Creating Buffalo

An article in the Buffalo News today discusses how Richard Florida’s ideas about the creative class might affect Buffalo. It’s a little funny that this has been so embraced here, given that Buffalo (and it seems Florida was once a prof here) ends up the fourth from the bottom of the list of creative cities.

The idea, however, is sound. What does Buffalo have to offer? It’s culture! And given that a lot of cyberculture and technoculture has the neo-industrial feel (e.g., industrial/goth/tech confluence), one would think the architechture and the kind of pastiche of the area would appeal–in the same way that it does in Seattle and in San Fran. With a bit of work, the fact that it is a decaying city in many respects–and I think that it is blind not to recognize that there is atrophe–could be leveraged as an advantage.

The article goes on to quote Giambra who thinks the idea of drawing creative people is fine, but we have to have jobs to do that. The truth is that this is, frankly, wrong. Creative people go to a city not because of its economic outlook, but because of its cultural currency. Why else would unemployed artists move to New York City, where costs are higher than anywhere else in the US, or busk in the Boston subway? A small seed of creative entrepreneurs would provide a basis for such jobs. You cannot create jobs by fiat.

When I interviewed for the position here at Buffalo, someone mentioned that the city had an amazingly high “lifestyle-per-dollar,” a phrase that I found absurd on the face of it. I had a very difficult time keeping a straight face. Yet, others seem to find nothing strange about such a calculation. It’s true that you can buy a huge Victorian here for far less than a two-bedroom condo in San Fran or Seattle. But lifestyle and dollars need not have a very close relationship. You can’t measure a cities cultural capital in dollars.

I went to Hank Bromley’s house for dinner last night. It was really nice to see people who cared about the city and wanted to do something about it. But I think that what needs to happen is something more akin to a branding campaign. We need to be telling ourselves and the world what Buffalo is. And some form of vision of what it can be should come out of that.

Buffalo does not need “jobs”–or at least not only that. Florida’s observation that tolerance of diversity is necessary is also important. No, not tolerance, but celebration. Elmwood avenue could start to do that. But we need rock stars. We need people with vision and with the character to strive for that vision.

I really mean that. Neither Kurt Cobain nor Bill Gates “made” Seattle, but they introduced the city to a new generation. It needn’t be a rock star or a computer geek, but they wouldn’t be a bad first step.

I am not sure a casino would kill the city. I am sure that it is a stupid way to make use of our financial and organizational resources. A failed casino effort–and this seems to be the destiny of a project which entails significant negative externalities and allows a large part of the profits to leave the city–will only decrease the citizen’s trust in government.

Now is the time for a cultural movement of the streets and of the office buildings. What concrete :) steps can we take to make that happen?

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