Sunday, November 4, 2007

Buffalo Buzz

As a follow-up to my earlier, unusually non-linguistics posts on Buffalo’s economy which I discussed here (this is also featured on Mankiw’s post here) and here.

I’d like to note that this week, Buffalo’s famed weekly magazine Artvoice included an extended response to Glaeser’s critique of Buffalo’s renewal woes, What It Will Take by Bruce Fisher.

Bruce Fisher is Deputy Erie County Executive; he presumably knows the details of Buffalo’s economic situation better than Glaeser. I skimmed the article (rather quickly) at Spot Coffee this morning while doing laundry and I was impressed that Fisher does what Glaeser does not, provide pragmatic suggestions to fix Buffalo’s problems, but he also seems to tread awfully close to the deep end of silly Canada-envy and claim that Buffalo should follow Ontario’s lead. It makes sense to look to models of urban renewal like Toronto and Ottowa for ideas, but there is a peculiarly USA-American tendency (amongst liberals particularly) to fawn over Canada as if it’s some sort of Utopia. I’ll happily stipulate that I like Canada, love Toronto, and am impressed by many aspects of Canadian society. But I’m not predisposed to gushing.

Anyhoo, Fisher basically agrees with Glaeser that “if federal funds come the way they’ve always come, nothing here will change.” He then goes on to disagree with the assertion that Buffalo is a lost cause (that’s my phraseology). Fisher’s basic claim is this: “Quality attracts and retains density.” So, he reasons (contra Glaeser), we should invest in Buffalo the place. He wants to invest (public money, of course) in changing what he refers to as “land-use policy”, especially the policy of suburbs, and so he’s in favor of regionalism. I’ll leave it to you to read the entire article to appreciate Fisher’s complete argument.

I’m no macro-economist (though it has become increasingly my hobby over the last few years), so I’m not in a position to decide if Glaeser’s or Fisher’s prescriptions for Buffalo’s future are wisest. As an unapologetic urbanite who has lived within the city borders of Buffalo for 8 of the last 10 years, I have no problem with disparaging the evils of suburbia, but I also see that preservation does not seem to be doing much good. If the taxpayers of New York state and Kansas and Arizona and Washington (etc.) are going to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into Buffalo over the next ten years, I’m trending towards Glaeser’s position that it should be spent on the people (to me, that means primary education and law enforcement: a well educated, safe populace is more powerful than any other force on Earth).

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