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Misery Loves Company February 13, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Buffalo, Economic Stimulus, Economy, New York Politics, Politics.
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Buffalo at Dusk

Buffalo at Dusk

When you live in Buffalo, NY,  you become accustomed to taking it on the chin.  The other day, Forbes Magazine ranked Buffalo as the eighth most miserable city in the United States.  Ouch. 

This once proud “Queen City of the Lakes” had the second-largest population in the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century.  It was a major rail head and the center of Great Lakes shipping.  The population was large and varied – several ethnic neighborhoods housed great numbers of Irish, German, and Polish immigrants.  It was the final stop for hundreds of runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad before freedom in Canada.  The Niagara Movement, precursor to the NAACP, was founded here.  Later, heavy industry was king; steel, autos, and aircraft were manufactured here; my grandfather worked at Bell Aircraft on the plane that first shattered the sound barrier, the X-1.  Then, two events shattered this city – and it has never recovered since.

The first was the Blizzard of ’77.  The city was immobilized for almost a week because of high winds and snow coupled with subzero temperatures.  Over 8,000 cars were abandoned on city streets and many citizens were stranded away from home for days.  The images from the event were broadcast all over the world, creating and cementing the impression that Buffalo was a snowy Siberia 365 days a year.  Thirty years later, any time we have a weather event here, the Weather Channel is parked on our waterfront broadcasting the horror of snowfall.  It gets old that whenever I travel – even to Europe – and people ask me where I’m from –  the invariable comment upon my answering “Buffalo” is “still have snow there?”  Even in July.

The second was the death of Bethlehem Steel’s operations in Lackawanna, NY.  At one time Bethlehem employed over 20,000 people at this facility.  Beginning in 1977, Bethlehem started scaling back steel production and eventually closed the plant for good in 1982.   Remaining industries fell like dominoes – continuing to just this past year with the closure of American Axle and Manufacturing, an auto parts manufacturer that employed hundreds of middle-class workers.  Ford and GM have a small and contracting presence here, but one can’t help but feel that their days are numbered. 

What makes all this worse is the peculiar workings of New York State politics.  While Buffalo and Western New York have representation in the State Senate and Assembly, our reps. are mere figureheads.  New York is controlled by the “three men in a room”; the Governor and the heads of the Assembly and Senate.  No legislation makes it into debate without their say-so, there is no popular referendum provision, and there is no membership conferences between the bodies.  The state government is dominated by downstate and NYC politicians and their needs and desires are practically the antithesis of what is needed upstate and west.  New York tax policy, written to support downstate, is strangling everything west of Albany.  What’s more, our one considerable asset – hydro-power generation at Niagara Falls – is redirected by a shadowy and unaccountable state authority to the eastern end of the state.  This leaves residents here with the highest electricity rates in the nation.  The tolls we pay New York on our roads and bridges go to support toll-free roads around New York City and its suburbs.  In the mean time, our population is being drained of its youth, vigor, and innovation as our brightest and best young people leave for greener pastures.  Finally, there is word that the economic stimulus money for New York will not make its way to this end of the state despite a surfeit of worthwhile infrastructure projects in process.

Weighing all this, I suppose we could be pretty miserable here if we allowed ourselves to be, but we really are not.  This really is a nice place to live if you like winter or don’t mind hibernating for 4 months.  The summers and autumns are awsome.  We have theater, arts, an orchestra, a vibrant local music scene, tons of year-round festivals, really cheap housing, and an average 20-minute commute to anywhere you need to be.  We have some very famous sons and daughters; Tim Russert, The Goo-Goo Dolls, Charles Burchfield, Jim Kelly, Ani DiFranco, Taylor Caldwell, Wolf Blitzer…I could go on and on.  We are home to numerous colleges and universities and have one of the most educated work forces in the country.  It’s really not all bad.

I’m not a true-blue Buffalo booster – I have been known to bash my hometown – but I can think of a lot of places more miserable than here.  So come and visit us some time.  After all, misery loves company!

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Comments»

1. What Should You GoSee? » Blog Archive » Misery Loves Company « Kate’S Kitchen Table - February 14, 2009

[…] I’m not a true-blue Buffalo booster – I have been known to bash my hometown – but I can think of a lot of places more miserable than here. So come and visit us some time. After all, misery loves company! …Read More […]

2. Erno Rossi - February 13, 2009

For those people who would like a DVD or 400 page book with excellent photos about the Blizzard of ’77 then please go to my website http://www.whitedeath.com and listen to emergency radio broadcasts during The Blizzard of ’77.

Erno Rossi


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