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Byron Brown: Perhaps Among Buffalo’s Best Mayors?

I have been writing on here for something like 15 years now. For most of that time Byron Brown has been Mayor of Buffalo.  He was first elected in 2005 as the city’s 62nd Mayor, first ever African-American. Although I don’t write political stories for Buffalo Rising I have penned more than a few that are critical of the Mayor’s tenure. In fact, the Mayor has come under fierce fire from every angle during his long time in office. But he continues to be reelected by comfortable margins. Baring unforeseen circumstances, he will likely sail easily to a another term if he should decide to run. Are the voters wrong? Or are they actually picking the right guy for the job?

Maybe, just maybe he is a pretty good mayor.

Big cities are unruly entities. They have many diverse and divergent constituencies, none of which will ever be fully satisfied. No mayor of any big city will come out the other side smelling like roses. Everyday is another day that something can go wrong.  Toss in the problems of a city suffering from massive poverty and 60 years of disinvestment; you have a recipe for controversy and crisis 24 hours a day seven days a week. Brown has had his share of urban issues and controversies, some perhaps, of his own creation, many others that are endemic in all of America’s urban centers.

But, Buffalo is a very different place than it was at the beginning of Brown’s administration.  Investment has returned big time bringing optimism back to residents region-wide.  New interest in the city started early in Brown’s administration as a trickle that no one was sure could be sustained. A few scrappy projects here and there in the millions were looked on with cautious optimism. But today, the many billions being invested within the city have become a real force that cannot be denied.  Some will complain that this new growth in the city is focused on a narrow band of wealthy neighborhoods.  Yes agreed, but in truth, investment is becoming increasingly common across the city in long down trodden neighborhoods, including much of the West Side and parts or the East Side.  For a person of my age it is just astonishing to see major developments on Niagara Street and Grant Street.  The formerly barren east side neighborhood of Larkin Square now has that trendy moniker and has been featured in the national press countless times. When I was young Buffalo’s leaders heralded development of a Burger King on Main Street as a great step forward; a Burger King! Let’s just say it was a very sad state of affairs.

Yes, Buffalo is a very different place now, but how much of this can be attributed to Mayor Brown?  That is a question that probably cannot be answered.  I am sure he will take credit for all of it. He deserves to take a bow, but I want to give Mayor Brown credit for a more tangible change. A change that he absolutely has the right to take credit for.  That would be the recently adopted new zoning code, informally known as the Green Code, which was initiated and supported by him and his staff.  A project of this scope would not have been possible without the continued blessing and support of the mayor.  Projects of this kind that bring significant change can only occur with strong visionary leadership. This achievement alone should place Brown among the city’s greatest mayors.  It is a monumental leap forward.  It places Buffalo among the most progressive cities in the nation.

Buffalo! Among the most progressive cities in the nation!

Buffalo has not been a leader in any realm for my 56 years until the Green Code.  With adoption of the Green Code Buffalo is a leader in urban planning now and the nation has been taking note. I have seen multiple stories from around the country point at the progress in Buffalo. Mayor Brown take a bow.  You deserve all the accolades for having the vision and the will to make the Green Code happen.

Now Mr. Mayor, with regard to that highway that the State of New York is planning to rebuild in Delaware Park; You need to step up and make sure that Buffalo does the right thing. Delaware Park is not an empty place through which to run high volumes of high-speed traffic.  Get rid of the Scajaquada from the Kensington all the way to the Niagara River.  Do something extraordinary. Return the park to the people. Restore the western end of Humboldt Parkway. Extend the park along the creek all the way to the Niagara River.  Make Buffalo a place for people, not cars. Seal your place in History as Buffalo’s most visionary mayor.

Mr. Mayor, do something extraordinary!


Written by David Steele

David Steele

Architect ( a real one, not just the armchair type), author of "Buffalo, Architecture in the American Forgotten Land" ( ), lover of great spaces, hater of sprawl and waste,
advocate for a better way of doing things.

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