Tonawanda News — I was having trouble sleeping one day last week, leaving me to channel surf the vast expanse of my cable package. I happened upon a panel discussion on the future of Buffalo’s Outer Harbor and a panelist used a phrase to describe Buffalo I’d never heard before.
She called Buffalo “the mother of the Rust Belt.” I thought it odd I’d never considered this fact before. Buffalo, thanks to its location as the terminus of the Erie Canal, was the first major manufacturing hub in America not located on the East Coast.
It’s funny to think but this area was once one of the most important cities in the world. “McKinley’s last stop,” noted a funny T-shirt I once saw.
I was thinking the same thing as I read an article in Tuesday’s New York Times about the urban blight surveyed in Detroit. A comprehensive study on the deteriorating property in Detroit’s beleaguered city limits estimates it would cost $850 million to demolish the 40,000 abandoned or blighted buildings.
And that’s not even the half of it, literally. Factor in vacant lots strewn with rubble and of the city’s 377,000 parcels on record, more than 87,000 are blighted. It is urban decay on a massive, almost unimaginable scale.
How the mighty have fallen.
But it doesn’t have to stay that way. As Western New Yorkers can attest, smart planning, sound investment in natural resources from both public and private entities and a citizenry engaged in the process can turn the tide.
The reason we’re now talking about developing Buffalo’s Outer Harbor is because we’re already developing the Inner Harbor. And if the Twin Cities are any indication, the result can be a stunning change.
Consider the downtown districts on either side of the Erie Canal here before the state undertook the Gateway Harbor revitalization. Tumbleweeds could blow down Webster or Sweeney largely undisturbed. Now, there’s a thriving commercial and entertainment district that attracts thousands here on weekends to enjoy a leisurely stroll along the Niagara River or have a drink and bite to eat at one of the chic new bars or restaurants in the region.