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Influence Survey: Frits Abell on New Attitudes

For this week’s cover story, we polled a number of local folks about positive and negative influences in our region—people, ideas, circumstances. In the days to come, we’ll publish the responses we received in full here. 

Here’s what Frits Abell of ExPat Network and echo Art Fair has to say:

1. What people/ideas/circumstances do you consider positive influences in this region?

Buffalo Blow-Ins & Boomerangs—people who have moved to Buffalo, and have no specific connection to the city, and/or people who are returning to live in Buffalo. These are people who have lived, and have seen how it is done, elsewhere; from that perspective, they can be instrumental in expanding the possibilities in WNY. These folks tend to be of the creative class, are eager to roll-up-their-sleeves to make Buffalo a better place, are urban-centric and progressive, and are moving to Buffalo, in part, because of the historic built environment, walkability of the city, diversity, etc. I also meet a lot of eager, driven young adults (20-30 years old), who are not only very eager to stay in Buffalo, but they also want to be part of the solution; they are an encouraging bunch because they have less baggage and hang-ups over what Buffalo used to be twenty years ago. They are full of optimism.

2. What people/ideas/circumstances do you consider negative influences in this region?

“Old world” culture, whether it be political or business. It makes Buffalo feel like a post Soviet Bloc country. Also, I meet too many people who live in the suburbs and still see Buffalo (proper) as a war zone. Really? Get a grip—there is hardly an area of Buffalo, including parts of the East Side, that is not experiencing real transformation. The “any progress is progress” is also incredibly tired….and mediocre; let’s progress, but strive for excellence—which was the paradigm a century ago.

3. What people/ideas/circumstances do you think ought to be more influential in this region?

Members of the creative class—it’s incredible how much art there is throughout WNY, but the collective voice of the creative class continues to be marginalized (and this is why we need Arts Services Initiative and Greater Buffalo Cultural Alliance). I just read that Cuyahoga County supports the arts to the tune of $30MM annually. And, what does Buffalo’s city hall provide annually? $100k (if)? That is a joke. The other movement in Buffalo that needs serious, smart support is the start-up ecosystem. I just spent four years in Boston, which is chock full of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, MBA students, etc. We need to recapture a true sense of entrepreneurship in WNY—not economic development which is top-down, state/institution-led. We need to see a grassroots movement, similar to that which has happened in the Arts and non-profit sectors, in the start-up community in WNY. Some seeds have certainly been planted, but there needs to be a true shift in perception.