Razing Buffalo: Why is This Happening?

When I was in high school, we used to race to Buffalo on double lunches. It had everything: great art deco buildings, great shopping and terrific wings. It also has a great location on the biggest source of fresh water in the world, Niagara Falls for cheap green power, and a canal straight to New York City. It has the infrastructure we need to support the people who will no longer live in Phoenix because of the heat and the cost of fuel. As John asks, How Long Until The Rust Belt Becomes The Life Belt?

Yet so much has changed. The New York Times says that "today, in this city beaten down by decades of factory closings and residential exodus, the razing of thousands of vacant houses is being touted as a sign of progress.
Gangs, squatters and teenagers have been burning down hundreds of houses a year, straining the meager resources of the Police and Fire Departments. Some of the properties have been turned into crack dens and places to stash guns and drugs. A few have been booby-trapped or had their floors ripped out by scavengers looking for pipes they can sell to metal dealers.

The burned-out and boarded-up buildings, which are visible on nearly every street in east Buffalo, have deterred even the most pioneering investors from moving in.

So Mayor Byron W. Brown recently unveiled a $100 million five-year plan to rip down 5,000 houses, about half of all the vacant houses in the city, which ranks second only to St. Louis in the percentage of vacant properties per capita nationwide.

The best way to save Buffalo, he reasons, is to mow down the buildings on these properties — starting with the ones deemed the worst fire hazards or those near schools — and encourage church groups, entrepreneurs and neighbors to build homes in their place.

"We have a real sense of urgency," said the mayor, who was elected in November 2005 but has grappled with vacant houses as a city councilman and a state senator. "If we do not address the decline in these neighborhoods, we will see more people losing hope and faith in the city's ability to fix the problem, and more people leaving."

Two hours north in Toronto, a house like that in the picture would fetch half a million bucks, the lot alone half that. Construction cranes are everywhere as condos get built on every corner. What makes two cities, blessed with the same enviromental conditions, both having lost much of their industry and manufacturing, so different? Why isn't anyone looking at these houses as an asset instead of tearing them down?

I understand how much of America does not yet grasp the impact of global warming and peak oil. I do not understand how such swathes of infrastructure in such great locations can be allowed to deteriorate like this. ::New York Times

Tags: Buffalo