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Preservation is the way – thoughts following #presconf

It was a great week for Buffalo.  The National Trust preservation conference has wrapped, and I’m admittedly still coming down from the “conference high” (the condition where you’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid for a week and reality has yet to set in again) but that doesn’t change the fact that this conference will have a lasting effect on the image of Buffalo.

Here’s how I see it – yes, Buffalo has its problems.  But we’re not the only city that has problems.  We have great people, but we’re not the only city that has great people.  So what really distinguishes Buffalo?  What makes Buffalo Buffalo?  Location.  And History.  In one word – Place.  Our history is instantiated by the buildings we create and the monuments we construct.  Our location is defined not only by geography, but proximity to other population centers.

So what makes Buffalo Buffalo?  We’re located on one of the largest freshwater lakes in the country.  We’re on a heavily trafficked international border and a short enough distance from the largest city in Canada.  And because Buffalo was a major city in the early years of the United States, we have a lot of history and a lot of notable buildings that were created while that history was happening.  Our default action should be to save those buildings whenever possible.

Why?  These buildings are part of the city’s identity.  The more we lose, the less unique we become.  Buffalo needs every advantage it can get to regain it’s place as an burgeoning economic center, and having a strong identity is a major advantage.  Our social, commercial, and industrial heritage should be part of that, because it’s already here, and it is “For Real”.  We don’t need to fabricate an identity, we already have one.  We’re international, we have great natural resources, and we have history.  All we have to do is leverage what we have and build on it.

That’s not saying that there aren’t other problems that need to be fixed, or that preservation alone is going to save Buffalo.  But why not start there?  Historic rehabilitation creates coveted construction and highly skilled craftsman jobs.  Those are actual green jobs, because you’re not sending entire buildings to the landfill and replacing them with the disposable crap that many buildings are made from today.  And this type of preservation is tested, proven, quantifiable economic development.

What we need now is to convince our elected officials that this is the way of our future.  Preservation projects, especially the large-scale ones, require the cooperation of city, county, state, and federal representatives.  In our fractured political climate, this may be the biggest challenge, even moreso than finding the money to complete the projects.  Without their help in setting and dictating the vision, every new project is open for debate and petty bickering, and valuable time is lost.

In one conference session last week being given by a German man responsible for helping to establish Europe’s Industrial Heritage route, “People in Europe no longer question whether preservation is worthwhile, it’s already been proven and is accepted.  The demand to live in places with rich heritage sites exceeds the supply.”  We have the supply here in Buffalo and it’s our responsibility to not squander that.  In other places in the world, things like this are being built:

And the people there aren’t even laughing at the idea. They’re embracing it.  A lot of people came to town last week that see the potential that Buffalo has that a lot of people here refuse to acknowledge.  That’s a Place that they’d like to come back to, and a Place that we should be proud to call home.

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