What does Buffalo have in common with North Korea? Why not ask Ivan Drucker, the man who has toured both places. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Ivan, and folks like him, are looking to travel to destinations such as North Korea and Cuba in order to search out “beauty in decay” – cities that are lost in time.
Buffalo is another city that Drucker enjoys visiting. The 44-year-old laptop-repair specialist happened to be on an East Side adventure called “City of No Illusions”, being led by Christopher Graper – a guide who also happens to have North Korea on his list of “nostalgic otherworld” tours that he conducts. While the gist of the article, and the tours themselves, make parts of Buffalo look like places lost in time (goes hand-in-hand with being a Rust Belt city), it could be a lot worse.
Fortunately the article points out a couple of Buffalo’s recent success stories that will one day be crossed off the list of places that Graper counts on for his Buffalo “blight” tourism operation. Aside from certain lost Buffalo landmarks being found, we can’t skirt the other issues that exist. Everyone is aware that there are still areas of Buffalo that need fixing. As the momentum builds along the waterfront and downtown Buffalo, there will come a time when the momentum will expand into areas such as the East Side (it already has, but not enough to make a significant dent).
If tourists come to specific parts of Buffalo to see the blight, they will assuredly also see the light. It’s going to be hard for them to stay in Downtown Buffalo accommodations without seeing the beauty of this city, and the positive changes that are taking place daily. These tourists are arriving in Buffalo expecting to see “ruin porn”. The only way they would be able to avoid developments such as the reconstruction of Main Street, the rise of Canalside and Larkinville, and myriad bustling neighborhoods would be to hole up in the suburbs and infiltrate highly distressed parts of the East Side strategically (for added measure and impact). Otherwise Buffalo might not appear nearly as bad as a “ruin porn” tour brochure makes it out to be.
Detroit is positioned in a similar way as Buffalo. While the city is certainly down and out, there are strides of progress being made. Detroit is doing a good job at representing itself as a hip, Rust Belt-chic city, where anything is possible. With roots in music and the car industry, the Motor City is a draw for hipsters who feel that the city is a blank canvas, where anything is possible. There’s something to be said for underdog cities that are attempting to pull themselves up from the bootstraps. There’s a certain cachet that goes along with being Rust Belt.
In Buffalo, the West Side continues to see incredible investment from people looking to pick up properties before they become priced out of the market (relatively speaking of course). In past months I have been talking to various people who are finally beginning to look at the East Side with serious consideration. They believe that the window of opportunity is just around the corner, now that significant investments are being made in the Medical Campus. If you look back and reflect on what we have been able to accomplish in recent years, we can see that tourists such as Drucker might indeed have a limited window of time before they must resort to other cities (or countries), rather than Buffalo. Even [mostly] vacant monoliths such as the grain silos are quickly creeping back into play, which is putting them in the crosshairs of developers. Rocco Termini recently told me that the immediate problem he is facing is that there are fewer and fewer buildings to acquire and turn around. That problem bodes well for the East Side, where concerted efforts by developers are no longer just a pipe dream.
As for Buffalo being lumped into the same category as North Korea and Cuba, the WSJ article doesn’t say that Buffalo is on par with North Korea, rather it points out that “[Mr. Drucker] puts Buffalo in league with North Korea and Cuba as a favorite destination.” Man, could we put an interesting spin on that sentiment. Ruin porn for all… come and get it!