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William C. Altreuter
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Thursday, August 19, 2004

We were at dinner a week or so ago with a couple who moved from the Buffalo area to Washington, D.C. a couple of years ago. They grew up here, and had lived here all their lives, and were well known for their civic-mindedness. They kept their house here, and come back in the summer-- a sensible thing, as anyone familiar with the summers in the two places can tell you. Over the course of catching up with this and that we talked some about the current state of Buffalo. It's always some sort of drama here, of course. We are, at present, being governed by a financial control board; no one knows what is going to happen with the Peace Bridge; the Superintendant of Schools just quit and there is a big fight about whether to accept private financing to conduct a search; Drew Bledsoe may be washed up; and the culture of the place remains one where people enjoy complaining generally.

"Is Buffalo ever going to turn the corner?" Tom asked. I tried to answer the question, but I feel like I dropped the ball. I've been thinking about it since, and I think I should have started by asking, "What corner?" There is a sense around here that Buffalo should be something other than what it actually is, and this has the effect of making the people who live here feel like it is some sort of Third World country. As a former New Yorker I find it hard to get my mind around the idea that people compare Buffalo unfavorably to Pittsburgh or Cleveland, but they do, and they shouldn't. For starters, both of those cities have much larger populations (Pittsburgh has about a hundred thousand more people living in the city than Buffalo; Cleveland is roughly twice as populous). Both have larger metropolitan area populations.) Another popular city to compare Buffalo against is Toronto-- the economic and cultural capital of an entire nation.

Buffalo is never going to be those places. It is never going to be New York, either, although I think most of the people who live here are fine with that, at least. (I wouldn't mind it, but that is a different story.) I'm not so sure that I know what people want Buffalo to be, but it seems to me that a lot of the people who are complaining about it fail to consider what it is. It is a town with a great music scene. I have been a lot of places, and I have never, ever seen a city with a more diverse and accessable arts community. It has a great university, and a lot of nice little colleges, which means that it is a city with a whole lot of well educated people. I practice all over the state-- the quality of bench and bar here is second to none. I'm not crazy about the Buffalo News, but it is not owned by a chain (the Gannett papers are both a plague and an embrassment to a lot of otherwise decent communities, and they aren't even the worst).

When we moved here, a friend told me, "Once you get past the weather, it's fine." The weather is mostly not even all that bad: I would prefer a shorter winter, but the winter here is far from being as brutal as it is thought to be. The summers really are pretty nice, even this summer, which has been mostly wet. I'm not really even all that worried about Bledsoe's arm.

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