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The Daily Five – Top 5 Good News Stories in Buffalo 2011

As a blogger, my tendency is to criticize and write about issues I feel need to be addressed or things that need to be improved. Rarely do I take the opportunity to write about the positive news and events that happen in Buffalo and WNY each and every day. Maybe I need to shake it up a bit, eh?

However, there is one talented writer who spends all of his energy documenting why this region is an awesome place to live, work, and play. His name is Seamus Gallivan and he is the editor of a fantastic website called The Good Neighborhood.

His website is a daily read for me and I encourage you to add it to your daily media diet as well, maybe even add his site on Facebook.  Gallivan’s mission for “the good hood”?

The Good Neighborhood is all about community, and we want everyone to participate –

  • Read and comment on the stories!
  • Submit ideas and original work in the spirit of Gathering for the Greater Good!
  • Advertise your business through spots and sponsored content!
  • Spread the good word about The Good Hood!

So when it came time to write up the top five good news stories of the year? Well, Seamus was the first guy I thought could give this story angle the love it needed. Primarily because he’s the happiest guy I know and he and his website can put a big time hop in your step.

Waterfront Activity, Finally

As the battling and bickering wages over what we could have, should have, and have to be doing to earn our city a waterfront worth talkin’ proud about, major movement was made this summer to bring a critical mass of people to Canalside – it’s finally becoming an actual destination, thanks in great part to public input.

A flurry of free programming, from small-scale concerts with historical context to the Explore and More Children’s Museum and Tifft Nature Preserve presentations, was met with festivals such as Pride and the Great Lakes Experience and the ballyhooed move of Thursday at the Square, all of which got a lot of people poking around the water far more often than before. Naysayers whined over $46 tickets to see the Tragically Hip there, only to see it sell out without worry and become the event of the summer.

Buffalo Riverfest aka Peg’s Park opened just down the Buffalo River past the Edward M. Cotter; On the Water Productions held events such as the Outer Harbor Fest at the Seaway Piers; the Queen City Water Ferry is open and hopin’ to have more places to take people; and the Buffalo Main Lighthouse is finally accessible again to the public – we have a long way to go and there’s a lot of public money flying around, so may the watchdogs keep sniffing, and whiners keep sniffling, and the powers-that-be keep listening.

Buffalo Green Code Changing our Landscape

I’ll admit that until this year, I didn’t know nor care much about zoning codes. But part of caring about Buffalo and atoning for our past mistakes is fixing our way-outdated and misguided codes, and the city’s Office of Strategic Planning has made the planning process for the historic Buffalo Green Code educational and engaging enough for ignorant schmucks like me to learn and participate to the point of coming away fired up about the public’s role in shaping our city as a national leader in 21st century land use.

They’ve pounded the pavement to get public input, from nine neighborhood meetings earlier in the year, to meeting with community action organizations and last month revealing the results of our feedback and how they plan on moving ahead – if you care at all about reshaping neighborhoods, reusing abandoned land, removing horribly-placed highways, and redefining Buffalo, get hip to the Buffalo Green Code, and get involved while it’s still in development.

Amherst Street Emerges

When I moved back to Buffalo in late 2009 and set out to launch The Good Neighborhood, the first person I sought for support was Sportsmens Tavern owner Dwane Hall. Hall has taken an unassuming hole in the wall in Black Rock and made it first a formidable music venue free of riff-raff, and since a favorite destination for touring musicians who draw fans from hundreds of miles away. In a neighborhood belittled as rundown and unsafe, the 28-year family-run “Honkiest, Tonkiest Beer Joint in Town” is undergoing a six-figure expansion and has never been robbed.

“I think they think I’m cool because of the music,” Hall says of the neighborhood ne’er-do-wells…sure, that and the fact that the Stone Country stalwart and Marine Corps vet can’t feel some of his knuckles from putting their predecessors in their place.

The Sportsmens, as reigning Grant-Amherst Association Business of the Year, is an anchor in an emerging Amherst Street scene that has welcomed new tenants this year from taverns Rohall’s Corner and Black Rock Kitchen & Bar to buzz-builders such as Delish Cooking School & Pastry Shop and an expanded arts presence around Artsphere and 464 Gallery.

In the City of No Illusions, Amherst Street is real, receiving, and rising.

The Sabres Assert Themselves as Top Dogs

First off, owners don’t win championships – players do, and the Buffalo Sabres are not currently playing like champions. But new owner Terry Pegula is putting pressure on the players by putting his money where his mouth is when it comes to winning, investing on and off the ice to assert the franchise as an industry leader, including a red carpet for one of the Sabres’ greatest assets – its alumni.

Image courtesy of http://clarencegrad72.blogspot.com

In The Good Neighborhood, we leave the reporting of game scores and stats to other publications – our interest is in what the team and players are doing in the community, and there is no better story from this past year than the rapid rise of the Miracle League of Western New York and Sabres’ role in it.

The Miracle League is a baseball league for special needs kids with a motto of “Every Child Deserves a Chance to Play Baseball,” enabled by a custom rubberized playing surface that literally levels the playing field to alleviate mobility issues. Building a field is expensive, and of the three communities in which I’ve been involved with the emergence of the Miracle League, Western New York got the field built the fastest. With an incredibly united front on Grand Island that got the land in Veterans Park and the crew to build it, The Buffalo Sabres Alumni and Sabres Foundation stepped in with a pledge of $150,000, enabling the field to open in August – from conception to fruition in half the time it takes most communities.

One might ask what our hockey team is doing funding baseball leagues, and the answer is simple – the Buffalo Sabres care about more than hockey; they care about Western New York.

“This field in the best way encapsulates for me and my teammates what we love about Buffalo,” Sabres Alumni President Larry Playfair told me on the day the field opened. “People ask us, ‘Why stay in Buffalo when you can go anywhere?’ This is why.

“…Folks throughout Western New York who bought those raffle tickets [at Sabres and World Juniors games] chipped into this, and that feels good,” Playfair added. “The contractors, bricklayers, cement pourers – the people who built this field come from both Erie and Niagara counties. This is a Western New York effort.”

You and Who is Born

I first met You and Who Founder and President Dan Gigante in early 2010 at a New Era bubble hockey tournament. After I explained my goals with The Good Neighborhood, he said he was the guy at local internet solutions firm Clevermethod who handles all their community initiatives, arguably spending too much time on them. A few months later, he orchestrated a buyout from the company he co-founded in order to launch You and Who, an apparel company that for every purchase donates matching items or meals to organizations that help neighbors in need, inspired by “buy one, give one” models such as Tom’s Shoes. You and Who’s main product so far is t-shirts, most designed by artists and others bearing messages such as, “Two People are Wearing This Shirt.”

In addition to working with Western New York artists, organizations such as Compass House and Buffalo City Mission, and outlets from Thursday at the Square to his display today at the Walden Galleria, Gigante launched You and Who in a handful of cities around the country, and this fall trekked to 30 cities in 90 days to forge new partnerships. For example, if you purchase a shirt designed by an artist in Austin, the artist will receive a commission and the extra shirt will be donated to a local cause such as ARCH – Austin Resource Center for the Homeless.

Follow Gigante and You and Who in The Good Neighborhood with his weekly “You and Who’sday” report every Tuesday.