Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Buffalo Stance

Free exchange has been blogging about Buffalo, NY a lot this week. The posts are all interesting, and all related to an article written by Ed Glaser in the current issue of City Journal entitled: Can Buffalo Ever Come Back?. I'm not very familiar with Buffalo. I've driven through it many times and I once stopped at LaNova for dinner, but I am something of a armchair rust belt historian and urban planning wonk. I agree that cities like Buffalo and Detroit are probably not going to return to prominence any time soon. Still, I'm more bullish on the future of the rust belt than Glaser, if for no other reason than I'm not sure how things can get any worse. Glaser's argument is that federal, state, and local governments should stop throwing money at "prestige" economic development projects. I didn't realize that we were even still arguing about this; of course convention centers, unusable public transit systems, and other such boondoggles are bad ideas. Glaser's piece comes off sounding contrarian, but he's not really saying anything new. I agree that a lot of money has been wasted and that a more friendly tax and regulation climate could have helped, but is there really anything rust belt cities could have done to prevent their demises? Even if Buffalo had decided in 1960 that it needed to get into the knowledge economy in a big way, would it have even been possible? Even if all of the labor unions had disbanded, manufacturers would still have had to pay a higher hourly wage in Buffalo than in the south due to the higher cost of living, higher cost of land, etc.

The real tragedy of rust belt is not the blighted downtowns and shuttered mills and factories, it's the colossal amount of human capital that has gone to waste. If Buffalo can find a way to harness the power of the human capital that exists within its core and metropolitan area, it will be able to reclaim at least a little bit of its past glory. For another cautiously optimistic viewpoint, read Richard Florida's assessment of the greater Toronto-Buffalo-Rochester,NY region.


Alan said...

Rust belt cities need to build more amusement parks, such as AutoWorld, to return to glory.

Interesting post. Did you catch the article in last weeks Economist that focused on this topic? It focused a lot on what Flint has been doing -- some interesting stuff.

dhodge said...

Yeah, I did see that article. No mention of AutoWorld, however. I read about a "The Office" fan convention that happened in Scranton last weekend. Perhaps mock documentary style TV shows are the answer for reviving the fortunes of rust best cities.