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William C. Altreuter
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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sometime between 20 and, oh-- let's say 32, we look as good as we are ever likely to. The tragedy is that when it happens most of us don't realize it. The anxiety of adolescence continues to infect our consciousness, and we focus on the features of our physiognomy that displease ourselves, instead of realizing that when we are 24 we are all pretty.

I was thinking about this today because it's Buffalo's Garden Walk weekend. Over the years Garden Walk has turned into something quite remarkable. People come from around the country to wander the neighborhoods, and the neighborhoods in turn all work like Tartars to put on a display. This year North Parade, on the East Side, was the beneficiary of some grant dollars, The Humbolt Parkway neighborhood of Buffalo, where North Parade is located, has been blighted since the 60's, but this project demonstrated the difference a little landscaping and some flowers can make.

It got me thinking. When was Buffalo at its most attractive? It is tempting to answer glibly and say that the city's good looks peaked when're it was in early adulthood, perhaps around the time of the Pan-American Exposition, but I don't think so. Too many of the iconic buildings and neighborhoods weren't here yet. By the late 1920's City Hall was dominating the skyline, but I doubt that the '30's were all that generous to Buffalo. My hunch is that the peak was in the period immediately following WW II, just before the St. Lawrence Seaway opened up. There was still a manufacturing economy, and the port was still important. Three or four generations of wealth had accumulated here, and as I rode my bike around town this afternoon I could still see the bones. More than that though, I could see that the Buffalo still looks pretty good when it pulls itself together for a party. We can't stay 24 forever, but we can always look good if we make an effort.

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