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About that census and also, “Is Soul-Crushing Sprawl Killing Business?”

A few days ago my neighbor, who works for a very large company in the Chicago suburbs, told me that her employer just established a one day per week, work-from-home policy and also opened a satellite office downtown.  She said they did this because they are experiencing substantial difficulty finding quality new hires (even in the current economy) who want to work in the suburbs.  This anecdote is backed up by an article I read a few months ago on the Cleveland based blog  The story titled “Is Soul Crushing Sprawl Killing Business?” was in the form of a letter written by a suburban Detroit businessman who was expressing his frustration at the difficulty of finding good new hires because they were unwilling to relocate to the Detroit area due to its unattractive reputation.  Here are some excerpts from the story:

From: Andrew Basile, Jr

Subject: Why our growing firm may have to leave Michigan

We’d like to stay in Michigan, but we have a problem. It’s not taxes or regulations. There’s lots of talk about these issues but they have no impact on our business. We spend more on copiers and toner than we do
on state taxes.

Our problem is access to talent. We have high-paying positions open for patent attorneys in the software and semiconductor space. Even though it is one of the best hiring environments for IP firms in 40 years, we cannot fill these positions. Most qualified candidates live out of state and simply will not move here, even though they are willing to relocate to other cities. Our recruiters are very blunt. They say it is almost impossible to recruit to Michigan without paying big premiums above competitive salaries on the coasts.

It’s nearly a certainty that we will have to relocate (or at a minimum expand ) our business out of Michigan if we want to grow. People – particularly affluent and educated people – just don’t want to live here.

There’s a simple reason why many people don’t want to live here: it’s an unpleasant place because most of it is visually unattractive and because it is lacking in quality living options other than tract suburbia. Some might call this poor “quality of life.” A better term might be poor “quality of place.” In Metro Detroit, we have built a very bad physical place. We don’t have charming, vibrant cities and we don’t have open space.

The fundamental problem it seems to me is that our region as gone berserk on suburbia to the expense of having any type of nearby open space or viable urban communities, which are the two primary spatial assets that attract and retain the best human capital.

The cherished corollary to this is that Michigan and Metro Detroit have an “image” problem and that if only people knew great things were they would consider living or investing here. The attitude of many in our region is that our problems are confined to Detroit city while the suburbs are thought to be lovely.

I think long term residents including many leaders are simply so used to the dreary physical environment of
Southeast Michigan that it has come to seem normal, comfortable and maybe even attractive. Which is fine so long as we have no aspiration to attract talent and capital from outside our region.

My fears were confirmed when I began trying to gather local economic development literature to use as a recruiting tool. The deficits which so dog our region are sometimes heralded by this literature as assets. For example, some boosters trumpet our “unrivaled” freeway system as if freeways and sprawl they engender are “quality of life” assets. In San Francisco, the place sucking up all the talent and money, they have removed — literally torn out of the ground — two freeways because people prefer not to have them.

Also, check out Howard Kunstler’s take on this letter here.

Bidwell Parkway @ Elmwood / The Statler

Sounds not too different than Buffalo.  I have heard many times that major companies like M&T bank have had trouble enticing people to work in their Buffalo office because of Buffalo’s less than stellar national image as a bland and dying city with no future and nothing going on. This image is fortified by a dead downtown (on weekends), comparatively little street life compared to places like Elmwood (lead image – left) and Hertel, and vast areas of humdrum suburban sprawl (lead image – top right). Crummy winter weather is just an exclamation point on a bad situation.   By now we have digested the bad news – again Buffalo loses population big time, the sixth straight decade of major population losses for the city. 

If there is a bright spot it would be that the losses have leveled off to around 30,000 or so for each of the last three decades.  This is good news only in light of the whopping 100,000 residents in each of the decades of the 60’s and 70’s as people fled the city in a stampede!  While this last decade’s almost 11 percent city loss has grabbed the headlines, the more important statistic was virtually ignored by the press and area leaders.  That would be Erie County’s nearly 4 percent loss in population.  In fact all eight counties of WNY lost population.

This regional population loss (and especially that of Erie County) is really the more important statistic because it says something about the precarious long term health and viability of the metropolitan area economy.  The population losses in Buffalo have been easy to ignore because, in the past, so much of the city’s loss had been to the benefit of surrounding municipalities.  As the city emptied out, investment poured into the surrounding towns and people were happy.  The problems of the city with its crime, poverty, school busing, and aging infrastructure were easy to pass off as other people’s problems as long as the towns were fed by a steady diet of newly arrived city of Buffalo escapees.  Now that spigot of people has slowed and the few “growing” towns in Erie county are feeding on the aging inner ring suburban towns along with the city.  Predictably, the population winners laud their towns and the lifestyle they provide while exuding a self satisfied pride in their belief that they have been doing things the right way – “If only the city would just do the same” is the subtext.  They are quick to tout efficient snow plowing, great schools, and low crime.  Some have intimated that the losses in Erie County could all be attributed to Buffalo. This quote was in the Buffalo News soon after release of census results:

“Edmund J. McMahon, a senior fellow at the Empire Center for New York State Policy in Albany, tried to find a bright spot. The losses in Erie and Niagara counties actually weren’t as bad as could have been expected, he said. Take Buffalo out of the equation, in fact, and Erie County — propelled by the suburban growth in Amherst, Clarence, Grand Island and others — held its own, McMahon said.”

“In fact” he says. Is this guy serious?  Is he paid to say dumb stuff like this?  Let’s look at th
e reality. Cheektowaga’s population dropped by more than 6 percent; the Town of Tonawanda’s went down 5.9 percent; and West Seneca’s 2.6 percent. The City of Lockport saw its numbers go down 5 percent, and Lackawanna dropped 4.8 percent. The leaders of the area’s “growing” municipalities should not be gloating over their cannibalization of other parts of the county and state officials should not be making silly excuses for population declines in Erie County.

This is shallow myopic (and pretty stupid) thinking which is pretty much saying “everyplace needs to start doing things the way the ‘growing’ towns of Erie county are doing things” is short sighted head-in-the-sand thinking.  This way of thinking ignores reality and it ignores a growing trend in the United States in which younger people are no longer interested in the sprawl type environments that their parents built.  Metro Buffalo’s 60 years of sprawl building has basically gutted sections of the city (seas of parking in places like the Cobblestone District – lead photo bottom right) and created a vast bland landscape of aging and now more empty inner suburbs surrounded by more new sprawl supporting ever thinner populations in a generic built landscape.  

Buffalo’s two major shopping districts have been eliminated leaving a lifeless downtown – that’s the image of the region that is presented to the world.  Don’t get me wrong, Buffalo is a great place which is tremendously underrated in the national psyche. But, Buffalo cannot possibly compete for high quality young talent by showing them a dead downtown and the Eastern Hills Mall as enticements. This is what they are escaping from in their own dead towns.  I know, I know,  I am just someone from Chicago – what does my opinion matter – who am I to tell people in Buffalo what to do?    Well OK, if you don’t care what I have to say maybe this guy can convince you. He does not sound too different from young people planning to leave WNY.

I first found this video on as well.  Rustwire is a Cleveland based blog which is fast becoming a great source for clear thinking discussions on the problems of sprawl in the rustbelt.

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  1. There are so many positive movements and changes happening throughout Buffalo proper-I am constantly amazed by the fortitude of the people of this city.
    However, the elephant in the living room continues to be quality leadership: political, business, etc. Can you imagine how much further Buffalo could be if the people, hard at working turning around parks, neighborhoods, commercial corridors, were buttressed by true, progressive leadership? If we had political leadership that was proactive and progressive? That was ENGAGED (hello, Mayor Brown) or intelligent enough to drive this city forward?
    Buffalo could have the last laugh in America-we missed a growth spurt that Phoenix et al enjoyed, and, in the process, we maintained some character, authenticity and an increasingly-vibrant urban experience. Yes, we have continued to sprawl and, yes, as your insightful article points out, Steele, the region is incredibly impacted by that.
    America continues to act like a spoiled teenager whose parents gave it a Range Rover at 16-no respect for or concern of the resources, costs of driving a Rover. “As long as it suits me, no one can tell me what to do. It’s my American right.”

  2. I agree with everything you’ve said, minus the last sentence, but let’s talk about agreement (for once).
    I went away for college, and coming back to Buffalo a year ago, I am blown away by the different vibe even from five years back. I’ve seen this posted elsewhere, but it’s almost as if many of those people emptying out are the ones who don’t care about the city, who don’t have the same vision/hope/optimism that so many others do. Maybe we are left with a populace that really does care about this city and will do what is necessary to bring it back.
    Mayor Brown makes me sick every time I see him. Not because he really does much wrong, but because he just doesn’t do much period. Get loud, get excited, promote our city, be proud (“yelling” at Bloomberg didn’t do it for me).
    I often wonder in an ideal world, how much would I like to see Buffalo grow? 500,000/1.5 Mil metro? Maybe 2, 3, 4 million? Or just maybe, I’m perfectly fine with where we are right now, and would like to see growth of quality of life, rather than growth in population.

  3. Travelrrr, while I agree that leadership (or the lack of such) is a huge problem, I would argue that the larger problem is Buffalo’s flag-waving love of “no changes, ever, that affect me in any way.”
    Buffalo residents are proud of this behavior, firmly entrenched in what was, instead of what could be. They can keep gripping that sand as tightly as possible, until it’s all run out between their fingers and they’re left holding a wasted shell of a city with no chance of redemption.
    You want change? Convince people to vote for what initially would be an inconvenience for them – roads torn up, tax increases, even demolition of some buildings that need to be torn down (this runs counter to everything Buffalo Rising stands for, in particular), and start building the infrastructure that draws and keeps people here.
    As long as people continue to want the status quo, they will continue to get crappy leadership, because the leaders who get elected know their best bet is to not touch anything.

  4. I love a vibrant downtown. But a prior poster mentioned Phoenix. Phoenix is the definition of subruban sprawl. Despite this, millions of people have moved there in the last 30 years. Why? Low taxes, inexpensive and modern housing (especially now), and no cold weather (although how anyone can take the summers there is beyond me).
    So I don’t agree with the premise of this article. If Main Street/downtown were lively on the weekends and the Harbor were completed, the guy from Texas or Kansas City that M&T wants to hire still would not move here. But he would move to Phoenix.

  5. IMAGE IMAGE IMAGE…Buffalo biggest problem is perception, not necessarily reaility. There is work here, its cheap, you can own a home, its established? But nobody wants to move here?? Something must be wrong no?
    “It’s nearly a certainty that we will have to relocate (or at a minimum expand ) our business out of Michigan if we want to grow. People – particularly affluent and educated people – just don’t want to live here.” Delete Michigan and insert Buffalo…you would never know.
    Face the facts..downtown is not nice…Elmwood is good but its all we can we compete/expect people to come here live/work/play when compared to Chicago (my favorite city in the country) or Philadelphia, or San Fran/Portland/Seattle etc.
    How can Buffalo get its grove back? Wheres the Buffalo Cool? We (myself included) know this is an awesome place to live..but who pulls all the strings together so its one nice big package?? (Buffalo has yet to have a Guiliani, Mayor Daly, Mayor booker)
    Buffalo is a cool place to go out to eat drink for 20somethings..and a growing number move in year by year. But a lot stops there and those that do stay are often forced into the suburbs because of such few options/environments availabe within city limits. Could it be that there is absolutely no effort being put in City wide to lure the next generation of “new urbanists” to the City of Buffalo?
    I know last time I was in Chicago I came across a collection of Condominium developments that were absolutely gorgeous. Turns out it was a public/private partnership aimed at luring young, middle class working folks to the City anchor of the neighborhood. (p.s. it worked)
    I also agree that we’re not faced with the same issues that the boom/bust West/Southern towns faced and we could really position ourselves to be a real killer little city. Just wait and see I guess

  6. Ruby, your post makes no sense. Buffalo has some of the cheapest quality housing in the country, especially compared to somewhere like Phoenix where the housing market has been inflated like crazy over the past 20 years.
    It is true that we won’t ever compete with Phoenix in terms of weather, although I agree that their summers are downright unbearable.
    Having a more vibrant downtown and more (perceived) things to do ramps up the quality of life, which is a big deal to people. Who cares if you have low taxes if there is nothing to do. People want to live somewhere with a high quality of life, and I think that is something Buffalo has going for it. Great architecture, quality art galleries and parks, a much better foodie seen than people typically realize, an emerging beer culture, etc…
    The neighborhoods of Phoenix are all craptastic subdivisions with cinder block walls, Best Buy shopping plazas and strip malls. But you do make a good point about taxes, retirees love low taxes.

  7. Transpo, think of it this way:
    You’re a professional in Phoenix (or any other large city), making $80k per year, living in a $300,000 house.
    You’re offered an opportunity to move to Buffalo to earn $45k per year, but can live in the same sized house for $130,000.
    It’s not a bad deal, but on the surface, there’s not a single person who would ever take that opportunity.
    And that’s why housing prices and cost of living have absolutely nothing to do with getting people here. It’s the paycheck and the amenities.

  8. How much would it cost for a 6-month nationwide (maybe even include Canada) massive ad campaign? Commercials, billboards, magazine ads, etc. I think of the California campaign, Ontario, BC, Philadelphia, Chicago, and they always resonate with me. Make it well done, be creative, and just ram Buffalo down people’s throats. Every place goes through their ups and downs, and it takes time for perceptions to change. Why don’t we force that change to happen a little sooner?

  9. I think you have to think of the metro when you talk growth. In my past travels, some of the best neighborhoods in cities are mid-size development, in proximity to public space. So think of the Elmwood Village who benefits from proximity to parks and parkways.
    The goal to lower cost and create walkable spaces should be attempts to replicate this idea. I think that’s the way I personally wish Broadway Fillmore would become.
    The population number of such a thing would be near 400,000 and itwould include m ore parks.

  10. This article could be taken as a city vs suburb thing, however I think there could be a urban way of applying the benefits of both cities and suburbs, and no I’m saying to build suburban homes in the City.
    The City needs to take blighted areas and create parkways and parks, which are bordered by housing. These parks would be nearby major commercial districts in the neighborhood.

  11. Pearson,
    I agree that a lot of it has to do with amenities. Of course people want cool things to do, great architecture, good schools, etc…But I disagree that cost of living has nothing to do with drawing people to the area. Just last year there was a NYT article called “The Urban Dream life going for cheap” (or something of that nature) discussing individuals moving from NYC to Buffalo because of cheap housing costs and high quality of life.
    Even in your example, the individual in Phoenix is paying 3.75 times their annual salary for their home was opposed to 2.9 times their salary, you don’t think that is enticing to someone?
    Who cares if you can make 80,000 somewhere else if a higher percentage of your salary is going to basic living costs.

  12. So you think the people quoted in this story are full of sh*t? metro Buffalo should continue disinvestment in the city and continue investment in sprawl type landscapes?

  13. so no one is contesting this particular observation from steel?
    “This way of thinking ignores reality and it ignores a growing trend in the United States in which younger people are no longer interested in the sprawl type environments that their parents built.”
    so much for the argument that we have to keep adding to suburban sprawl because it is what ‘the people’ want or ‘the market’ dictates. kids are voting with their feet and their housing dollars and sprawl is losing.
    i don’t think very many people grasp the ramifications of this generational change. sooner or later the suburbs will have an oversupply of ranch houses, colonials, and mcmansions that were once deemed ‘safe investments.’ i foresee a whole lotta cul-de-sacs with the same kind of abandonment and deterioration that has decimated entire census tracts in buffalo.
    meanwhile, urban neighborhoods once written off by the middle class will once again see new energy, investment, and life. hint to retiring baby boomers in the burbs: sell now while you can.

  14. I agree, the people that have choose to stay in Buffalo or those that have moved here bring a commitment and spirit not seen 20 or 30 years ago. I would rather have one of them as a neighbor rather than ten pessimistic whiners that complain about all things city.

  15. Buffalo has a ton of parks and greenspace. The reason why Elmwood has flourished has everything to do with its proximity to Delaware ave, and the housing stock located to the west of it. Also the proximity to Buffalo State, and the thousands of college kids with disposable income that flock to Elmwood, has created that atmosphere.

  16. STEEL:
    I find it hilarious that the tri-picture up top has a picture of the Cobblestone district on the bottom right. Nice to see that you define “sprawl” as an area with walking distance to our CBD.

  17. …..then on top of that you have a picture of Elmwood ave during an event with a bunch of middle aged white people, and try to pass that off as a common theme for the area. If you actually lived in Buffalo you would know that on any given gorgeous night in the summer cars on Elmwood out number walkers 2 to 1, and without all of the parking spaces far less people would visit. One last question, how is that picture of the Statler supposed to define your argument one way or another?

  18. The funniest thing about articles or studies like this are thier are direct links between sprawl and countless negative consequences. For every reason someone has for living in sprawl there is a viable rebuttle.
    -I like my space
    -While lot sizes maybe a bit larger I know very few people whose neighbors can’t see in their window or kids can play baseball without fear of breaking a window. Sprawling hoods tend to have houses sat lenthwise not end to end and have large front yards creating the illusion of space.
    -My kids need to be safe
    -Living in sprawl causes you to drive more, exponentially increasing the chance for serious injury or death
    -I like the freedom of a car
    -Millions of people live in urban areas and own cars
    -Good schools for my kids
    -Physical sprawl does not make better schools, segragation by socioeconomical status, which is a dirty cousin of sprawl can lead to groups of high and low performing schools
    -I want a house I don’t have to worry about
    -Is there such a house that exist? Where is it? All houses are a responsibility and liability as well as an asset. You can buy home warranties on none new homes.
    and on and on and on……

  19. nah.
    geological reality isn’t negotiable. every day india, china, and other nations want more and more petroleum for their shiny new cars and factories and every day there is less of it in the ground. demand now outstrips supply.
    if you are loyal devotees of the free market and do not expect washington to start buying up tanker loads and reselling it below cost (aka socialism), that means that you will pay more at the pump.
    once gas hits $10 a gallon, a whole lotta people will be priced out of sprawlville, which i define as any environment, whether in a city or suburb, where car use is mandatory. sprawlville is where uses are carefully separated and the basics of everyday life – your house, job, school, church, gym, whatever, can be reached only by private automobile. sprawlville is any place designed for cars instead of people.
    combine geological inevitability with generational change and sprawlville is about to lose nearly all value and utility. that’s why i say get out now.
    i don’t know how to say it any clearer. it is folly to keep building sprawlville as though we have an unlimited supply of $1/gallon gas and no need for actual food production from area farmfields.

  20. Sprawl serves only limited interests. Those interest are developers and construction companies that benefit from new construction. It serves the outlying towns like Clarence that want to increase their tax base. After that, it serves some businesses and employees who think that operating a business in Clarence is better than Amherst because there is currently less traffic, and the housing is cheaper and bigger, and they all want to live near where they work.
    Sprawl, however, hurts many other interests. In a declining region such as Buffalo, it hurts current homeowners who don’t live in Clarence or Amherst, because there are fewer people willing to buy your house, pushing down prices. Sprawl hurts Buffalo and the inner ring suburbs because they lose their tax base to Clarence and Amherst.
    Sprawl hurst the entire region because now you have to use tax money to build new roads, sewers and other infrastructure AND you have to maintain the old that people are abandoning. Of course, there isn’t enough money to maintain the old stuff, so it just crumbles.
    For the region, there is no net gain because the sprawl in our particular region isn’t a result of growth, unlike Phoenix, so that isn’t a comparable city. Phoenix actually GREW in population where as Buffalo and suburbs have declined.
    There is simply no good economic reason to build one more house in Erie County. There is plenty of housing available for those who live here, and in fact there is an abundance of it. There is no good economic reason to lure a business around the the county as it does not add to the tax base but merely maintains it.
    For those who don’t see a problem with sprawl, that’s fine. But you have to start coming up with ways to increase the population of Buffalo if you want to keeping the expanding donut — all other arguments are really just sideshows.

  21. One time you should actually read my stories prior to commenting. If you do some day, you will find out that I have been saying that sprawl in not about a specific location but is about how a location is made. There is sprawl inside and outside of the city. That cobble stone street surrounded by parking is a sad statement on what has been done to Buffalo in the name of sprawl and is exactly why the metro area has a poor national reputation. This kind of thing is repulsive to highly educated, talented and energetic young people. It is the exact opposite of what Buffalo should be doing to attract them.

  22. The Statler is an empty building at the center of a city which has lost half of its population -much of it to surrounding towns which have spread out over 2/3 more land area in 50 years without adding one person. This metro land and infrastructure expansion continues even though the population is shrinking. This means that more and more old infrastructure is left behind empty, underused, and poorly maintained. This means you have dead spaces at the center where successful cities have tremendous vibrance and like. When people look at a dead center city they are driven away. Anyone living in metro Buffalo who thinks it is ok to allow Buffalo disinvestment to continue because it is someone else’s problem has the head in the sand. If you continue to repulse young talented people you will never prosper as a region Sprawl is a dead end way of doing things especially for a place like Buffalo.
    The event shown in the Elmwood image is a regular event which is very well attended by hundreds of neighborhood people who walk there. It is representative of the type of event that people love and which makes neighborhoods attractive and is one of the reasons Elmwood praperty values are increasing at a faster rate than any other part of the metro region. Some day you should attend one of these concerts. If you do you will find that they are attended by all kinds of people of all ages from children to grand children. It is odd to me taht you should moc something like that while defending the canser that is sprawl. And still none of you will write a story for BRO telling us what is so good about sprawl.

  23. I think you make some valid points. There is plenty of housing. I get kind of disappointed when I hear towns willing to develop land for the sake of increasing tax revenue. I would prefer housing to be built in response to job opportunities in the same area. When you just build for a municipality’s budget, it contributes to the problem of sprawl that’s quite frequently argued.

  24. Mr. Basile in this article blames sprawl as a scapegoat for why a lot of people aren’t willing to relocate to metro areas in Michigan. He conveniently ignores that the fastest growing areas of the U.S. include many that are heavily sprawled.
    Here’s the 10 that grew the most from 2000-2010 among the 51 U.S. metro areas over 1M, along with their population % gains since 2000.
    1. Las Vegas-Paradise, NV +42%
    2. Raleigh-Cary, NC +42%
    3. Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, TX +37%
    4. Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, NC-SC +32%
    5. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA +30%
    6. Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL +30%
    7. Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, AZ +29%
    8. Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX +26%
    9. San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX +25%
    10. Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA +24%
    Evidently, a lot of people do want to move to those places even though that would seem to contradict Mr. Basile’s hypothesis. Less sprawled metros such as NYC, Boston, and Philly – and even San Francisco – are way down the growth list, attracting much fewer people as a % of their sizes than did the 10 above.
    Full list of the 51 largest metros and their growth/shrinkage rates of population and jobs is at’-fastest-growing-cities-of-the-decade

  25. To your point, those in the WNY area need to sacrifice their personal choice and safety to move to the city because it is the right thing to do. Those who moved to other cities can just stay where they and feel that they are not part of the problem.
    Do you understand that you have not only moved to another city, but you have taken away from the area when you moved. You are a successful architect who could be contributing to the local area, you could be the catalyst for change in WNY by moving your family to the center of the city. You could use your architectural prowess to reinvent a building in downtown and start a trend in reinvestment, but instead you sit in your Chicago condo and tell us that what is being done in the Buffalo area is wrong.
    Put some skin in the game David. Put up or shut up!

  26. What does oil and gas have to do with the car? That’s 20th Century thinking. In the next 10 years “evil cars” will no longer run on “evil gasoline”. And guess what? People will buy more of them and they will still choose to live in suburbs over cities (especially if they have children).

  27. So you took a few anecdotes about the attractiveness of rust belt cities and spun them into yet another diatribe about sprawl? Here’s the bottom line for you: Buffalo is no fun anymore. Compared with cities like Austin and Charlotte Buffalo lacks any cachet and lacks any urban exuberance. And you can blame this state of affairs on sprawling suburbs all you like but the truth is that unlike New York or Toronto, Buffalo just appeals to few people who haven’t already experienced it.
    It’s indeed unfair how perception takes so achingly long to catch up with reality: Chicago really is a transformed, highly liveable city of 2,695,000 (with tons of gang violence and horrid schools) and Buffalo is in the process of a transformation as well. Someday Buffalo will be a wonderfully attractive and appealing experience for a city of 150,000. Compared with other cities of similar size like Knoxville, it will truly shine. But you won’t stop the slide by shaking your fists at sprawl. The fastest growing, best-regarded cities are all sprawltopias. ALL of them.

  28. Exactly. Buffalo’s “soul” got crushed by the loss of thousands of jobs in dirty factories that spewed filthy coal from their smokestacks, not by suburbanites in Cheektowaga filling their tanks with E85. The suburbs aren’t the enemy folks, they’re Buffalo’s Last Stand.

  29. Here is the problem with that: The roads that those burbs depend on to function are supposed to be paid for by taxes on that “evil gasoline.” If people move en masse to electric, hybrid, or much smaller gasoline powered cars, there will be a whole lot less revenue coming in to pay for those roads.
    Even now the gas tax revenue isn’t enough to cover road costs as the highway fund requires massive subsidies just to pay for minimal upkeep. That will only get worse as cars consume less fuel.
    What that means is if people want to live the spawltopian lifestyle currently idealized by the mainstream, they will have to come up with some other way to pay for their required road network.
    That could mean gas tax increases to push the price over $10, or localizing the burden of road expenses so sprawl consumers pay their own way. As grad mentioned, that will push many out of the market for what many perceive as “the American dream.”
    That doesn’t include other unsustainable sprawl drivers with questionable futures such as housing and mortgage subsidies. In other words, it is going to take a lot more than electric cars to sustain sprawl development.

  30. Oh please. Whatever sprawl is occurring pales in comparison with what’s happening in similar sized metros. A metro that ain’t growing much ain’t gonna sprawl much. If for the sake of the economic health of the region you have to accomodate some sprawl so what? Do you think that constantly moralizing and waxing intolerant towards lifestyles chosen by many people and more importantly employers and investors is going to rebuild Buffalo? Flint Michigan is ringed by suburban golf courses. If it wasn’t for those golf-loving suburbanites, that metro would be DEAD. You want to bring back “Buffalo 1950”? Bring back Beth Steel, Buffalo Forge, and all the other employers that failed to survive all the macro global economic changes. Look down your nose all you like but every crumpled dollar bill stuffed into the till at the Tally-Ho contributes far more to the Buffalo economy than your rants about sprawl.

  31. Seriously? So humans are incapable of adjusting and acclimating their social contracts with each new bend and twist of a paradigm? Legalize pot and tax the hell out of that for road improvement. Or better yet, make the people who absolutely have to live way out in Clarence pay an extra dollar per sq. ft. of their tedious McMansions to pay for the culverts and blacktop leading to their “soul-sucking” heaven. You do whatever it takes. This isn’t rocket science.

  32. The US Census Bureau just released some pretty hard evidence about another “growing trend”. Would you care to contest them? Urban centers didn’t gain much population, except for those along the border with Mexico. Many lost population. And guess what happens when all those kids moving into their hipster lofts hook up and have children? Many leave to, guess where? The suburbs to find better schools and more peaceful surroundings. Or they try to find a nice house in the city but do what anyway? Drive their kid to a decent school far out of range of the “walking tour”. Only in the New Urbanist mills does a swallow make a summer.

  33. Sprawl is fine when your population is growing. Washington DC is sprawling, but the population is jumping, and the inner city is gentrifying.
    Do you honestly think that sprawl *attracts* people? Because there is no evidence that it does. Sprawl in a place such as Las Vegas (which, incidently, was hit hard by the housing bubble collapsing) did not attract the population, it was the other way around — because there was a tremendous influx of people. sprawl occurred.
    I really hope you don’t think that sprawl attract people, because if that is your argument, the proof is all around you that it fails.

  34. But Erie County is proof that a county that isn’t growing can still sprawl.
    You say that we have to accommodate “some sprawl”. Okay — we have some sprawl, and then some more. At what point do we say no more? Or are you just arguing that we should sprawl as much as we want to with no limits?
    You further say that we need sprawl for the sake of economic health. Please, what evidence do you have it is economically healthy? Every study I’ve seen says the opposite. Housing prices are stagnant in Erie County because we have too many houses for too few people — we in fact abandoning whole neighborhoods. That is a decline in capital due exactly to sprawl — how can you claim that is ‘healthy’?
    No one is saying that we need to close Tally-ho (I really don’t know where you got that!). No one is saying close the suburbs. We are saying no more growth in the suburbs, and that al future growth should be channelled into the cities and the first ring suburbs. Use the infrastructure that already exists.
    Agreed that we lost plenty of companies in the past, but so what? No one is arguing that they should or can come back, so again, your arguments are all over the place and incoherent.

  35. I’m no fan of sprawl but it’s a fact of life. It’s like all those people at the DMV office. You wouldn’t want to befriend any of them but you’re already sharing the road with them. We’re sharing the economic, social and geographic space with people who like things we don’t such as: suburban lawns *gasp!*, McMansions *shudder!*, golf courses *eek!*, and suburban corporate office parks *yikes!*. Without them the metro would likely be much weaker because their lifestyle is what drives commerce anymore. Implementing daconian rules on sprawltopia might work for urban magnets like Portland or San Francisco but it would KILL Buffalo.
    The focus has to be on integrating the renewal in Buffalo’s core with the tragic struggle just outside of it, to build a durable bridge and a reverse migration path to the metro’s outer periphery. And doing that becomes much harder when you tell already reluctant people, investors and companies to change their ways or f*ck off. It’s the urban equivalent of a business firing all its customers!

  36. And yet this metro that ain’t growing has TRIPLED its geographic footprint while the population has stayed stagnant. Maybe you don’t consider that to be much sprawl, but if my salary tripled I would certainly notice.

  37. Of course many of these cities have stopped growing since 2008. Many of these sprawl cities were also built by older generations. Are they attractive to younger generations? A few of them for sure. There is no one single reason a city stops growing or becomes less attractive. All of these cities have several advantages that Buffalo does not. Warm weather is a key. Texas benefits from that, plus massive federal government science spending in the fomr of NASA, plus it is the seat of the insanely profitable oil industry in the US. Buffalo has none of those advantages. In light of that is it smart for Buffalo to follow along and imitate sprawl as if it is the sprawl that makes these places grow?
    This story is about growing evidence that younger generations don’t like sprawl environments. That is all the story is about. If this is true in actuality it would be pretty stupid for metro Buffalo to continue to fund and promote sprawl. It would be pretty stupid to keep screeming that people have the right to sprawl if that is not what they want. The sprawling towns around Buffalo are pretty ugly sprawl environments in general. Vast stretches of the city are decrepit and abandoned. How can anyone defend the results of the last 50 years and counting in Buffalo?

  38. Sprawl is never fine. What is fine about sprawl? I can’t think of anything good about it. Could someone please please please volunteer to write a pro sprawl story for BRO!? I have been asking for years.

  39. Steel, no response to how that list of fastest-growing large metros shows the lameness of the Michigan guy’s claim?
    If sprawl is allegedly the main reason Michigan can’t attract enough skilled workers, how do those much-higher rates of population growth and job growth happen in very-sprawling metros in other states?
    Doesn’t add up, does it?

  40. It isn’t just Texas, though, so the oil profit and federal spending for NASA excuses don’t wash.
    There’s also Atlanta, Vegas, Phoenix, Charlotte, etc. Where’s any evidence that those metros are having even the slightest bit of trouble attracting young people due to their massive sprawl?
    Yes, of course lack of cold weather is a big advantage. Good to see people have stopped stubbornly arguing that isn’t a big factor.
    The attempt to use sprawl as a scapegoat for Michigan’s competitive problems was very weak.

  41. If Apple wanted to move its headquarters and 6,000 employees to a 3,000,000 sq. ft. complex to be built on farmland in Elma would you protest it because it’s sprawl? Sprawl is the path of least resistance for people and companies that don’t have the time or money to waste arguing about issues like truck loading dock noise and hours of operation or signage or all the things that whiny NIMBY neighbors in infill areas moan and complain about. Cities so focused on picayune issues are killing themselves because a suburb can deliver a fast build on a greenfield site quicker than you can circulate a petition over the “strip of grass” between the parking lot and the curb! No “contextual architecture” drama. No battles over demolitions and soil removal. No fussy neighborhood associations filing endless lawsuits over backhoes knocking over their antique bird feeders.
    American business runs on a model of efficiency that funnels the money and investment to those areas that offer low bariers to entry. For Buffalo, that’s the ‘burbs and that means SPRAWL. As to housing development, who the hell are you to tell people they can’t have a new house where they want to live? You want to end sprawl? Buy all of the surrounding undeveloped property around Buffalo and donate it to the Wilderness Conservancy.

  42. MY arguments are incoherent?
    So your “studies” say that the Erie County economy is unhealthy because there are “too many houses for far too few people”? Are you kidding? Talk about the cart before the horse! The vacancies have much more to do with the lack of jobs and opportunity than because someone builds nicer houses in Orchard Park. Reinvestment in blighted areas doesn’t occur because NOBODY WANTS TO LIVE THERE. Ever heard of desire pathways? Well the desire is to have a newer house further away from the neighbors with more ammenities like *oh god, here it comes* a 2 car garage. As it is, Buffalo is still much denser than many faster growing cities. That means if anything, there are still too many people living in the city limits than some can stand. So surprise surprise there’s a market for houses in the outer periphery. If Buffalo was a healthy, thriving city and metro, I guarantee the same people here would be complaining about all the “quaint, historical” bungalows in Cheektowaga being torn down to make way for ugly McMansions!
    And how would you “channel growth” back into the city’s core? With a chair and a whip? The state’s broke. You can’t ask Albany to buy new infrastructure for the East Side. The city doesn’t have any money either and the private sector wants a higher return so they’re putting their money into Austin and Seattle. That leaves what? Draconian laws that push away the last remnants of Buffalo’s growth? Good deal. I can’t wait to fawn all over the pretty renderings at the charrette!

  43. How do you channel growth on the east side? You wait just a few more years until there are few privately owned houses and the property values are next to nothing. A local developer, probably one that is building in the ‘burbs, will buy up a large area and ask the state and city to help them finance a planned community project like the one proposed for Maple Road in Williamsville. The city and state will bend over backwards to see high end townhomes, shops, and restaurants in one spot of the now desolate city. Once this is built, the locals will be moved to other parts of the city either through loss of lease or increase in property tax and assessments they can not afford. There will be fewer rentals in that area as developers seek to attract young professionals. Private or closely controlled charter schools will open nearby to keep the resident kids from having to worry about entering the Buffalo Zoo system. Young 20 somethings who turn their noses up at their parents’ decisions to live in the ‘burbs will move from their city loft to this safe and protected community in the city. This will hopefully spread out a few blocks and the same thing will start a few blocks away. The common council and high profile african american leaders will cry foul and use words like gentrification and bleaching the city to try to stop what is happening. The end result will be a stop to sprawl outside of the city and a duplication of resources in a controlled area inside the city. The poor will still be poor the rich will still be rich and the world will keep on turning.

  44. I hope I see legal pot in my lifetime. But is it fair to tax weed to pay for a lifestyle choice of others?
    Id prefer steering the actual costs of sprawl development on its consumers and profiteers. A steep bump in the gas tax and elimination of mortgage incentives would go a long way toward doing that.

  45. Sony> “As to housing development, who the hell are you to tell people they can’t have a new house where they want to live?”
    The person who contributes their tax dollars to make sprawl living artificially affordable, that’s who.

  46. Then don’t use the suburbanites tax dollars in the city. Let the suburbanites fund their welfare expenses and let the city fund their welfare expenses. Let’s see how well this works out for the city.

  47. Suburban (i.e., county) tax dollars end up being spent in the city on “welfare expenses” because it is part of the unspoken agreement that the city is the warehouse for the metro region’s poverty. In return for the city being the designated dumping ground for “undesirables”, the suburbs chip in enough to keep the system afloat and to maintain a minimum standard of living just high enough to keep people from rioting.
    I am phrasing this very cynically, but I think it describes the situation well enough. There’s no grand sweeping conspiracy here, but this is the way it ends up working.

  48. As I have stated before we would be more than willing to share those “welfare dollars” and the recipents with any of our suburban neighbors. Please let us know how many each town will accept as residents.

  49. So suburbanites, due to this mass conspiracy to keep the brothers down, have warehoused the poor in the city and are wlling to pay a small amount to keep them out of the suburbs. Is that what you are trying to say?
    What about spending on development and infrastructure in the city? Should state and county residents pay for the waterfront redevelopment project or how about the $11M the state taxpayers shelled out to build Artspace? What about the county and state tax dollars used to pay for Sycamore Village, or for loft conversions, or for building restoration.
    Some of those taxpayers may never use those buildings, may never live in Artspace, and my not make use of the waterfront. Can they pick and choose where their taxes should be spent, or is it just the city resident that don’t have to fund projects outside the city?

  50. Didn’t I just say “there’s no grand conspiracy here”? It’s an unspoken and unthought passive agreement that is just the things have worked out in American society.
    Let me put it a little bit more generously. People have enough of a conscience to prefer that people don’t actually starve and die on the streets. More cynically, it’s because subconsciously they know that the poor would be coming for them with pitchforks if that was actually happening. Either way, most people generally accept the value of funding a social safety net to prevent extreme hunger, homelessness, crime, and/or riots.
    I’m not really interested in talking about the merits of waterfront development or Artvoice right now. I was responding to your statement about preferring to “let the city fund their welfare expenses”. Although I will suggest that the state has a vested interest in discouraging sprawl without growth in its wards (i.e., Erie County), and therefore a parallel interest in encouraging reinvestment in core areas.

  51. The suburbs are primarily filled with people who can take care of themselves. The poor have proven their ineptitude at handling the basics and really don’t fit in well to the suburban culture. There aren’t enough rentals in most suburban neighborhoods to offer free housing at the rate that we do in the city. The poor take advantage of living in walkable communities that are close to the corner bodegas and storefront churches. As you’ve said before, the suburbs aren’t walkable enough for the poor to thrive without a car.
    You do make a good point that no one really wants to live anywhere near the poor because they are not good neighbors. Given your choice, you’d prefer to ship the poor out of Black Rock and send them to someone else to take care of.

  52. You don’t want to talk about Artspace or the Waterfront because those are two fine examples of state and suburban tax dollars funding development in the city. You can’t pick and choose have outside tax dollars fund the city, but no reciprocation with city tax dollars to fund projects outside the city.
    The same social contract that you mention with welfare exists for roads and infrastructure too. This is what makes us a society instead of a population of disconnected individuals living in a world where it is every man and woman for him/herself. We do live in a society, cheeky welfare remarks aside, where we cannot pick and choose how our money is spent. We all fund the military, police, social security, high speed rail projects, and bridges to nowhere. This is why we elect government leaders to be stewards of our tax dollars and spend them in a way that is in the best interest of everyone, not just a few who live in the city.

  53. It’s a completely unrelated topic to “welfare expenses”. But I will point you back to my note that the state has a vested interest in discouraging sprawl in its wards (i.e., “stop wasting our money building more crap”) by encouraging reinvestment in the core.
    How about this? I want to live on the moon. Should Erie County pay for a new Apollo project and a lunar base to let me live there?

  54. No, because the moon isn’t in Erie County’s jurisdiction. Roads are built where there is an economic purpose for them within the jurisdiction where they are located.

  55. Does the Moon fall within Erie Counties borders? No, so Erie County would have no reason to pay for your desire to live on the moon.
    Now if you proposed to build a house in Erie County and there was no road connecting to it, they would probably tell you to either 1) build it yourself and connect it to an existing road or 2) don’t build your house.
    This is pretty much what happens in suburban developments. There is a lengthy planning and approval process, and road development for the project is generally included in the cost of construction. Ongoing maintenance of that road is funded in part by the property taxes collected from the new builds.
    At some point we may live in a country where the state owns the land and tells us all where to live, but for now if someone has the means raise their family in a nice house away from the “undesirables” as you put it, then they will do that. There are many families living in the city that do whatever they can to get out of the city. Read the article about the refugee from yesterday, he isn’t happy living where he lives but it is better than where he came from. I am sure if he has the opportunity he would leave his current address to live in a safer and more affluent area. I would too.

  56. The poor are contained in the city by design. Suburban towns have long used government to keep out the poor and especially minorities.
    As for “living near the poor”, I have had no problems here in Black Rock. Believe it or not most poor people are just like you and I, they want a decent life and are generally good neighbors. My point was that the intentional discrimination and in turn concentrtion of the REGIONS POOR in Buffalo puts the city at a disadvantage. We have no incentive to address the underlying problems as long as the poor are safely contained and hidden from the more affluent.

  57. So the poor are only the responsibility of the municipality that they live in? That is nuts. Which ever municipality with the most success getting rid of the poor wins. What a stupid concept. Perhaps societal failure is an American issue that should be solved by all of us

  58. Are roads and infrastructure a concern of only the people of the municipality in which they exist? You talk about paying for three times the infrastructure and subsidizing that development at the expense of developmentn the city.
    We all pay to support those who cannot support themselves, and most of us do it from a comfortable arms length. As JSmith said, these people are undesirable to live near. I wonder if your high rise condo has poor living in the next condo over from you or if they are somewhere down below in the city. It is no different between living 20 stories above them or 20 blocks away from them.
    The fact is that we cannot pick and choose where our tax money is spent beyond electing a government that supports your fiscal beliefs. If I could pick and choose which roads are built with my tax dollars, then I should be able to pick and choose to fund the military, welfare, etc.
    Your hyprerbole is killing me STEEL.

  59. Wait, so this is intentional discrimination? I thought it was unspoken and passive as JSMITH pointed out before.
    The fact is that most people, when given a choice, will live near those who are like them. The wealthy do not generally live in middle class neighborhoods, the middle class generally do not live in the poorest neighorhoods. The poor do not live in the wealthiest neighborhoods, etc. There are situations where there is overlap of socioeconomic groups but it is not at the extremes. Lower middleclass in Black Rock may live next to someone who is poor and someone who is middle class, but they are generally of the same background. This is the way it is throughout America with limited exceptions.

  60. Gotta piggyback off bobbycat. You can’t have it both ways. Either city residents pay for the infrastructure, or non-city residents don’t chip in for the welfare recipients, or if you want to take them out of it, waterfront development.

  61. Toronto has cold weather and yet it attracts thousands of people from all over the world every year. Boom! There went your weird little warm weather thesis. Any city can attract new people and investment if it is RELEVANT economically, culturaly, or as is the tragic case of washington DC, politically. Buffalo’s relevance ended along with the Industrial Revolution. Finding a new, relevant raison d’etre has been Buffalo’s struggle ever since. Banking could be a place to start but now a major chunk of that industry in Buffalo is at risk. Healthcare and biomedicine could be another. Too bad every other city is thinking the same thing. If something clicks and Buffalo scores a hit, people will come; first for the jobs, then for all the cool stuff spawned by the rise in area incomes.
    Texas is indeed very aggressive about luring in new jobs and investment. Unlike New York State, they don’t tax people and cities to death to pay for a bizarre medicaid system that’s twice as generous as everyone else’s. New York State chose long ago to “spend the kid’s college fund on a guilded potty chair for grandma”. Texas is smarter than that. But the federal investment in Texas didn’t tilt the balance. The feds spend more on a per capita basis in many other states which haven’t succeeded in the way Texas has. Texas simply has a strong CULTURE of entrepreneurship and competitiveness (which I understand is anathema to many in the anti-sprawl camp). Whoops! There goes another one of your interesting theories.
    And finally we get to the kids and the their tastes in urban settings. All very nice except for one thing: THE COUNTRY IS AGING. There are fewer of them and their energy and brainpower(those that have a brain)are in high demand everywhere. So why would a shrinking population of young would-be urban dwellers choose Buffalo even after the Anti-Sprawl Act is signed into law and the developers and suburban homebuyers have been arrested and dragged away? To work at Google? Sorry, Google is pouring its money into Ireland to take advantage of the low corporate tax rates and to avoid a billion dollars a year in taxes on repatriated wealth. Investment and interest in a de-sprawled Buffalo might trickle in, but only incrementally because businesses hate the high taxation and anti-competitive environment that exists here. The kids will just move away as usual.

  62. Toronto is in Canada, which lets anybody in with no care at all, much to the chagrin of Canadians outside the Golden Horseshoe, and perhaps Vancouver. That is why Toronto attracts people from all over the world. I agree with the rest of your post though.

  63. I’m not attacking you at all, just pointing that you are trolling very well, by turning around people’s obviously ironic words (as noted by the scare quotes) around as if they actually intended them as fact.
    And your sweeping generalization of “the poor” is so absurdly over-the-top that it can hardly be anything else except trolling and spoiling for a fight. (And especially humorous given your accusing Blackrocklifer of making generalizations about Republicans in the other thread.)

  64. It is both intentional and passive, just like racism. There are outright racists that tell you in no uncertain terms how they feel and there are those that pretend to be tolerant, as long as they don’t have to live near poor or minoritiy people. To be honest the passive, pretend types are more numerous and thus more detrimental to the health of our city.
    BTW- People of different socioeconomic backgrounds lived in relative close proximity up until recently. Most neighborhoods in Buffalo used to contain a healthy mix of incomes. Here in Black Rock we had Doctors, Lawyers, Teachers, Businessmen, factory workers, and just about every other type living together. Housing ranged from large Victorian homes on down to small workers cottages with every other style in between. The only exception to this was that the extremely rich tended to segregate themselves in the Delaware District and parts of North Buffalo..

  65. “Artificial” as in sprawl subsidies make it a whole lot cheaper to live in sprawlville than it would cost without them. Just stating the facts.

  66. The most confusing part about this site now to me is that there are all these pro suburbs, pro sprawl commenters on here. The site is Buffalo Rising, not WNY rising, while there are occasionally topics that are general to WNY, this is mostly a site to promote what is right about Buffalo. People come here to learn about things off the beaten path and events that are coming up.
    They also come here to talk about what problems Buffalo has and responsible urban and social planning to make it a better place. This used to be a fun productive part of the site. But now instead of people who want to talk about urban planning etc. spend the whole time having to defend themselves from people who want to tell everyone how great they have it, and how pitifully idealistic many urbanist and pro-Buffalo people are.
    There are plenty of sites that you can spew non-sense about the city. If you want to talk about how no one rides the subway go to There will be tons of suburbanites to agree with you. However, many people on here know our short line has one of the highest per capita riderships in the country. Around 20,000 boardings happen per day on those trains. A lot of us ride it and guess what there is always other people on it. When you positions are things we know are not true it becomes a bristled argument.
    None of you are coming off your side, you think your life is improved by your beliefs. So be it, go find some pro-sprawl forums?
    The only thing I can think of why you guys keep coming on here to comment in opposition over and over 1.) You like inciting people 2.) There are things you are interested in Buffalo that aren’t available in your suburb?
    All I know is the quality of discussion on this site has gone down through the years and 9/10ths of the time its driven by people who seem to enjoy seeing the city fail.

  67. Except you don’t pay for your excessive roads and all the other stuff your sprawl choices cause You you force everyone else to pay for it too. Why?
    You still did not answer my question. Why should it be the responsibility of a city person to pay for poor people? If I live in Buffalo and you live in Clarence why do you think that somehow you are being put upon becaasue I am not shouldering the entire cost of the poor?

  68. THe people that moved there were from past generations. Trends show younger generations are less attracted to palces like Phoenix. Does Phoenix have a future. At the beginning of the cnetury Buffalo was a boom town too. What does that prove?

  69. reading threads like these make me want to cut my internet connection. why does the internet make everybody so damn pissed off about other peoples opinions? i mean seriously, do you all argue like this in every human interaction?

  70. In the Kunstlercast episode referenced in this article, they mention (at 19m40s) a highway around buffalo that was at some time in the past torn down. Does anybody know if this is true?

  71. Steel>”Buffalo should imitate Phoenix rather than Seattle…”
    Funny if you’re implying Seattle is less sprawled than Buffalo.
    According to this group of anti-sprawl experts, metro Buffalo is LESS sprawled per-capita than metro Seattle:
    “The Sprawl Index Buffalo, NY
    Overall Sprawl Index Score: 119.09
    ranking it 67th most sprawling of 83 metro areas measured.
    A lower score on the index indicates a greater degree of sprawl. The average score for all metros ranked is 100.”
    “The Sprawl Index Seattle, WA
    Overall Sprawl Index Score: 100.91
    ranking it 44th most sprawling of 83 metro areas measured.”

    (lol, or did you mean to say Seattle should imitate Buffalo?)
    And according to Michigan Guy’s theory in the article, he must think Seattle should be having more difficulty attracting young residents than Buffalo since they’re more sprawled than us?

  72. First let me say I am not a proponent for sprawl. Sprawl is a waste of resources and consumes land voraciously. Fortunately, sprawl is not the only thing that is happening in metro America. In fact, a recent study pointed out that the two fastest growing areas of many metros was the outer ring AND the inner ring. Yes, the inner city is experiencing some heavy duty population growth. Unfortunately, it isn’t happening in all cities.
    Rather, its happening in cities that provide a reasonable alternative to suburban and exurban sprawl. I am talking cities like Mpls, Madison, Des Moines, Pittsburgh, Burlington, Boston, and Columbus to name a few. For decades they have been enhancing their downtown and inner city neighborhoods………planting trees, putting in new lamps, renovating older structures, developing housing, building mass transit, etc. And its paying off. New people are moving into the denser, more compact housing found in the hearts of those cities.
    From what I have read here, Buffalo doesn’t have a true alternative to sprawl………yet. However, it seems you all are starting to make the necessary changes. Its hard work. Its slow work that requires patience…..but its work that needs to be done and in place before you can talk intelligently and effectively about stopping sprawl. At least that’s how I see it.

  73. Sony> “I’m no fan of sprawl but it’s a fact of life.”
    If sprawl is the unavoidable “fact of life” than why are we subsidizing it so much? If it is some inevitable, uncontrollable force, what is the point of spending billions on infrastructure and housing incentives to drive the process? Shouldn’t it happen without these government programs? If you and others were not “fans” of sprawl, as you claim, couldn’t we at least stop throwing peoples hard earned tax dollars at it?
    Also if, as many here claim, sprawl is purely a product of choice, why do localities need to impose rigid low-density land use regulations? If everybody wanted to live in the big yard, shop at malls, and drive everywhere for everything, there would be no need for towns to impose restrictions banning small lots, multi-family homes, and mixed-use development… right?

  74. No, I think Duncan was getting things confused with the citizen protests over the rebuilding of rt 5, a case where the city and many citizen groups were campaigning for its removal but the state DOT built it back up over our objections.

  75. Bobbycat> “Now if you proposed to build a house in Erie County and there was no road connecting to it, they would probably tell you to either 1) build it yourself and connect it to an existing road or 2) don’t build your house. There is a lengthy planning and approval process, and road development for the project is generally included in the cost of construction.”
    Countless sources of public record say otherwise. Higher levels of government have paid for multi-million dollar infrastructure projects following where developers have built homes on the rural fringe.
    If you have some sort of secret evidence proving these developers are reimbursing the public for these projects, please share it. Until then, stop making things up.

  76. Bobbycat> “Ongoing maintenance of that road is funded in part by the property taxes collected from the new builds.”
    The other, much larger, “part” comes from the majority of residents of the region, who live outside of the benefiting sprawl community.
    Now if the town is older and not as appealing to developers, they do not have the privilege of using redistributed funds for their infrastructure.
    For example, in the Town of Tonawanda, they are on the hook for a massive sewer reconstruction project.
    “In the 1970s, when the town undertook building a new water treatment facility — its last major improvement project to date — the federal government picked up 75 percent of the cost and the state kicked in 12.5 percent. Now, to complete improvements mandated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Environmental Conservation, the town is on the hook for roughly $200 million with no direct aid from either.”
    Unlike newer sprawl areas they will be getting no help from county, state, or feds. Should Tonawanda residents be on the hook for funding county and state improvements in Lancaster and Clarence and pay for their own infrastructure? Doesn’t seem fair does it?

  77. I contribute to sprawl. My family moved from Lovejoy to Cheektowaga after my brother was mugged on his way to school by a 19 year old thug, he was 10 at the time. I grew up in a little house off Union Road until I was about 15, that is when the neighborhood began to change with the older people moving out and then the families with kids moving out and finally mostly renters moving in. The kids that moved in to the rental houses were not like us and they were difficult to play with. When I was about 15 my dad got a promotion at work and my mom took a job so we had extra money to move near Maple Road in Williamsville. I went to Williamsville South for the rest of High School and my brother went to Canisius for his last two years of school. It was a world apart from where we moved from in Cheektowaga and light years away from Lovejoy.
    Now I have a family of my own and when we moved to Buffalo a few years ago we really wanted to live in the city. We looked at Parkside and Elmwood, you know the usual suspects, but we found a house in Amherst that was bigger, with a nice yard, two+ car garage, great schools, and within walking distance to the library and grocery stores for less than what it would cost us for a smaller house off Elmwood. The nice thing is I don’t have to worry about my kids getting jumped on their way to the corner or when they are riding their bikes around the neighborhood. I don’t worry about them going to the park behind our house with their friends or going to their friends houses. The family we bought this house from moved to their dream house which was a new build that they designed and picked out somewhere in Clarence I think.
    I know we made the right choice by not moving to the city. I have friends near Elmwood who can’t let their kids out to play in the neighborhood without being right next to them. The kids spend more time inside than my kids as a result. The schools here are better than in the city and the taxes are actually lower. I have neighbors who are friends and we have a block party twice each summer plus a Fourth of July party and neighborhood garage sale each year. This is probably the best place I’ve ever lived and yes it contributes to sprawl. With the crime in Buffalo and the horrible schools I can’t imagine how we could live in the city with little kids. It isn’t worth paying more for a smaller house to live in a dangerous neighborhood and worry about schools and the welfare of my kids.
    So here I am in Amherst. I wanted the city but Amherst makes more sense for so many reasons. So you can tell me that I am racist even though I am in a mixed race marriage or you can call me whatever you want but my life revolves around my family and I want to do what is best for them first even if it comes at the expense of not taking a moral stand for the city.

  78. I don’t think this generalization is fair at all. I am currently living in the suburbs with my parents, but plan on moving into the city within the next few months. I want to see the city grow and prosper, and there is no reason why success in the suburbs shouldn’t benefit Buffalo proper as well. I do not see the two as opposing forces. I grew up in OP, but when I went out of state for school, I always said I am from Buffalo. Buffalo is the heart of the region, and I don’t think most rational suburbanites would deny that.
    Buffalo is one of the smallest cities in the country by area. I lived in Baton Rouge for a number of years, and you could be in parts of the city that were more rural than East Aurora or Clarence. Somebody in Cheektowaga is no less a Buffalonian than somebody in Parkside, at least in my opinion. Individuals have the freedom to choose what they want, and fortunately or unfortunately, the city itself does not offer the space necessary for what some people want. This doesn’t mean they care any less about the success of the city than you do.
    I realize I am rambling now, but one final example of why I don’t think this burbs vs. city things is completely fair. I would expect more people in Lackawanna, Blasdell, West Seneca to care about a development around South Park, than people on Hertel would. City boundaries don’t necessarily separate those that care from those that don’t.

  79. I don’t think he’s suggesting that. He has made the choice that he thinks is right for his family situation, and also reflects the experiences of his past.

  80. @JSMITH – I’m not sure where you got that from my post but there are good and bad parents in the city and the suburbs. Location doesn’t make you a better parent. I’m happy to clarify what I wrote if it is confusing to you in any way because it seems like you missed the point of what I was saying.

  81. @GinghamQuaker – Thank you. I believe that you do what is right and what is best for the family based on what you have to work with. More money gives you more options and more to work with so I am blessed to have a choice where to raise my family. There are others who don’t have as many choices where to live or where to raise their families. That doesn’t make them a better or worse parent as long as they care for their children.

  82. I understand what you are saying and you don’t have to defend your personal choices to me. Where I take a bit of offense is in your tone, which perhaps unintentionally seems to imply that any parent who came to a different conclusive than you must be endangering their children.
    “With the crime in Buffalo and the horrible schools I can’t imagine how we could live in the city with little kids. It isn’t worth paying more for a smaller house to live in a dangerous neighborhood and worry about schools and the welfare of my kids.”
    “My life revolves around my family and I want to do what is best for them first even if it comes at the expense of not taking a moral stand for the city.”
    I think these statements have a pretty obvious implication that somebody who *does* choose to raise their family in Buffalo is not acting in the best interest of the “welfare of [their] kids” and is not doing “what is best for them first”.

  83. What about those of us who could afford to live in Amherst but choose not to because we believe the city is a better environment in which to raise our children?

  84. Your first supposition is that we “subsidize sprawl” as if to the exclusion of all else. Funny, I don’t see a lot of federal and state dollars pouring into Clarence Center to build a downtown ALONG with all the roads, thruways and other crap. Sure there’s plenty of critics tallying up the tangential damages to make their big overarching statement but realistically the suburbs probably get less of their money back in the form of “subsidized sprawl” than you think. Regardless, I can assure you that if people were clamoring to move back into the city proper the money would follow but what have we seen in so many other cities where the “urban wasteland” was seeded and watered with tons of cash has been continued erosion. Cleveland, for example, is spending hundreds of millions on a convention center and possibly a medical mart in desperate hopes of luring jobs and people back into the city. It won’t work, their population continues to slide. I can’t think of any suburb of Cleveland getting that kind of money for anything, save for the odd privately funded development.
    Now as to the rigid development downsizing by suburban entities. They do that to maintain their communities’ “character” (however darkly you choose to infer its meaning)and to maintain property values. Multifamily developments generate noise, traffic and garbage so communities that don’t want to deal with those issues avoid as much as possible. One possible explanation is that they look upon the area’s premier dense urban core and what’s happened there and they run in the opposite direction as fast as they can?

  85. @JSMITH – I am not judging you for the choices you make and I hope you do the same for me. If you feel that your children are better off living in the city then that is good for you. My brother and sister-in-law feel that it is best if they bring their children to church three times a week for services and education. I don’t feel the same but I don’t judge them for what they do. My nieces seem to really enjoy going to church that often but my kids don’t because they have not been exposed to that environment. To each their own.
    I weighed the decisions with my family and it made sense to live in Amherst for many reasons. One was bang for my buck, I save a lot by living in Amherst for example my insurance, gas, groceries, taxes, and car pool are cheaper than living in the city. I don’t have to pay for private schools and don’t have to pay much for soccer and karate for the kids because they are sponsored by community ed. I have a garage and basement so no paying for storage of my boat and supplies. We have a park right behind the house so the kids can go there with friends, usually one parent will tag along for the little ones but the older kids can play in the neighborhood as long as they stay in boundaries we set.
    I can afford to live in Amherst or Buffalo too. I would like to take a stand for the city by living there but there is just so much for me to risk and lose by doing so. This was the point I was trying to make. The city isn’t on par with the suburbs when it comes to cost and some qualities, it exceeds the suburbs in a few areas but in my case the suburbs win out on most categories. I think this is important for us to understand if we want to stop the sprawl and attract more families in to the city.
    How old are your kids and what experience have you had raising them in the city that they wouldn’t get in the suburbs?

  86. Perhaps I am just hyper-defensive. When I hear someone say that the Buffalo schools are all uniformly horrible and that all of the neighborhoods in the city are dangerous and my children are probably going to get mugged walking around on my block, it gets my hackles up, because it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the reality of the city (at least my neighborhood) that I live in and know.
    My son is three and a half now, so I haven’t yet dealt with some of the things you have in terms of raising children. But here are some of the reasons I choose to raise him in the city:
    He is not living in a racially and economically homogeneous environment. He will grow up learning to interact with and befriend people who aren’t always that superficially similar to him.
    Poverty and social injustice will not be hidden from him, and hopefully he will grow into an adult who is sensitive to these issues, instead of preferring to keep them out of sight and out of mind.
    We are much closer to many cultural and artistic venues such as museums and galleries and therefore visit them more frequently.
    As he gets older (i.e., middle and high school), I won’t have to chauffeur him around everywhere he needs or wants to go. He can walk or ride a bicycle to nearby activities, or take a bus for things farther away. He will develop his independence and my wife and I will not have to spend most of our free time driving him around.
    Related to this, he will be living in a place where it is much safer to get around on his own (alleged crime prevalence notwithstanding). This sort of thing is much less likely to happen in a city where traffic speeds are much lower:
    “Girl critically injured while crossing Union Road”
    I am far more afraid of my son being hurt or killed in an automobile accident than I am of him being mugged.

  87. What section of Buffalo are you living in?
    I read about the girl on Union road and that was truly an unfortunate and tragic accident.
    I also read this about Buffalo Schools, Riverside HS Security Guard pushed down stairs by student.
    As a parent I would be very concerned about sending my child to a school where even the security guards are disrespected and injured while trying to keep the other students safe.
    I take objection to your assertion that young people in the suburbs are somehow completely ignorant to race and poverty because of where they live. I also challenge the assertion that suburban families don’t frequent the museums and galleries, in fact I was at a museum night a few weeks ago with my son and the majority of visitors were from the suburbs. The same has been true with our trips to the AKAG and Buffalo History museum. I don’t buy that proximity to the museum somehow makes it easier to get to, given that we drive the kids to that Strong – National Museum of Play in Rochester every 6 or 7 weeks. I live right on the border of Buffalo and I have to drive to Elmwood if I want to visit the AKAG or to Best if I want to visit the Science Museum. I doubt that someone in the city could walk to both easily, the same with the zoo and other attractions.
    I think your hyper-defensiveness is speaking for you. No one is worse off for living in the suburbs than the city. The city has major issues that we need to address, the top being schools and second being crime. It is nearly impossible to say that the schools are not in crisis given that even the parents of students and now teachers are ready to picket against the administration. Crime is transient and will move as socioeconomic conditions change in the city and suburbs.
    Let’s take a lesson from Rodney King and try to all get along.

  88. I live in North Park. Yes, that’s a disturbing incident at Riverside although I don’t know isolated it is. I probably would prefer to have my children attend other high schools than that one, but on the other hand, Lancaster’s “Heroin High” (where “only” 5% of the kids have a serious drug addiction) doesn’t sound that attractive either.
    I can’t speak for how much you are willing to drive to go to museums, etc. For myself, I know that I would take my son to the Strong Museum far more often if it was in Buffalo (we go about as often as you). Even Explore & More in East Aurora is distant enough that it discourages frequent trips. Meanwhile, my son and I ride my bike to the zoo, and go to the Science Museum every two or three weeks.
    I would disagree that no one is worse off for living in (modern, car-centric) suburbs (teenagers and the elderly in particular come to mind), but that is my own personal feeling on the matter. Different people have different values. I’m not really interested in telling someone their choice is wrong, but I get annoyed when people make the insinuation that I must be irrational and reckless for my choice.

  89. Lancaster is in the papers because it is a shock that drug use is that high in a suburb school. In my professional opinion, this estimate under reports how wide spread drug use is in our schools. I attended a seminar with Bob Stutman and a few other speakers late last year where he showed studies that indicate high school drug use in inner cities is higher than 25%. That is to say that more than one quarter of the kids in these schools are using drugs on a regular basis. A regular basis could be once a day or once a month, it wasn’t clarified in the study.
    One of the frustrating things about Buffalo is that things like drug use are taken for granted. It would not be news worthy if it was reported that the Buffalo Schools had 5% drug use, but it is newsworthy when it happens in the suburbs. The facts are that there has been significant drug use in the suburbs and city since the 1970s and it has gone up almost every year since 1974, according to the DEA.
    Do you remember Victoria Minella, the teacher that was busted and convicted for buying drugs and bringing them to work with her? She is still on the Buffalo Schools payroll and is still receiving a paycheck as she is suspended with pay. It is this type of issue that gives the Buffalo Schools a black eye. Bring $1,000 worth of Ecstasy and illicit drugs to school and keep your job until you resign or the district spends thousands in legal expenses.
    I don’t live that far from North Park and we frequently ride bikes to the Zoo, but not the AKAG. Traffic on Amherst and Elmwood is terrifying to ride a bike in with kids and there are no other options for them to ride. So we generally take the car when we go to the museums and go a couple blocks out of the way to cross Amherst or Parkside when going to the Zoo.
    Drivers are unsafe in the city and the suburbs. Drivers are texting, putting on make-up, making phone calls, eating, and doing everything else under the sun except paying attention to the road. Remember the 70 year old man who was hit on Elmwood in December? The 40 year old guy who hit him was answering an email to his friend when he ran the elderly gentleman over in the crosswalk. I think the driver was from East Aurora or Orchard Park.
    The world has changed and we are no longer a society that walks most places and as a result drivers do not pay much attention to see if there are pedestrians around them.

  90. There’s an audacity of mediocrity sustained in Buffalo. And, too many demonstrating a “that’s good enough for Buffalo” mindset.
    For a small example, look at the frontage appearance of the west side of Delaware Ave. between Chippewa St. and. Johnson Park. (There are businesses and an apartment building.)
    Years have past where not even an investment of mulch around the trees has been made and litter (apt bldg) is constant.

  91. I’m pretty confident that if 5% of the students a BPS high school were found to have a “serious drug addiction” the paper and TV/radio news would be falling all over themselves to run stories on how dreadful the city schools are.
    I don’t disagree that traffic is dangerous in the city, too. But here’s the thing about traffic and why you are safer from it in a city:
    If you as a pedestrian are hit by a car going 20 mph (on a narrow residential street perhaps) you have a 97% chance of surviving.
    If the car is going 30 mph, you still have an 80% chance of surviving the collision.
    If the car is going 40 mph, your survival chance plummets to 30%.
    A couple of links:

  92. Please don’t be naive about the use of drugs in all schools in the area. Lancaster is not out of the ordinary but became a focal point due to several high profile issues that made the news.
    Your facts are correct about survival rates in car accidents, get hit by a car at 50 MPH and your chance of survival goes down to less than 5%. I routinely see drivers topping 50 MPH on Parkside and Amherst, even sometimes on Hertel and Elmwood, especially near the Kenmore border. This is why we drive many places that we used to walk to.

  93. Sony> “Your first supposition is that we “subsidize sprawl” as if to the exclusion of all else.”
    I did not say or imply this. I realize subsidies are spent all over the metro area.
    I also realize sprawl is a largely policy and subsidy driven phenomenon. You may not see millions of federal dollars going to downtown Clarence but they pour into the rest of town in the form of mortgage deductions that give incentive for construction of all of those large lot homes. That in addition to infrastructure paid for by county and state governments as well as a police force paid for by the county, are how government drives sprawl.
    If it were purely a product of choice, as many pretend it is, you would not have a need for sprawl subsidies or hyper-restrictive zoning. Why not cut out the subsidies and see if sprawl can stand on its own?

  94. Hogwash. Urban homebuyers don’t qualify for the mortgage deduction? The feds don’t spend a nickel on thruway improvements in Buffalo proper? I agree that it’s less efficient from a infrastructure standpoint to grow away fom existing roads and sewers but those choices are made by people and businesses, not by a Politburo. If you try to force unwilling people back into the urban core many will simply leave. Austin and Charlotte don’t impose such restrictions.

  95. Sony> “Hogwash. Urban homebuyers don’t qualify for the mortgage deduction?”
    The MID is a tax incentive rewarding the ownership and occupancy of large opulent homes. Who do you think receives a higher proportion of this, renter intensive Buffalo or affluent, single family dominated sprawlville?
    You keep wrongfully trying to imply that I am saying the city does receive its fair share of government money. While I feel investing in central cities and older burbs is much smarter of an investment than low-density nation building in farmland, I realize older sections get plenty of funding through other programs as well.
    Sony>”I agree that it’s less efficient from a infrastructure standpoint to grow away fom existing roads and sewers but those choices are made by people and businesses, not by a Politburo.”
    You don’t think the decisions to fund road upgrades east of Transit over Tonawanda are made by elected officials? True these decisions are influenced by sprawl interests but the final decision rests with the government.
    Sony>”If you try to force unwilling people back into the urban core many will simply leave.”
    I don’t think anybody here, or in any other sprawl discussion, has proposed to force people unwillingly back to the city. Take away the sprawl subsidies so sprawlers pay their own way and I will be happy.
    If the people who claim sprawl is purely the work of choice and the market, everything should be the same.

  96. Arm>”Take away the sprawl subsidies so sprawlers pay their own way and I will be happy.”
    Prove that the true subsidies of sprawl are higher per capita than urban subsidies in WNY and I might be less eye rolling at you guys.
    Another mystery is that since urban-friendly Democrats control 2/3 of NY state govt, and have since 2006 (as they also did for all of the 80’s, and some of the 90’s)… how can it be as you claim that NYS is still year after year continuing to take unfairly from urban taxpayers to subsidize non-urban taxpayers? Why didn’t they simply stop doing that in this year’s budget? Or last year’s? Or the year before’s, etc. …?
    On a related note, I saw a post over at that other website where the writer and some commenters very patiently try to explain to Steel about math and put things in perspective. Sounds similar to points a few of the people have tried to make on here once in a while.

  97. More city vs suburbs and political agenda stuff that had nothing to do with what I was discussing here.
    Speaking of irrelevance, I looked over that WNY… piece. Are you still trying to rope me into that sprawl is the reason why we’re broke stuff? I don’t ever remember making that claim. It’s a serious waste, misuse of priorities, and environmentally destructive but not “why we’re broke.”
    It’s always interesting reading a few sprawl fans cherry pick a few numbers and put them out of context in order to justify their preferences.
    Sure, since sprawl expenses are not the highest on the budget and we are not the highest sprawled region in the country, it magically ceases to be a problem.

  98. Arm, nope, not trying to rope you into everything claimed by Steel, etc. Just thought that thread had good points beyond refuting why-we’re-broke nonsense.
    About politics, it’s how spending is decided and I’ve never seen you say what you want Cuomo/Silver to do exactly to end alleged sprawl subsidies by NYSDOT. Your man Cuomo is pushing many issues, but I haven’t heard him say anything about changes to DOT spending decisions.
    As for Route 5, if I as a city resident have to pay so much fed/state gasoline taxes I’d prefer when any of those $ are used for Rte 5 that it be kept a limited access highway as Higgy and NYSDOT decided (instead of protesters’ demand for a heavily-trafficed road with traffic signals). The former is convenient when I ever need to drive to southtowns, and the latter wouldn’t reduce sprawl anyway. How was my sprawl rant in downtown article here? Did I channel you guys well?

  99. I never claimed Sprawl made us broke either. That said the WNY media story skipped over huge expenses in its sieve like analysis. For instance it said nothing about the hidden costs of providing huge so called free parking in the suburbs or the which is built into the products we buy. Or the cost of treating the masses of runoff from that parking and the flooding costs caused by the extra runoff not to mention the subdivisions purposefully built in former flood plains. What about the costs of our military and the wars we wage to protect “our” oil. What happens to Cheektowaga and Tonowanda in the next 20 years. These 2 towns are aging out. They are filled with older people who will be retirin, moving and dieing off. What they leave behind will be dull small old houses that have little appeal to younger generations. The infrastructure supporting these towns will be reaching an age where it needs major upgrades. Who is going to pay for this? Pretending that sprawl is free is getting a bit old.

  100. I think Buffalo should imitate the city of Seattle not sprawling suburbs of Seattle. Where have I ever defended sprawl in other cities? Where have I ever said Buffalo was the only place with sprawl? I don’t understand your comment.

  101. Exactly. The author also left out the large role housing subsidies play in the sprawl industry as well. Taxpayers gave up just under 89 billion this year to encourage mostly wealthy people to trade up to large lot singles in sprawlville. I’m sure the author of that wny media post would counter by saying 89 billion is a small amount of money in the grand scheme of things and is therefore a trivial problem.
    I’m glad you brought up Cheektowaga and Tonawanda. You won’t have to wait 20 years for the infrastructure problem though as it is failing and in need of an overhaul right now. Earlier in the discussion I mentioned how Tonawanda is on the hook for all of a multi-million dollar sewer project along Parker while sprawl towns enjoy the privilege of this work funded by the county and state.
    Since residents there are funding other infrastructure projects in sprawltopia and their own town, cutting services or raising taxes is inevitable. That’s bad news for the long term prospects of a now aging suburb.
    The pro-sprawl types don’t want to hear it though. They would rather twist the issue into a city vs suburb debate which clearly isnt the case.

  102. It is also highly suburban. Outside of the CBD they have suburbs that look less populated than Kenmore. It you go north west on Yonge St, you are in what is essentially a high end suburb within 10-15 minutes. On top of that the Eastern outskirts of Toronto is one large shopping plaza.

  103. Pearson – though this wasn’t the core of your argument, I think you are perpetuating a misconception that Buffalo area salaries are so much lower than an equivalent position elsewhere. I assure you that $45k in Buffalo is not an equivalent salary for a position/profession that pays $80k in Phoenix. I don’t even think the gap is that wide when comparing more expensive cities like New York. Yes, Buffalo has a lower cost of living and therefore pays lower salaries on average then other cities, but at sub 100k annual salaries I’d bet the average difference would be closer to 15 or 20%, not 44% as in your example. Top paying positions (like the company CEO or CFO) would possibly have a larger discrepancy in compensation. In my own past experience, which is purely anecdotal evidence, I had two job offers in hand with similar companies, one in NYC and the other in Buffalo. The Buffalo offer was 14% less in terms of base salary, but with the income taxes lower in Buffalo because you don’t have to pay city income tax, they were even closer in terms of take home pay.

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