Buffalo County. What do you think? Does it have a ring to it? Does it make sense? According to Kevin Gaughan, an advocate for government reform, “Buffalo” is the deserved name bearer of the county, especially in light that “New York City is located in New York County, Niagara Falls is in Niagara County, the City of Albany sits in Albany County.”
There are some who feel that Lake Erie (namesake) represents the county perfectly fine, but Gaughan disagrees. Lake Erie is vast, and there are other cities (including Erie and Cleveland) that reside along the fresh water resource.
Gaughan has been fighting to see the name change for over 15 years, citing that using the name “Buffalo” would help to create cohesion within the region. “Buffalo County” would act as a rallying cry behind the city’s advancements, which would help to fuel further sweepings of civic pride. When Gaughan first proposed the name change, the suburbs and the city were entrenched in economic battle. These days, the city is seen as a catalyst for the entire region to prosper as one entity.
“No matter where we live in Western New York, we are all one with our urban center,” Gaughan said. “And with the long-sought re-birth of Buffalo, the time has come to enshrine in our local governments what we feel in our hearts.”
“Our community is known world-wide for one man-made city, Buffalo, and one natural wonder, Niagara Falls,” Gaughan concluded. “And our brand should reflect that in our being known as the Buffalo Niagara region.”
In order to get the ball rolling, Gaughan has pitched the proposal via a letter to members of the Erie County legislature and County Executive Mark Poloncarz (see copy below). He will discuss his plan tonight in a presentation before a UB Law School local government class, John Lord O’Brian Hall, at 7:30 pm.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Against the backdrop of our beloved City of Buffalo’s resurgence, we are all thinking through steps our community can take to sustain our upward arc. Creating successful public schools; expanding growth to include our impoverished neighborhoods; re-casting local government to boost not burden citizens; and embracing the rich diversity of our growing minority populations. These are all central challenges to our ability to render permanent our recent reversal of decades of decline.
In addition to the substantive work that remains, there are symbolic measures we can consider to firm our new direction and affirm our new identity. Measures that serve our community’s underlying, animating idea: that the unique sense of place that is Buffalo Niagara should be sustained and celebrated.
In that spirit, I respectfully propose that we change the name of Erie County to Buffalo County.
Establishing Buffalo County is but a symbolic change. But symbols hold the power to convey ideas as effectively as actions. And in the realm of one of government’s principal purposes – to foster a sense of unity that is the hallmark of successful communities, symbols can convey purpose and belief.
The range of reasons for this change, and abundance of benefits that shall flow from it, are broad and deep. Re-naming our regional government for our central city will:
- Acknowledge the indispensable role Buffalo plays in the fate of our entire region. The defining characteristic of our fifty years of decline was the sad downward spiral of Buffalo that began with the 1970’s demise of the steel industry. During that period – our nation’s suburban age – residents throughout America physically and spiritually abandoned the central city. Racial discrimination and failed economic models defined this chapter in America’s story. And it took half a century to learn that donut-holed regions were unsustainable, and regional revival turned on restoration and return to the urban center and its diverse people, activity, architecture, and sense of place;
- Celebrate the return of Buffalo as a growing, vibrant community, with an exciting new immigrant community of Burmese, Vietnamese, Bangladesh and other recent residents who hold the potential to reverse our dramatic, region-wide population decline;
- Remind ourselves that no matter where we live in Western New York, we are all one with our urban center. And remind the nation and world that Buffalo is the key to our social and economic life;
- Enshrine in local government the fact that most of our families began in Buffalo, many of our families are now returning there, and much of the millennial generation’s return to our region is taking place there; and
- Streamline and strengthen our regional brand. By eliminating “Erie”, a name that holds little meaning and less allegiance for us, we emphasize the two Western New York entities instantly recognized around the world: Niagara, for the Falls; and Buffalo, not only for our climate, but now for our comeback. We are the Buffalo-Niagara region. With pride and joy, we should embrace that reality.
New York City sits in the middle of New York County; City of Niagara Falls is in Niagara County; City of Albany anchors Albany County; City of Schenectady is the center of Schenectady County, and the City of Oswego is located in Oswego County.
Erie County origin and history
When counties were established in New York State in 1683 present-day Erie County was Native American territory and was not part of New York. Significant European settlement began in our region around 1800 after the Holland Land Company acquired title to eight western-most counties of Western New York, surveyed their holdings, established towns, and began selling lots. At this time, all of Western New York was part of Ontario County. In 1802, Genesee County was created out of Ontario County. In 1808, Niagara County was carved out of Genesee County; and in 1821, Erie County was created out of Niagara County, encompassing all of the land between Tonawanda Creek and Cattaraugus Creek.
Process and cost to effect this change
In New York State, counties are municipal corporations established by the state legislature. Once established, though, especially in the case of Erie County, one of 19 counties in New York that operates under its own charter, authority to alter its name rests in its legislative body. As a result, a local law should suffice. In the interests of thoroughness, I am copying this correspondence to the members of the Western New York delegation to the New York State legislature.
With respect to the costs associated with making this change, I respectfully propose a collaboration among our region’s philanthropic community to help defray those expenses.
My first effort to effect this change
I first proposed changing Erie County to Buffalo County in 1999. At perhaps the nadir of our city’s decline, I thought that the act of symbolically linking every county resident with Buffalo would help lift the city back to its rightful place. The idea occurred to me when I realized that whenever we travel outside of Western New York, no matter where we live – from Amherst to West Seneca – when asked where our home is, we all answer Buffalo.
As predictable as it was sad, in 1999 my initiative was poorly received. Vestiges of racial bias, as well as a then widespread belief that Buffalo might never recover, combined to impair local leaders’ willingness to consider the notion. I’m confident that those days are past.
Throughout my twenty years of reform work, I’ve strived to advance regional collaboration among governments and foster regional unity among citizens. At the core of my work was an idea: history chose our generation to either observe Western New York’s demise or help cause its recovery. Today’s turnaround has been defined by development. Tomorrow success shall be marked by growth. To achieve that growth, we must render our community united in interest, values, and aspirations. By assigning our city and county governments the same name, we take an important step toward that goal.
If you have any questions regarding this matter, of if I can be of any assistance in preparing an appropriate local law to achieve this change, kindly do not hesitate to let me know,
Very truly yours,