At the end of every year, we ask our writers to jot down some thoughts, feelings, and emotions pertaining to the year behind us, and the year ahead. I always find it interesting to see what everyone comes up with… and this year is no different. Actually, this year is a lot different, as we have all been dealing with the pandemic in our own ways. We have watched many economic factions of our city come to a screeching halt, while some sectors have remained surprisingly bright, such as the city’s development arm. But then there are the non-profits, the restaurants, the retailers, etc. Numerous businesses have closed, some for good. It’s especially sad, because we have been fighting for so many years to see the rise of the new Buffalo. But, Buffalo will bounce back and we are all ready. 2021 can’t come soon enough.
Happy New Year, Buffalo! #GoBills
- That we’ll finally get going on a solid planning process to remake the Scajaquada corridor.
- That we finally develop — at long last — a plan for the Central Terminal complex that really reflects the potential of that site to sustainably uplift its community and its city.
- A mayoral race that becomes a moment of soul searching and real dialog about what the future of our city should be, and what kind of leadership we need to get there.
- That a pivot away from the national insanity over immigration of recent years allows us to not only throttle up our local resettlement programs, but enjoy a fresh appreciation for newcomers and what they contribute to all of us.
Most of us found solace, recreation and appreciation in nature this past year. My husband and I enjoyed walking around Hoyt Lake in the late afternoons or evenings. Both the beauty of the park and the diversity of our city stood out. The park was full of families, walkers, runners, bicyclists and young people hanging out in hammocks. There were dancers, musicians, and jugglers.
Once we saw a group of people gathered at the end of the lake where people often fish. They were checking out a couple of beavers swimming in the Squajaquada creek side. For the next few weeks, we would look for them on our walks and people would stop and marvel at the site together. Just as suddenly as they appeared, they disappeared, but the feeling of a neighborhood – friendly and in it together remained.
Now for 2021,
I imagine appreciation for nature, for our town, and for each other will be at the forefront. Being outside a lot and longing to eat out, enjoy the arts, and see each other are firmly established habits. Absence does make the heart grow fonder. I imagine customers will remain loyal to the businesses that made the effort to continue serving them during these challenging times. There will be an energy of renewal and vibrancy. Although we will be able to travel again, we will first and foremost enjoy what our hometown has to offer. It got us through a hard time.
1) Something truly memorable in 2020, pertaining to Buffalo – an instance that is indelible in your mind… something that made a big impact on you (or the city).
The term “the city of good neighbors” has never been truer than it was this year. I saw citizens of my city support and love each other from a distance in a multitude of unique ways-both small and big. To my local neighbors, thank you. Thank you for front porch conversations at 2pm because we both had nowhere else to be. Thank you for jumping my car when the battery died, and baking me “get well soon” cookies. Amidst the chaos and instability, you all taught me what “home” really means.
2. What do you want to see happen in 2021?
I hope we always remember the small businesses and restaurants that supported us through the toughest parts of 2020. May we carry the lessons that this year has taught us, and never be too busy to let our neighbors know we love them.
Jeff Z. Klein
1a) Horrible as 2020 was, can you imagine how much more horrible it would’ve been if the Buffalo Bills were still bad? Sure, we can’t go to the stadium and get pleasantly wasted at the tailgate by the thousands, but now that the Bills are great, everybody‘s living for the weekend. So thank you to Josh, Coach and all the Boys in Blue for giving us some joy in 2020.
1b) A pandemic is a horrible thing, but in a roundabout way it did at least provide us with a surprise gift from our friends and loved ones up the Queen E Way — the Toronto Blue Jays! How great was it to have the Jays here? Well, not so great that we could actually attend their games at Sahlen — but still plenty good to have a major league ball club to call our own for a couple of beautiful summer months. It was over much too soon, but I’ll always have my Buffalo Blue Jays shirt, the one where the red maple leaf in the Jays’ logo is replaced by a proud red bison.
2) What do I want for 2021? I want Buffalonians to stop saying “Buffalo, New York” all the time. I’m a comedian from Buffalo, New York. We’re a company based in Buffalo, New York. Uh-uh — stop it. We’re not some little podunk town that needs some kind of extra identifier so people can figure out where we are — everyone knows what state we’re in. We’re big enough and famous enough to just be Buffalo, period.
What’s that you say? There are other Buffalos? Yeah, but they’re all tiny. Buffalo, Minn., has a population of 18,000, and the rest have no more than a couple thousand people.
So c’mon, Buffalonians, act like you’re used to the spotlight. No more “Buffalo, New York.” Starting in 2021, it’s just plain Buffalo.
1) After vandalism had occurred along the Elmwood strip, the Elmwood Village Association setup a fundraiser called “Glass Ain’t Cheap.” With an overwhelming response they were able to provide money to each business affected. It was amazing to see the community come together to help one another.
2) Even though I was lucky enough to be granted access to travel into Canada while the borders have been closed, many have not. I want to see the borders reopen so everyone can see their international friends and loved ones. Despite having their hockey differences, Buffalo has a loving bond with their Canadian neighbors.
1. In the strangest of times, I have to go with the people of our community who did the dirty work, making sure our children and elders were cared for, in virtual classrooms, nursing homes and other places. The restaurateurs who fed the community when our incomes dried up. Our beloved police, fire, medical personnel who bravely looked after our safety and wellness, day after day, in the face of biological uncertainty and social unrest. Artists who kept us entertained in the most creative ways. And many more like them. These were our neighbors, friends, and loved ones, everyday common people, and there were many of them, in every pocket in town. Thank you to you all. You helped us maintain sanity and calm, while the world was spinning its wheels.
2. No real wish for 2021, but more of a curiosity of what people have done with their lives, how they are going to reinvent themselves moving forward. Will that generate innovation, prosperity, and economic growth based right here in Buffalo? That opportunity is in front of all of us.
William Graebner and Dianne Bennett
Since mid-March, when we returned to Buffalo to wait out Covid-19, we have walked at least 700 miles of the city’s streets and by-ways, exploring virtually every neighborhood, from Cold Spring to Kaisertown, from Old Town Riverside to the Old First Ward, from Kensington to Abbott/McKinley, from Masten Park to Valley, from Grant/Ferry to Lovejoy.We’ve walked the great radials, the north/south and east/west streets, the numbered streets on the West Side, the lettered streets on the East Side. We’ve been under power lines, aside a dozen or more railroad tracks (live and abandoned), along the banks of the Buffalo River, Cazenovia Creek, 2-Mile Creek, and other waterways. What we found is what we should have known all along, having lived here since 1978: end-to-end, Buffalo is a rich, intricate, and fascinating city.
East of Fillmore Avenue, we discovered the Milk-Bone building, where they still make dog biscuits. We’ve marveled at what’s left of the platform buildings of the Central Terminal, explored the haunting interior of the Rano Street King Sewing Machine factory, wondered why the old Perry Projects had been abandoned, trekked through Tifft Farm to the monumental Concrete Central elevator, found the Jewish cemetery in back of Concordia off Walden, followed Scajaquada Creek (where we saw a fox) to the edge of the Galleria Mall, and lamented the recent and fatal damage to the Church of the Transfiguration, built by Polish immigrants in 1896.
^ Above tryptic photo series by Philip Szal
We learned to tell a Gambrel roof from a Jerkinhead, relished the folk-art facades of the ubiquitous mini-marts, cringed as roofers worked without safety gear, watched boys on sport vehicles carve turns into the abandoned rail lines that run through Black Rock, wondered how remodeling could go so wrong so often, appreciated a thousand porches decorated to celebrate Halloween, Christmas, or the Buffalo Bills, and enjoyed beers and burgers on the patios of Gene McCarthy’s on Hamburg Street and Papa Joe’s Tavern on Walden Avenue.
Along the way, we’ve had many a conversation, most of them pleasant, including one involving a topless woman and another with a man who enjoyed the friendship of his neighbor, even though one favored Biden and the other the current President, and both sported large banners (“Trump 2020”/“Fuck Trump”) on their adjoining fences. Never a dull moment—or street, or area—in the City of Good Neighbors.
Something truly memorable in 2020, pertaining to Buffalo – an instance that is indelible in your mind… something that made a big impact on you (or the city).
A) When we were about six weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic my brother Paul, President and CEO of our family’s 89-years-old family business, Colvin Cleaners was forced to make layoffs to staff members for the first time in the company’s history. It included most of his tailoring staff. A short time later, his son, Christopher, the company’s vice president, and his marketing team came up with a way to bring the tailoring staff back to work while helping the community. They would have their sister company, Colvin Draperies, cut fabric and elastic to make face masks for protection and offer them for free to customers, front line workers, non profit agencies and the general public. They established an order form on their website and they would leave the general’s public at the front counter while delivering the customer’s to their homes. That was the plan and they envisioned a smooth, easy transition until a day later when Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced mandatory use of face masks would be enforced in two days. Suddenly, the phones and website blew up with orders. My brother Paul, a master at creating Processes for efficient work flow, did not miss a beat. Christopher and his team worked on a message for the phones and website to make ordering masks easy; they recruited nearly 50 volunteeers to help sew masks; they video taped their lead tailor showing how to make a mask in three minutes and they offered non-profits enough material and elastic for 250, 500 or 1,000 masks and the three minute video for their computer and asked them to recruit volunteers who knew how to sew. It was a huge success and since it began they have distributed 37,000 masks and orders are still being taken. I handle the communication for the cleaners’ philanthropic efforts, such as its annual Coats 4 Kids and Gowns for Proms programs. Because of the pandemic, Gowns for Proms was cancelled and the distribution of coats has had to be changed for social distancing. If any organization is in need of coats, visit www.coatsforkidswny.com and click the Nonprofit Coat Distribution Sign Up link and complete the form.
B) On March 11, 2020 the last major event in Western New York was held—the 58th annual Mental Health Advocates of WNY’s annual awards banquet before 550 guests at Rich Products Atrium. Ken Houseknecht, the former executive director of the MHA, presented me with its Courage to Comeback Award for my work in the mental health field after coming back from a traumatic brain injury, including a suicide attempt which I talked about that night. After the talk dozens of people came up to relate their stories or stories of family members or friends who suffer from some type of mental illness. Suddenly, I was providing messages of hope and inspiration. The next day New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo and Erie County Executive Mark Polancarz declared the pandemic had hit New York and gatherings were capped at 10 people. It has not gotten back to a large group since but during that time when we were sequestered at home I fielded more calls from people suffering from anxiety, depression, suicide thoughts and other forms of mental illnesses. I felt like I was Josh Allen or Jim Kelly as I was able to hand off information of people to call or places to visit. I also “Joined the Conversation” with 3,438 others who have taken the pledge to end the stigmas associated with mental illness by getting involved with the Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition. For me, that entire experience has opened my eyes to the reality of the severity of mental illness issues and the threats of and reality of suicide among children, adults, seniors and especially veterans.
What do you want to see happen in 2021?
Like a wish for Buffalo – anything other than for the pandemic to go away, which is what we all want.
I will probably get in trouble for this answer but I would like the winner of the 2021 Mayoral race for the city that will be the home of the Super Bowl Champion Buffalo Bills to change the paradigm for city leadership. Whether it is Mayor Brown beginning a record fifth term or a newcomer as Mayor I would love to see the Mayor of the City of Good Neighbors be more open with citizen groups by holding regular town hall meetings in each council district, surrounded by that council member, department heads and business leaders in that district along with interested residents. There are enough smart business leaders or college professors in town that can help the mayor’s office organize these meetings to be effective exchanges of ideas and concerns with proper follow-up required and officials and the public being held accountable for promises made. This cannot be a one way street. If the public truly wants change, they must be willing to be part of the process to effect a change.
To that end, I love the tag line Kim Pegula and her team created, “One Buffalo.” I would love to see the city work towards that end by getting the East Side, the Lower West Side and Riverside talked about the same way they talk about Canalside.
I would love to see someone in City Hall take charge of creating a Wayfinding signage system for the entire city that resembles the one that the Medical Campus created for themselves. When the Peace Bridge finally opens for guests from Canada there should be signs with arrows to Canalside, the Outer Harbor, Sahlen Field, Key Bank Center, Shea’s, etc. I would love to see the group that oversees the Block Clubs create a directory of block clubs and the area they contain and then have them create their own signage emblematic to their neighborhood.
Lastly, a wish of mine since I was with the Buffalo Bisons and saw The Reverend Billy Graham take over then Pilot Field in August of 1988 by accepting the invitation of leaders of 56 different local religious denominations in more than 600 churches to preach at the first Greater Buffalo Niagara Billy Graham Crusade. Reverend Graham told the sold out audiences each night “God has a plan for each of you. We all need to return to the Bible.” He then looked into the crowd and exclaimed, “There are many of you that are spiritually dead right now. Physically, you are alive, but your spirit towards God is not alive.” My wish is that all of the local denominations start meeting in January for a huge multiple day religious renewal rally to commemorate the end of the pandemic. It could be held in Bills’ Stadium, Sahlen Field, the Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Sports Pavilion or the soon to be Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park on the site of LaSalle Park along Buffalo’s waterway. There are so many different church groups in and around Buffalo that I would love to see this involve all of them with an emphasis on our youth creating the agenda and orchestrating the wonderful music ministries and let them determine who will deliver the messages.
Personally, I feel Buffalo needs that type of spiritual renewal to start anew after this pandemic is clearly in the history books.
Queenseyes (Newell Nussbaumer)
Looking back at 2020, I start to think of the environmental success stories that came to pass. I look at the work that Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper accomplished, especially along Scajaquada Creek. Then there were plenty of inspiring efforts by the Land Conservancy, including their latest ongoing efforts to save the College Lodge Forest. If we are to think about Buffalo and WNY as ‘a city and region of the future,’ then we must make sure that our air is breathable, our waters are as clean as humanly possible, and so on. Presently, we are cleaning up the past industrial messes that have been left behind by companies that are no longer with us. It’s up to us to act as stewards of our immediate environment – a task that is currently being led by organizations such as the aforementioned. My hope is that as citizens of Greater Buffalo, we all appreciate these herculean efforts, and support those who are taking the lead. It’s that important.
On a side note, it was a breath of fresh air to witness the historic Bag Waste Reduction Law come to pass in NYS. Hopefully we can tackle the Styrofoam issue next.
As for 2021, I’m going to stay on the environmental course. I was recently approached by Jay Burney, Special Projects Director for the Pollinator Conservation Association. He was rightfully frustrated that the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) declined to add the monarch butterfly for endangered species protection. This was a huge setback for a pollinator that so many of us in WNY have come to love and appreciate.
The massive decline in monarch Butterflies has been ongoing for several years. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, 85% of the eastern population and 99% of the western population of monarchs have vanished according to recent counting.
For me, this beautiful flying insect represents how far we have come, and how far we need to go. Thanks to efforts such as The Garden Walk, people are planting pollinator gardens throughout WNY, in hopes of providing breeding grounds and food for the monarchs (and other important pollinators, including the honeybees). But there’s only so much that we can do without assistance from the Federal government that must enact sweeping changes when it comes to protecting diminishing wildlife.
“Our principle objective is to help save this fragile and iconic species which relies on our area for breeding and migration,” says Burney. “It is deeply disturbing that USFWS has declined to list this species, especially in the final days of the Trump Administration because we know that they oppose environmental regulations. We elected a new president in part because of concerns about environmental safety. Monarch butterflies are the tip of he iceberg when it comes to a decline in biodiversity, and the many species including pollinators that are in serious trouble. Biodiversity is what makes earth a living biological planet that supports all life on earth including human life. And of course, pollinators are responsible for the healthy production of food for humans. We are hopeful that the new administration will rethink and refocus the USFWS decision making regards the monarch.”
Over the last five years, Burney has been talking about the importance of creating pollinator pathways, which is a growing trend throughout the country. As we continue to build development projects in Buffalo, there are plenty of opportunities to include habitats, large and small. “The small,” according to Burney, is a process called Square Inch Gardening, which is packing as many native plants together in small areas to yield the largest impacts possible considering the size of the plots.
Burney is one of the organizers of the annual international Birds On The Niagara festival (held in Buffalo), which is, incredibly, the only one of its kind in North America. It’s a winter celebration that is held when the birds are in breeding plumage, “and courting like crazy,” according to Burney. The 2021 virtual festival will be held from February 12 – 14, coinciding with Valentine’s Day, since this is all about “celebrating romance.” We will be posting more about this spectacular, now in its third year, in coming weeks.
“It’s a good time to be alive,” says Burney. “Because there are problems to solve.”
I’m happy to be a part of that problem solving process. That said, I’m hopeful that in 2021, The Flutterby Festival will be given ‘the green light,’ after taking a year off due to COVID. In any case, I have asked Burney to consider The Flutterby Festival and Birds On The Niagara as ‘sister festivals’ moving forward.