Earlier this week I gave a tour to a couple of journalists from the Hamilton Spectator. Surprisingly, the two were relatively unfamiliar with Buffalo, despite the close proximity of the two neighboring cities.
After what turned out to be a five hour tour, the two appeared to be thoroughly impressed with Buffalo’s recent economic progress. From the waterfront advancements to the colorful houses dotting the West Side, to myriad breweries and distilleries opening in all corners of the city, I must say that I felt pretty good showing off our Rust Belt city, especially considering that Hamilton is currently going through much of the same post-industrial turmoil as Buffalo. Talking to the two, it sounds as if Hamilton is looking to drum up similar enterprising economic initiatives that are currently underway in Buffalo.
Once the tour was over, my guests told me how much they were inspired by the various neighborhoods. At the same time, they told me that upon their initial arrival into the city, they felt very intimidated by the “Drug Free Gun Free School Zone” signs that greeted them. Apparently the signs give off the impression to visitors that Buffalo must be a pretty rough and dangerous city. The image of the gun and the needle are cause for alarm, especially for people who are completely unfamiliar with the neighborhoods where they are posted.
After the Hamiltonians headed home, I found myself paying more attention to the signs, which always bothered me for the exact same reasons. I always wondered if anyone carrying around heroin or a handgun actually avoided the school neighborhoods where the signs were posted. Highly doubtful. I also wondered about the real message that the signs spelled out – “You’ve officially entered a precarious neighborhood/city.”
Obviously these signs are old. I’m sure that the well-intentioned campaign hasn’t been in effect for a good many years. Today we are stuck with faded reminders that send mixed messages to those who come across them, as is apparent after talking to the Canadian journalists, whose first impression of Buffalo was far from positive.