Arguments are made for the true heart of Buffalo. Some say Chippewa Street. (obviously Buffalo’s liver). Others Niagara Square (our phallic symbol center?). But here I argue for Allentown, Buffalo’s pulsing center of economic, racial, and cultural diversity.

Allentown is neutral ground where the rich must mingle with the down-and-out at various art gallery openings. Where blacks and whites live and shop together—often looking for the same urban gear. Where gays and straights sip scotch at the same bar. And where bohemians and hipsters embrace the suburban parents desperate for a parking spot near the Theater of Youth.

Among the architecturally significant early Buffalo homes, street people also have a literal home in Allentown—the acknowledged nexus of Buffalo’s social service agencies. So it’s no simple utopia living here in Allentown. Care and tenderness comingle with the harder edges of urban life, but the neighborhood somehow makes room for all and judges few.

Allentown is edgy. It is precisely that edge that keeps the neighborhood alive. Allentown allows for the wide possibilities of adult city life on a livable edge. Rules are negotiable. Art is sometimes impolite. Relationships come and go and sometimes genders themselves change rather quickly. But if the dream of a large-hearted democratic America is still alive, then it is exemplified by Allentown’s spirit. Cities—and especially thriving multicultural cities—are our great hope for the communal experiment that is America at its best. In Allentown we are all in it together making it as best we can. The fact that so many different kinds of people live and play in Allentown is reason enough to cherish it.

—Brian Lampkin


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