Day 2 - Buffalo First
When I started coordinating this trip and reaching out to my fellow directors, speaking with Amy Kedron from Buffalo First was one of my favorite connections. I met Amy for the first time over 2 years ago at a Northeast Network Leader conference...it was the first group meeting I attended in this movement. I remember she was a bundle of energy, she jumped around in her presentation and that she reminded us that our movement must be a diverse one (something we still struggle with).
So as I reconnected with her, she immediately took over the role of nurturing host. "I'm responsible for you and what you need while you're here". Awesome!
And through Amy, I got to see that while Buffalo is the 3rd poorest city in America, there are amazing and special things happening in their economy. And while much more work remains, there is a hope and a positive energy in the community.
There is a vacancy rate of about 30% in the housing, squatters have taken to abandoned houses and the city can hold 500k people, with 280k currently there. There is resentment towards old money and slow changing ways (it took 10 years to get design standards, which govern signage and construction, passed in a business district). There is much talk of segregation between white and black, and there is a stark contrast between redeveloped neighborhoods and abandoned wastelands, literally less than a mile apart.
However, there is a revitilaztion happening here, and like many other places, it is happening through the work of a wide ranging diverse set of entrepreneurs. Two of the main strips (Allentown & Elmwood) are flush with thriving indie business. We checked out a former hardware store, now a bar and restaurant that is wildly supportive of local art. We saw a number of people involved in Buffalo First while we were out exploring the nightlife, and they all gave Amy a big hug. (A sidenote: one of the best parts of what we do as local biz organizers is the love and appreciation we get from our members. The hours are long, the pay is awful or non-existent...but this work is incredibly rewarding)
What struck me about Buffalo was that, like the example in Troy, it might take 30 minutes to walk 2 blocks, because people seem to know each other. And yes, the economy is suffering in Buffalo, but what's interesting is that they haven't felt it the same way as most of us have....they've been feeling it for far longer and did not have the same distance to fall. But in Buffalo, the people I talked to, think they have been presented with an opportunity.
Finally, this is Year 3 for Buffalo First and they have gained traction. Amy told me that recent developments will allow her to continue her work in Buffalo. I can say with complete certainty that this is a blessing both for her, and for the community.