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Influence Survey: An Anonymous Response

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 one of our anonymous respondents has to say:

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

— Stephanie Simeon, Executive Director at Heart of the City Neighborhoods. I can’t count the number of people, especially young professional women, who rely on Stephanie’s example, advice, and encouragement. Stephanie is ego-less, and a quickly becoming a leader of leaders.

— Barbara Rowe and Peter Sowiski, who, in addition to being inspiring artists and local business owners, are quietly transforming their Niagara Street neighborhood into an exciting place to visit, work, and live. While organizing their neighbors and government reps to get involved in upper Niagara Street’s revitalization, they also invest their own money and sweat-equity, and take risks before asking anyone else to do so.

— Prish Moran because she can’t meet a person without making them feel a part of something larger. She has a great way of making connections.She values young people and artists, and it’s great. Oh, and she has brought a lot of life to two city corners in need of it.

— Justin Booth, whose mission is really very simple: paint some damn bike lanes. He has encountered tremendous resistance to his cause but he always handles it with grace and tact. And he’s been successful to boot. He is the go-to person for bike/ped transportation and City, County, and State transportation officials rely on his expertise and vision.

— Erin Heaney and the rest of the team at the Clean Air Coalition. In a few short years they’ve brought attention to several major health WNY crises, and they’ve brought powerful people in government and business to the table with empowered, battle-ready citizens.

— The Block Club kids. I’m not friends with any of them personally and was fairly skeptical about that magazine when it first came out but now I find myself interested in their work and admiring their style.

— Partnership for the Public Good

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

— Mayor Byron Brown and his deputy, Steve Casey. They aren’t the first but they may be the worst in Buffalo’s long history of “Us vs. Them” politics.

— Projects like the Peace Bridge expansion or natural gas drilling of the Marcellus Shale, which prioritize short-term financial gains and political capital over long-term public health and community livelihood.

— Governor 1%

— unaccountable public authorities

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

— Sarah Bishop and the movement for local, living economies

— Partnership for the Public Good


Influence Survey: William C. Altreuter on Livability

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 attorney and writer William C. Altreuter has to say:

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

The Honorable Paula Feroleto, the Chief Administrative Judge for the Eighth Judicial District, is not someone that very many people outside the legal profession have heard of, and that is probably a good thing. Judges should be largely anonymous, and judges that are well known frequently have acquired their greater visibility for the wrong reasons. In addition to presiding over a docket of cases—and doing a fine job of that—Justice Feroleto manages the operations of the courts in Western New York. “Herding cats” would be putting it kindly: she is in charge of seeing to it that the judges in our area do what they were elected to do. She manages this with aplomb, and gives no thought to personal aggrandizement.

Ideas? Well, to the extent that anyone is thinking in terms of livability I’d say that we are doing pretty well by several developers. Rocco Termini gets it. So does Karl Frizlen. Frizlen’s Winter Market has been a bright spot in this grey season.

Circumstances…There are a lot of great buildings here that could never be built today. A lot of us get to live in them. Amenities like trim,  stained glass, pocket doors…the little features in a Buffalo house that make them special are all things that people who live in newer places don’t have. When I look at the doorknobs in my house I’m happy. We have an arts scene that would be the envy of any city—theater, galleries and live music that spoil us for choice. UB and the surrounding colleges mean that our neighbors are more likely to be intelligent and involved people. I am impressed with what our public schools accomplish—this is a city that has a lot of poor people, but we also have a lot of hard-working, outstanding teachers. I think that the industrial heritage of the area makes us less union adverse than a lot of other cities with similar poverty problems, and that is an overall positive, because it means that we are, by and large, more progressive than we might otherwise be.

The consolidation of medical services into a central corridor is having a very positive effect, and one that I think will expand regionally. This is due in part to the presence of UB, and specifically the medical school, and it means that downtown is developing housing and retail that will benefit us all.

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

The hangdog attitude that pervades so much of our civic discourse is personified in Carl Paladino. The only thing that’s worse than the guy at the end of the bar who complains about the Bills, the Sabres, the Peace Bridge and the schools is the guy who has the same complaints and so much money that he can broadcast that negativity everywhere, all the time.

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

Me. I ought to be more influential. I can’t do it all, though. Someone else will have to run the Bills and the Sabres while I fix everything else.

One of the first places to start is mass transportation. I have been all over the country and all over the world and I have never seen mass transit as badly, and stupidly, run as the NFTA.


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.


Influence Survey: Dana Saylor-Furman on City Living

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 artist and history researcher Dana Saylor-Furman has to say:

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

PEOPLE: Those who are well-informed about various political and social situations, and who get actively involved, trying to lead by example and ensure true community participation and buy-in. Also, young educated people moving in from outside the area, who know what they want in an urban environment (dense, walkable, intact historic neighborhoods; access to public transportation; living near where they work). IDEAS: Those that interpret and synthesize the successes of other small cities. Those that see our potential and are willing to bet on it. Historic preservation AS economic development and a driver of heritage tourism.

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

PEOPLE: Those who do not live in the City and speak as though they know what’s best for those within its bounds, without getting out of their car and walking around/talking to neighbors. Those who claim to be “all for preservation” though they often don’t take the time to fully educate themselves on the complexities of each situation, and use their position of influence to reinforce age-old stereotypes that continue to hurt our region.

IDEAS: The idea that we, as citizens, do not now, and will never have a voice.

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

People of color, and hard-working neighborhood residents who are too busy living paycheck-to-paycheck to pay attention to the complexities of economic development projects, waterfront initiatives, preservation issues, etc. THEY should be the people whose opinions the boards, councils, and authorities listen to. Because they’re the backbone of this city and always have been.


Influence Survey: Bruce Fisher on Who’s Working For Us

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 Bruce Fisher, AV columnist and director of Buffalo State’s Center for Economic and Policy Studies, has to say:

Positive—Artvoice, teachers and other public servants, medical professionals, restaurateurs, the arts community, those involved in scholastic and collegiate sports, and anybody else striving to a national standard. Admirable and courageous elected officials worthy of respect: Andrew Cuomo, Charles Schumer, Louise Slaughter, Sean Ryan, Mark Grisanti, Tim Kennedy, David Franczyk, Mike LoCurto, Darius Pridgen, and the enduring and imperturbable Sheldon Silver, who steadfastly advocates for the working poor, professional public servants, the environment, the disabled, and for higher education.

Negative—rent-seeking real estate developers and the politicians who cower before them, the Stan Lipsey anti-worker and anti-government voice that lingers on in our major media, the anti-urban leadership of the Diocese of Buffalo, Ralph Wilson, and Carl Paladino, whose considerable talent and energy have been neutered by his intellectual dishonesty and by his rage, and whose gubernatorial candidacy gave this region an undeservedly negative reputation.

Should be more influential—advocates of green energy, scientists who win peer-reviewed grant competitions, Victor and Corinne Rice, Jody Lomeo, and Howard Zemsky, whose skills as a bridge-builder and team-leader are being undermined by the rent-seekers, plus all those parish priests, ministers, and all the other religious whose message gentles and comforts, but gets shouted down.


Influence Survey: Catherine Schweitzer on Informed Citizenry

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 Catherine Schweitzer of the Baird Foundation of has to say:

This is an interesting assignment and leads into the first response that came to mind – the growth of alternative “news” channels is definitely a positive influence on: 1. the circulation of ideas, 2. including serving as a forum for a deeper conversation about our community, 3. providing access for an ongoing education about issues that affect quality of life, and 4. Opening minds, including my own.
 
The people of Buffalo who turn out for public meetings are one of the communities best resources. Our citizens come well-informed, prepared to make thoughtful comments on the record, and are tireless in their advocacy to build a great community, ready for a highly livable future. People are our greatest resource. Buffalo has earned the right to be the “Community of Good neighbors”. Having a connected community where people care about others is a great strength, a valuable asset, and a resource that is often overlooked.
 
There is a strong interest in the built environment and how planning today will shape the community in the decades to come. Given the 3 great designers who organized where/how the  city would grow (Mother Nature, Joseph Ellicott, FL Olmsted), Buffalo is one of very few cities with such a high quality design pedigree. Witnessing the creative energy, emotional and time investment, and genuine caring by hundreds of people who give willingly to multiple public processes each year is actually inspiring. I have to think few cities have this level of citizen engagement. It might be related to having 22 colleges and universities?
 
A positive circumstance is the generational transfer of leadership underway, from position power (as an example, Group of 18) to personal power derived from genuine leadership. Younger, more diverse, future-directed, more-risk tolerant, including an entrepreneurial spirit, people are serving the community well, demonstrating an inclusive leadership style and talent.
 
In its darkest days, Buffalo’s biggest team sport was chronic, negative criticism and everyone participated. Verbal competition was not a challenge between what was good or bad, but was instead focused on creatively maximizing one’s negativity and dismissing anyone who found a ray of hope to even casually point out. After a half century of desperation, slowly the negativity has been replaced with a cautious optimism as the economy diversified. Public perception went from not even having a glass, to seeing a half-empty glass, to now investing in what fills that glass and that the glass is increasingly filled with quality initiatives. Adjusting the chatter has been a very positive trend, lifting one’s eyes and spirit to build constructively toward the future.
 
Others will speak of the physical assets of culture, art, architecture, parks, libraries, festivals and more. Perhaps someone will mention the opportunities of proximity to Canada, our fresh water, affordability of home ownership, and other positive circumstances. If no one mentions it, another asset is a sense of place, a Buffalo-style, a look, feel, attitude that contributes to our livability. Distinctive neighborhoods and the revitalization of commercial corridors is one recent outcome, as is the locally grown food, the exciting array of bakery/restaurant openings, food truck growth and visibility, and increasing number of galleries.
 
In my opinion, the negative influences are similar to the list from the Vietnam-era – lack of transparency, accountability, silos of information, follow-the-money, who-you-know, internalize-profit-externalize-costs, etc, etc. The threat of public education not educating and preparing young people for a world when everyone will essentially be self-employed is a crisis. Environmental issues are a long standing, multi-generational problem due to the important industrial legacy in our economy (good and bad). With the recognition of global warming and the impact of rising water on the east coast, the severity of storms and draught, and many other aspects of the changing environment, Buffalo may benefit by location/geography, becoming recognized as a safe and sustainable place to live. The first half of this paragraph may be universal truths in all communities, and probably date back to ancient times, so perhaps a healthier view would be to frame community expectations for continuous improvement toward what is possible given available resources and deliberate recognition of the trade-offs required due to those limitations.


Influence Survey: Bernice Radle on Groundwork

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 Bernice Radle of Buffalo’s Young Preservationists  has to say:

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

I see the most positive influences in our region being from the people and local organizations that are on the ground making changes, creating unique space & places and organizing local citizens to take ownership and be a part of rebuilding their community.  

A great example of leadership and influence is PUSH Buffalo. They understand that social capital is just as important as financial. Their NetZero home on Winter St. is an exceptional neighborhood centerpiece, one that challenged the traditional design standards often associated with affordable housing. The NetZero house, located within the Green Economic Development Zone has helped to educate thousands of local citizens on energy efficiency, employed hundreds of local people through construction and has inspired many others to invest in the West Side. 

For me, there are hundreds of inspirational stories, people and organizations that are pushing forward for our local neighborhoods and residents. These stories are what keep me here, keep me moving forward and make me love Buffalo! Their involvement is incredibly inspiring and unique and is undoubtedly one of the important driving pieces to the puzzle of success for our region. 

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

Often times, many people stand in the way of bright, young talented people who bring new ideas, new energy and new outlook to our region. If we want to keep people here and attract others, we need to give them what they need to encourage them to grow, excel and succeed. 

Buffalo no longer competes with the Rochester’s of the world; we are competing on a much larger scale with cities of all sizes. Due to the internet and social media, we actually have the ability to attract people from large and small cities!

Cities like Columbus, Baltimore and Milwaukee get it. They implement higher design standards, add bike lanes, support food trucks and start up businesses, and encourage development of unique spaces and historic buildings. Implementing policies and procedures will attract the young, college educated people who are drivers and leaders in a 21st Century economy. If Buffalo can attract and retain this group of people, we will thrive as this wave of millennials start to become the power players and decision makers.

Personally, I have a lot of ideas when it comes to planning, preservation and buildings that can help lead Buffalo into being a 21st century city that attracts people, new ideas and investment.  I will say this – the current system that is in place is not working very well. The systems itself are the barriers to development, investment and creative design. A great example is our vacancy crisis. You want to know why we have thousands of vacant buildings and lots? Or why some incredible houses sit vacant?  Try to buy one. 

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

We need to empower the local folks that challenge the normal ideals, ones who have proven success after breaking barriers and taking risks. The Prish Moran’s, Aaron Bartley’s and Rocco Termini’s of the world are great examples of putting pride, excitement and love into their work. Rocco will never turn down giving a tour of the Hotel Lafayette because he knows it inspires others to buy, invest and believe in Buffalo. We need more NetZero buildings in Buffalo. We need more neighborhood coffee shops for people to meet, eat and plan revolutions. People like this continue to break barriers, challenge the norm and prove that success is not only determined by a five year financial payback. They have taken risks, proven success and deserve to have more influence in our regional decisions. 


Influence Survey: Tim Bartlett on Cooperatives

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 Tim Bartlett, general manager of the Lexington Coop, has to say:

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

The cooperative economy is alive and well and creating a powerful and positive impact in WNY.  Cooperatives are a businesses that are owned and run by the people who use them. Co-ops take many forms, from consumer co-ops that aggregate demand like credit unions and food co-ops to producer co-ops that aggregate supply like Upstate Farms and Welch’s.  People who start co-ops are empowering themselves; meeting their needs and solving problems through community based entrepreneurship.  Co-ops keep capital local by distributing profits based on use, not the number of shares you own.  

Examples of thriving co-ops abound in WNY.  Upstate Farms and Welch’s are two of the 100 largest co-ops in the nation, with combined revenues of over $1.5 billion and are owned and operated by the farmers of WNY.  Urban Roots is the first consumer co-op garden center in the US.  Lexington Co-op was started in 1971 and is now one of the busiest co-ops in the country on a sales per square foot basis. Consumer owned credit unions are prevalent in WNY and give ordinary people an alternative to the too-big-to-fails.  And countless more co-ops are starting, from housing co-ops to food co-ops to worker-owned co-ops.  These co-ops have thousands of local shareholders benefiting from their success.  They employ thousands of workers, and return hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy each year.   

Paul Hazen, former CEO of the National Co-op Business Association said this in his address to the UN:  “One of the persistent myths about America is that rugged individualism built this country. Don’t you believe it. If you look at the critical moments in our history, starting with the Revolutionary War and the writing of our Constitution, it’s when we came together that we have been most successful. People working together built our schools and our religious institutions. People working together built our industries, defended us in two world wars, and sent men to the moon. Cooperatives are part of this. They built our farms, brought power and light to our rural areas, and provided a place to deposit money in the 1930s when the banking system failed.  Rugged individualism didn’t build America—cooperation did. And it’s needed now more than ever.”

Co-op owners aren’t waiting for the next silver bullet to come along.  They are pooling their resources and starting the businesses that will meet their needs and benefit their community.  The co-operative spirit and practice is alive and well in WNY, and we are better for it.  

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

Tracking new home sales as a positive economic indicator.  Our population has been stable for 50 years, so every one of the 70,000 new homes we have built since then has meant another home abandoned and another food growing region encroached upon.  

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

Building a culture of service in our public sector.  I’d like to see our leaders thinking of the bureaucracy they oversee as an engine to help the people of WNY have good schools, nice parks, and healthy communities.