Most Helpful First | Newest First
52 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Staring at the abyss-- about to take a giant leap forward,
This review is from: City on the Edge: Buffalo, New York, 1900 - present (Paperback)Ten years ago I attended an academic conference in Buffalo. The Buffalo Zoo hosted the main dinner of the conference, and the participants ate a nice meal accompanied by the relatively intense aroma of the denizens of the zoo. It was a little off-putting. The highlight of the evening, the after dinner speech, was a presentation of a plan to revitalize the zoo with a massive investment and relocation to the troubled waterfront area of Buffalo, away from its historic, almost pastoral setting in Delaware Park. The once flourishing seal exhibit had been filled in and now housed a prairie dog exhibit. To rectify problems like this, all they needed was $500 million, preferably from the state of New York. It never happened.
Such large-scale thinking - and the disasters that regularly accompanies same -- abounds in "City on the edge." Having read Diana Dillaway's (2006), more academic "Power failure," and, just recently, Goldman's 1990 prequel, "City on the lake," "City on the edge" provided a dark, rich third part of this sad trilogy. Some of "Edge" draws heavily from "Lake;" read both and you'll see a lot of overlap. And there is good reason: To understand Buffalo's perilous position today, Goldman takes us back over one hundred years to the pivotal events at the turn of the twentieth century in Buffalo - the assassination of President McKinley and the building of the Lackawanna (later Bethlehem) steel plant. From that death and those new industrial roots Buffalo prospered and led the industrial triumphs of the United States in the twentieth century, with steel and autos, war production and cereal, aircraft and chemicals. The city boomed during the war years and suffered much during the Depression.
In Buffalo, the creative culture prospered, especially music and art. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery is world-class. Lukas Foss helped put the Buffalo Philharmonic on the map - for a time. But all of the creativity was either too little, too late, or a distraction from the fundamental sea change engulfing the city after World War II. Buffalo struggled with, and largely succeeded, with managing integration, at least much better than other northern cities and public schools systems. The African-Americans from the South who came for good factory jobs in an industrial city have grown to half of Buffalo's current population. Later, an Hispanic community, namely Puerto Rican, took root. Today, recent immigrants from Africa find accommodations in Buffalo's low housing costs and tradition of cultural diversity and economic immigration.
The hearty, hard-working citizens are not deterred by harsh winters or record snowfalls. What Buffalo failed to do, it appears, was to master paradigm change, to embrace the shift from a domestic, smoke-belching industrial economy to a global knowledge economy, at least until too late. The story of indecision as to the location of the University of Buffalo, after its "acquisition" by the SUNY system in 1962 could be the apocryphal story that explains Buffalo's decline, but it is hard to ignore the constant, well-intentioned, vain, grossly expensive, and - in the end - dysfunctional attempts at urban renewal in the second half of the twentieth century in Buffalo. And perhaps fittingly, the hundred years come to a close with the primary focus now on sports and gambling, with the Buffalo Bills, the Sabres, and casino gambling run by the Senecas, as the source of pride and the focus of the economy. My, how times have changed and how the mighty have fallen!
This is an engrossing, educational detailed book. It should be required reading for first-year students at the University of Buffalo and Canisius. Much of the source material is in the Erie County Public Library and the archives of the local newspapers. Goldman love Buffalo and has worked hard to make it prosper. As he writes, the city does not need to be rebuilt; it needs to be healed. Massive, urban renewal, bricks-and-mortar projects are not the solution. Instead, basic, entrepreneurial, grass roots, business and community development is probably the solution.
In the last two chapters, there is a little confusion. After claiming that the African-American population makes up fifty percent of Buffalo's 297,000 people in 2005, Goldman soon after cites an African-American population of 100,000. And after citing the Anchor Bar as the only restaurant where the races mix, a few pages later Goldman praises the "rainbow" of customers at the Towne restaurant in Allentown. Minor quibbles both.
A final, mild lament: Although I am a native of western New York, generally familiar with the city, and Goldman includes a map of the city's council districts at the front of the book, "Edge" would certainly benefit from maps of the city, especially those that reveal the many changes and neighborhoods, familiar to long-time residents of Buffalo but difficult to picture without some maps. To his credit, Goldman offers vivid verbal descriptions, often of places long gone, and numerous Internet links to photos. For me, I'd like to have seen street and/or neighborhood maps (e.g., the Hooks, Black Rock, South Buffalo) of the city, better yet, at twenty-year intervals, to illustrate the physical changes at street level.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars People, places and events alike are surveyed.,
This review is from: City on the Edge: Buffalo, New York, 1900 - present (Paperback)At first glance CITY ON THE EDGE would seem to be a title New York collections alone could appreciate - but look again: it's a story of urban dysfunction which holds strong social and urban planning messages for any American city. Chapters survey the history of Buffalo, New York: from its initial promising heyday to its decline, its many social issues, and the role of the arts in community life. Of particular note - and recommended for college-level holdings strong in urban planning - are discussions of how urban politics and city planning affected the development and outcome of Buffalo. People, places and events alike are surveyed.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A city facing many challenges,
This review is from: City on the Edge: Buffalo, New York, 1900 - present (Paperback)Mark Goldman's "City on the Edge" is a history of the past and a look at the possible future of Buffalo, New York. As such, this is a book of real interest to me. I spent four years in Buffalo, studying for my Ph. D. at the (then) State University of New York at Buffalo. For the next twenty plus years, I taught at a university in Western New York and often visited friends in Buffalo or just went there for mini vacations. I start off by saying that I thought that Buffalo had many attractions--but obviously faced many challenges. I loved wandering around Delaware Park, driving along the Niagara River, going to the Anchor Bar for chicken wings and jazz. . . . Goldman is also a resident of Buffalo and also a real booster for the city.
This book takes a look at how Buffalo has come to be where it is now. The history really starts at the Pan-American Exposition in 1901. At that time, the future looked good for Buffalo. Manufacturing and shipping were mainstays of the economy; the Exposition promised a great deal of visibility. But, as with later events, the promise had counterpoint in misfortune, such as President McKinley's assassination, the economic failure of the Exposition, and so on.
The book spends time on the growth and glory days of Buffalo. But the current realities are set in motion later on, in the 1960s, 1970s, and thereafter. Key problems facing Buffalo were a set of ethnic political leaders who played by "old politics," the politics of favoritism, of patronage. I don't know how true this is, but a friend of mine once worked for the city at a club for kids. As part of her purview, she was responsible for a swimming pool. The local political "boss" made sure that sons and daughters of party favorites got jobs as lifeguards, some of whom could not swim. True? I don't know, but it represents the mindset of the old style politics current in Buffalo then.
Challenges faced Buffalo, such as the decline of the steel industry (the old Lackawanna steel facility was awesome to drive past! It seemed to stretch forever, but it just about dies out in the few years that I was in graduate school. . . .), the decline of the auto industry and its local subsidiaries, and the challenges created by racially segregated schools.
Buffalo's leaders were not a sterling lot (to put it mildly). This book is pretty hard on a mediocre lot of mayors and other local politicians, who dithered and tried to stay in power by the politics of favoritism. Federal funds were used to try to prevent the downtown from deteriorating, but tons of money were lost as projects often did not come close to achieving their goals.
The book ends by looking toward the future; there is hope in that glimpse--but the book itself provides precious little reason for that hope. There are some questions that I have about the book. The author at one point speaks positively of one mayor, but goes negative later. Sometimes he seems to change his mind about the value of some of the actors in a space of twenty pages. Nonetheless, this is an interesting book on the challenges facing a lot of older urban areas. Why do some succeed in addressing those challenges? And others fail? This book is worth considering as adding to that dialogue.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Twas parochialism that killed the beast",
This review is from: City on the Edge: Buffalo, New York, 1900 - present (Paperback)Buffalo lost a great deal more than four Super bowls in the twentieth century. The Queen City of the Great Lakes has lost half of its population, most of its substantive economic base, and the redeeming grace and charm of its foliage and distinctive neighborhoods. All decaying Rustbelt cities can point to similarities, but like hurricanes, wars, and recessions, each city's fall is distinct, each its own perfect storm of poor planning, illusions of grandeur, outside interests, corrupt politics, and citizenry impervious to the need for urban reinvention.
Mark Goldman's chronicle of Buffalo through the twentieth century is indeed a page turner. The fact that we know the outcome makes each step of the journey the harder the bear, because the reader knows that it is the wrong step, and the tendency to cry out "What were you thinking?" pervades this work throughout. In many instances Goldman's analyses of "what they were thinking" are clear and brilliant. He covers a wide range of the city's life and how the mistakes of one quadrant interfaced with those of another to create the mosaic of wreckage that stands today. The author tends to go overboard with the cultural arts, and he virtually ignores the Catholic Church, Erie County, and the Mob, [apologies for the juxtapositions], forces of considerable influence upon the city. But on the whole, he tells a compelling and moving story.
If the City of Buffalo is jinxed, as some believe, the curse may have been incanted between 1895 and 1900, when city fathers welcomed Pennsylvania's Walter Scranton, President of Lackawanna Steel, to set up shop along a massive tract of prime waterfront property. Not only would Buffalo's future, for better and worse, be inexorably tied to steel and its attendant satellites, but the template was also set in place for a century of dependence upon outside money and corporate enterprise. Perhaps an early indicator of this problematic formula was the 1900 Pan American Exposition, whose scope and grandeur is probably not appreciated by Buffalonians today. Opened with much international fanfare, the Exposition was marred by the assassination of President William McKinley, lost much money, became an object of derision within the city, and closed to the grotesque spectacle of the public electrocution of its mascot elephant--who apparently had the last laugh and walked away unscathed-the first in a century's tradition of "wide rights" and disputed goals for Buffalo's sports fans.
If there were Cassandras about Buffalo's developing economic algorithm, boosters could point to the presence of a thriving grain industry and other enterprises that took advantage of Buffalo's remarkable transportation advantage, its strategic position on the Great Lakes waterway. However, no one in the Western New York congressional delegation seemed to have grasped the implications of planning for the St. Lawrence Seaway in the 1950's, and certainly few in Buffalo took to reinventing the city's economy in those pivotal mid-century years, when to all appearances the steel/auto/grain trinity would carry the city into the next millennium.
Goldman traces these developments with great care. He contrasts the conventional thinking of chamber of commerce types to the remarkably imaginative cutting edge emergence of the arts, as the Albright Knox art campus, Kleinhans Music Hall, and the English department of the University of Buffalo were bringing international notice and acclaim to the city. Clearly this is Goldman's forte; his narrative of cultural opportunity and festivals in the 1960-70 era is worth the price of the book. However, all of the great minds who graced the city during this period did not significantly alter Buffalo's image as a "lunch bucket town." Certainly, there was no communication between the artists and the urban planners.
By 1960 there was considerable concern among city leaders about the growth of Erie County, Buffalo's suburbs such as Tonawanda, Orchard Park, Clarence, and Hamburg, among others. As in many other cities there was an exodus to the suburbs, in Buffalo's case exacerbated by incompetent city government and police corruption, declining public schools, and racial tension. Goldman describes the near frantic efforts of downtown Buffalo merchants to draw people into the old shopping hub, primarily by making downtown Buffalo auto friendly. This strategy had been employed as early as the 1920's; Goldman chronicles the destruction of trees and venerable buildings, and the rerouting of entire avenues prior to WW II. In its 1960 edition, Buffalo's express highway compulsion destroyed long existent neighborhoods. The two great boondoggles of mis-engineering were the destruction of Humboldt Parkway for a submerged freeway, and later the destruction of Main Street with a poor man's rapid transit line that connected the old UB campus with the downtown Buffalo Sabres' original arena...at a time when town and gown relations had deteriorated considerably after Viet Nam War demonstrations, treated in considerable detail.
What is notable in Goldman's overview is that the very qualities which made Buffalo distinctive were also the ones that killed the city. Goldman reveres the ethnic neighborhoods, but the parochial mentality [which still hamstrings the city] made wholesale planning and reform nearly impossible. Buffalo, for much of the past four decades, has been a prolonged and unfruitful standoff among the city hall old guard, public and private unions, an increasingly inept state legislature, and racial interests too busy to collectively take care of business, literally and figuratively. Thus the city has found itself at the mercy of emigrating employers and the John Rigas with alluring promises.
Goldman's solution for the future--revitalization of the neighborhoods--is worthy [see Savannah, Georgia] but in my view still parochial. Buffalo has never had real money. Its economy and culture demand interdependence with county, state, and now international forces to rebuild a workable substructure. Given the scandalously protracted dispute over a project as simple as rebuilding the Peace Bridge across the Niagara River, Buffalo still appears to be a city strangled in special interest for the foreseeable future.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Notes from a Buffalo Exile,
This review is from: City on the Edge: Buffalo, New York, 1900 - present (Paperback)Mark Goodman provides valuable information and insight on Buffalo's decline. I was born and raised in the Allentown Section and my family still owns a home there. I attended Our Lady of Lourdes, Fallon High School, and Canisius College. So, I found Goodman's insights on Allentown and Buffalo in general to be informative, well-researched, and reasonably thorough. Goodman rightly notes that the serial big-government, high cost, schemes for reviving the Downtown section were disastrous. Goodman rightly contrasts the promises of "Urban Renewal" schemes with the damage they caused to Buffalo's social fabric. Nevertheless, Goodman never seems to connect other, important, dots in Buffalo's decline including how New York State's and Buffalo's high tax rates drove businesses away. Goodman seems to admire Judge John Curtin. Yet, it was Curtin's edicts that accelerated the exodus from Buffalo and gave its citizens a sense that they did not control their own destiny. Nor does Goodman ever consider conservative critics, many whom shared observations similar to Goodman, but came to somewhat different conclusions including Alfreda Slominski, John Otto, Jack Kemp, or even Jane Jacobs. It is an excellent book, but it is written from a limited frame of reference.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good nostalgia,
This review is from: City on the Edge: Buffalo, New York, 1900 - present (Paperback)Do not read this book for its literary excellence. Read it to learn of the murky history of the city of no illusion, Buffalo. Do not dwell for long on the facts and figures listing art endowments. Instead, concentrate on reflections about neighborhoods teeming with activity, only to be decimated in the name of urban planning, the glorious but grubby industrial legacy, and the riot on the Crystal Beach boat. These events set the table for the seemingly endless plight of this struggling city.
Most Helpful First | Newest First
City on the Edge: Buffalo, New York, 1900 - present by Mark Goldman (Paperback - March 20, 2007)