By now we’ve all seen the list of Forbes lists. As Elena pointed out, the magazine has placed Buffalo at the top and the bottom of so many lists that it’s hard to keep track where we stand in a ranking and more importantly, how we ended up there. Last evening the cybersphere was abuzz as people began to talk about the most recent listing – Buffalo’s ranking as number 18 when it comes to best cities to be single in. Along with the ranking was shown a nighttime photo of a bustling Chippewa Street. If I saw the snippet and didn’t know much about Buffalo other than the standard stereotypes, in a flash my perception would have changed. Hopefully, as those perceptions are altered (by our young people), we can look for further signs of change in coming years.
With the recent transformation of the 700-block from one way to two-way, the image of that section has also flip-flopped. For many, there is a re-energized sense about what Main Street is and what Main Street should be. If you look at the bones of the long dormant commercial district (other than theater-goers), you can easily see that giant is merely sleeping and traffic flowing through its veins would bring it back to life. Even with the hope of traffic returning I have heard rumblings from entrepreneurs as they prowl the outer limits of the traffic-less district.
Until that fateful day, we might jut be stuck with that sleeping giant though. And that’s really sad. If I were given the keys of the city (like TO), I would beat the drum even louder for revitalizing Main Street. If there was ever a reason to snag some of that stimulus money, this is it. Over the weekend Assemblyman Sam Hoyt and I took a bike ride down Main Street (literally down the spine of the lifeless street). As we passed by a couple of young people (who looked lost), I mentioned to Sam that we should double back to help them out. “Where is everyone?” they asked. “This looks like a great city, but where are the people?” We told them about the Main Street misfortune and redirected them towards Allen Street, Chippewa, Elmwood… any commercial district that would help squash their image of Buffalo as a ghost town.
Main Street is the closest thing we have to Queen Street in Toronto (I’m not kidding). Once again, I am talking about the infrastructure density and the unique blend of commercial buildings and storefronts. Other cities would kill to have that because it’s impossible to duplicate. It’s easy to envision what the street could look like with occupied storefronts. Just picture the 700-block success superimposed on the rest of the street… with a Metro Rail to boot. I think that the best way to go about it would be to add cars in stages… in segments. Restore cars from Tupper to Chippewa. Next restore Huron to Mohawk. From there you could see if the stretch from Chippewa to Huron could thrive as a pedestrian mall. Instead of just snapping our fingers and releasing the cars back onto Main, we should really step back and think about what makes the street work and what doesn’t. What would drive more people to this district? What do they want?
As for Forbes and the singles ranking? It all depends on whom you talk to as to whether they agree with the stat. Talk to young Chippewa-goers and you will probably find that they are pretty happy with the transformation of that street. And maybe at the end of the day, we should be happy that that age bracket is getting some much-needed attention for Buffalo. If I was thinking about attending college here and I saw that Forbes ‘clipping’, I would say, “Buffalo, here I come!” If we can get Main Street back on track, or off track as the case may be, we might one day look back and say, “Did you know that Main was once a dead street?” Check out the old bustling images of the district. It’ll break your heart. I know that we can reclaim Main. Hopefully, when we do, we will be able to erase the memories of an era that literally drove people away.