from Myanmar and South Sudan. More than 12,000 refugees arrived in the area in ten years, helping stymie decades of dizzying population loss.”
Trump cut the number of refugees allowed into the United States to record lows. Later in the AP article, the problem is spelled out: “The number of refugees coming into Buffalo now is stalled and that hurts not only my business, but other businesses in town,” said Larry Christ, chief operating officer of lighting manufacturer LiteLab, where six languages are spoken on the assembly floor. “Like a car, you need gas to fuel movement forward.”
Buffalo, you have two choices
We need people, so there are two options: start cranking out kids like we did after WWII and wait eighteen to twenty-one years for them to enter the labor force, or elect government leaders that allow larger numbers of refugees from other countries to move to the US.
It’s not a job problem. It’s a stupid government problem.
You've already arrived
Wondering where you’ll find the best “weekend getaway” bang for your buck? AFAR, the online travel site, thinks you don’t have to travel afar after all. In fact, you might just stay home, especially if you wait until later this spring.
Buffalo was named one of the The Best Weekend Getaways in the United States by AFAR. The article recommends our fair city for its “monumental architecture, a rejuvenated waterfront, and a food hall that’s a veritable United Nations of cuisine.” It singles out Canalside and the Explore & More children’s museum, which is expected to open there in the spring.
Like many recent articles on Buffalo, Hotel Henry is mentioned. But also coming this spring to the Richardson Olmsted Campus is the long-awaited Lipsey Architecture Center of Buffalo. This new facility will offer interactive exhibition space for visitor orientation and inspiration, with exhibits on Buffalo history and new ideas in architecture, landscape, and design. Nearby, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and Burchfield Penney Art Center are also recommended.
The article finishes with several food opportunities BESIDES wings, including local bakeries, coffee shops, and the West Side Bazaar, which serves authentic Lao, Burmese, and Ethiopian dishes expertly prepared by our immigrant and refugee community.
For a great getaway, book a room downtown or at the Hotel Henry, and enjoy what our city has to offer.
Perhaps you want a getaway that offers a few laughs. Well, there’s more than a few to be had at the National Comedy Center. But wait; Jamestown’s National Comedy Center is soon to be THE National Comedy Center of the whole United States, just like the National Gallery of Art, the National Air and Space Museum, and the National Museum of Dentistry.
“Jamestown is now to comedy what Cooperstown is to baseball and Cleveland is to rock and roll,” says Congressman Tom Reed, who sponsored the measure.
Sneaking in the back door
Congress and the Senate failed to pass an earlier stand-alone bill granting this designation, so Reed tacked it onto the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, which adds more than a million acres of wilderness to protected federal lands.
It passed in the House by a 363-62 vote, and in the Senate by 92-8, which is about as bipartisan as measures ever get. Now we wait for President Trump to sign it into law. Trump is not big on preserving habitat and protecting public lands, so we’ll see what happens.
If the measure is not signed, there are enough votes to override a veto.
To live and die in Buffalo (and surrounding regions)
Erie and Niagara county residents have among the lowest in life expectancy of all counties in New York State. Why? Because we are poorer, fatter, exercise less, and smoke more than the rest of the state.
According to the County Health Rankings report, by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, the average life expectancy in Erie County is seventy-eight-point-three years old. That’s about three years less than the state mean. African Americans do worse at seventy-four years, while whites do a tiny bit better at seventy-nine. Hispanics score an average of eighty-four years, so I want to know what they’re eating.
It turns out, a lot of health factors are tied to wealth. Child poverty, limited access to healthy foods and preventive health care, and burdensome housing costs are all contributors to shortened longevity. Affluent white suburban counties near New York City are among the healthiest in the state, with the longest lifespans.
Dig deeper into 2018 key findings, and you discover that communities of color have been systematically cut off from investments that promote affordable housing, good schools, living wage jobs, and access to clinical care and healthy foods. Residential segregation is a fundamental cause of health disparities in the US. Key 2019 findings revolve around the importance of safe, affordable housing.
Is it any wonder that there’s a lifespan disparity between black and white populations in highly segregated Erie County?
On a related note
On March 12, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a new $50 million investment in Buffalo’s East Side, where much of the city’s African American community have lived for many decades. The money will be dispersed through the East Side Corridor Economic Development Fund, which is calling for infrastructure and other investments along parts of Bailey, Fillmore, Jefferson, and Michigan avenues. It’s the latest of a recent wave of economic investment in what had been the most neglected part of the city.
All great news.
Damned by their own words
The Buffalo News covered the investment news, and the third line of the story caught my eye: "If you look at the other areas, there is really nothing left except for the East Side," said Rhonda Ricks, whose R+A+R Development is working on a project to bring housing to the former Buffalo Forge site. "All the other areas have been done."
Translation: developers economically exploited the relatively thriving areas of the city, which didn’t need as much attention as the East Side, but that’s drying up now, so let the gentrification begin east of Main Street. The News article goes on: "’Overnight, it puts the East Side on the map,’" said Rocco Termini, who has developed nearly a dozen properties in downtown Buffalo and Black Rock.” Right, poor communities are never on the map, until everything else is used up.
The East Side might be viewed as being highly receptive to developers, who often face opposition in more prosperous neighborhoods. Since the East Side is starved for attention, will the city approve anything developers propose? Recently, Nick Sinatra and David Pawlik requested seven Green Code variances for a proposed three-story office building on Jefferson Avenue. Which prompts the question: why can’t developers design buildings that conform to the rules, which innumerable stakeholders developed over years at a massive cost of time and taxpayer money? And why won’t the zoning board force them to?
The uptick in East Side interest is great news. But Buffalo has a record of acquiescing to developer wishes. Unless Mayor Brown and the zoning board starts to hold builders’ feet to the fire where it comes to the city’s building codes, the problem may be worse rather than better on the East Side.
Affordable and safe housing—not maximized profit—should be a top priority.
It took over three decades, but a building at 417 Massachusetts on the West Side is having its third floor rebuilt, after being destroyed by fire in the 1980s. The entire building is being restored and converted into energy efficient affordable housing at a cost of $2.3 million. Seven of the planned nine apartments will be for tenants earning less than fifty percent of the area median income; two will be for renters earning sixty to eighty percent of the area median income. The ground level will feature a laundry facility that doubles as an arts and cultural center.
Note that the building is not being torn down and replaced by new development.
How come they can do it?
The project is being carried out by two nonprofit organizations: PUSH Buffalo and the Westside Art Strategy Happenings (WASH) Project, with financial support from the state. PUSH Buffalo’s Green Development Zone (GDZ) Homes project will recreate the original third floor.
Not about profit
WASH was founded by Burmese refugee Zaw Win, after he took ownership of the West Side Value Laundromat Wash & Dry. PUSH Buffalo is an activist organization dedicated to mobilizing residents to create strong neighborhoods with quality, affordable housing, to expand local hiring opportunities, and advance economic and environmental justice.
Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.
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