Death of a City and a Region


Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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14 Responses

  1. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I’m glad to hear I misremembered some of those figures, but like you said it’s still pretty dire. I always wondered if they could give some sort of sweetheart deal to filmmakers to shoot there- the architecture in that city is just incredible. Every time I visit downtown Buffalo, I think they could shoot the next Batman film there and have to change nothing to do so.Report

  2. Avatar gregiank says:

    J0hn Wesley Powell suggested that state lines in the south west be drawn based on river drainages not along arbitrary lines as they have been. I think there are good reason to think the way our state lines have been drawn lead to serious problems. I would think upstate NY has a lot more in common with vermont, parts of penn., nh and maine. While do have differing political cultures in most other ways they are a more coherent unit then upstate and downstate ny. Having large metro areas spread over two states, Philly- Penn and NJ, NY- NY and NJ, doesn’t seem to make much sense either. That leads to one state getting more of the benefits while both have to deal with capital costs for mass transit.Report

  3. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    Haven’t read all of this yet, but just want to say that I’m pleased with the direction that the discussion here has taken today. I won’t say keep it up, because it’s clearly been organic and unplanned, but I think it’s very useful.Report

  4. Avatar James Hanley says:


    Thanks for this. I’ve been in Buffalo exactly once, and thought it was a beautiful city. It seems like a great place to buy a beautiful old house at a great price, a gerat place to raise children, and a great place to send them to a great university. But what then for them?

    I don’t really understand Buffalo. The decline of the other major American city that’s lost half it’s population, Detroit, seems easier to comprehend. As I understand (if I understand) Buffalo’s growth was led by cheap energy. Presumably they still have that cheap hydropower? But apparently cheap energy isn’t a big enough factor in business costs to be a sufficient draw for manufacturers anymore–at least in comparison to transportation costs?

    But what you say about the upstate/downstate problem certainly helps explain the continuing difficulty in recovering. I’m a big believer in self-determination within a decentralized federal system (don’t anybody dare ask me where I draw the line on that self-determination, because I don’t know). So I think it is time that we seriously consider some redrawing of state boundaries, dependent upon the wishes of the people in the sections that would either merge elsewhere or become new states. (And with the “left behind” portions denied a veto in any part that wants to lead.) It would require a constitutional change, and it would be messy, but I think the long-term results would be beneficial, even if only a couple of places, like western NY or NorCal did it.Report

    • Avatar Paul Schuster says:

      Living near buffalo I think I can shed light on a couple of things. Insofar as cheap power that is somewhat true, but the damn is owned and operates as a charted corporation that is tied to new york state. Most of the power that it generates goes downstate to moderate power rates in areas that don’t generate enough power to keep the lights on (like nyc and albany). Our power is mostly from a couple of coal plants in the area. Though some is required to go to us for commercial use but that has been in the courts for most of my life time.

      We have a significant but aging infrastructure that is very costly to maintain. This would normally be a strength but it is heavily tied to old manufacturing sites that are in some cases nearly impossible to clean up enough for new builds. Bethlehem Steel is a great example of it as it is still a brown field, as is most of Niagara falls and the old chemical plants that it used to hold.

      As transportation costs go until the security theater after 9/11 we still had plenty of industries in the area that provided Toronto with goods but they have mostly folded up due to the issues at the border (it used to take ~90mins, 2 hours if the bridge was packed,to go downtown to downtown now on a good day you can do it in 3-4 hours)

      Hope that can help on some of your questions, note Detroit has alot of the same problems as most of this is due in large part to modern technology making it possible to live in areas like the south that would be unpleasant to say the least with out air conditioning.Report

  5. Floating things and pushing them along slowly is a fantastically efficient way to move goods. I reckon if you can stand the cold, Buffalo is a fair chance for return on a real estate investment.Report

  6. Avatar Lyle says:

    As has been pointed out the St. Lawrence Seaway was opened about the time Buffalo began its decline. After this lake ships did not have to unload at Buffalo, as sea going ships could make it into the upper lakes. Second looking at Rochester as well its major industry (Kodak) just plain dried up and blew away over the last 20 years. I suspect that if you look at it the period around 1900 was the period of peak relative prosperity of upstate New York, with the 20th century being a period of slow and then more rapid decline. An interesting question is to look at Hamilton On, and ask how it compares with Buffalo, Hamilton being a town with major steel as well.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      Okay, I’m not going to rush into answering this one, since the first half of this post is correcting shit I got wrong about Buffalo! But, if you have some general areas that you’d like to know how they compare, I can do the research this time and come back. I’ve lived in both Hamilton and Buffalo and still know people to ask.Report

  7. Avatar RTod says:

    Great post, Mark. But maybe I’ll jump in and be the naysayer.

    Does a case like Buffalo need a villain to be explained? I know that it’s often on target to think of things not working out as being due to bad governance. Or, for that matter, corporate greed. But isn’t there a case to be made that times change, and just as certain cities thrive due to the changes others whither- not because of bad reform or taxation policies or political shinanegans, but just because times change, and not every city can be an up and comer?

    In other words, is it a failure of the system, or is it just the system working itself out, suck-y though it may be?Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      Good point RTod.

      Consider the mass urbanisation during the Industrial Revolution. What would that look like to the rural communities that were being hollowed out? Suddenly there’s not enough hands at harvest time, the church pews are always half empty and even the pubs can barely stay open. It would look like the end of the world, but it was one of the greatest moment of human progress in history.Report

    • I agree that the deterioration of Buffalo does not itself call for a villain. Or at least I think it is probably wrong to think of Progress as a villain. However, Buffalo and upstate NY are not the first places whose economies have become obsolete in American history. But they seem unable to adapt to the new reality in a peculiar way. It has been about 60 years and yet it still hasn’t stabilized. The tax And regulatory framework designed for Downstate is a big part of that.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        But, again, maybe there is no “adapt”. Maybe “everyone moved somewhere else” is how the region “adapts”.Report

        • Maybe, maybe not – the problem I’m talking about isn’t necessarily just that “everyone moved somewhere else,” it’s that there’s still going to be people that remain, who have no capacity for adaptation. I do not think many would consider “upstate NY shall be a permanent welfare case that shall be a drain on downstate NY but shall be barred from taking steps that might allow it cease being a permanent welfare case” to be a conclusion that is consonant with any definition of “adapt.”Report