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Empty lots cannot be considered progress

So far, 2013 has been a tough year in Buffalo for those who appreciate the unique history of our region.

We have witnessed the obliteration of the only surviving physical connection to the Wilkeson family – one of Buffalo’s founding families; the needless demolition of a beautiful church in North Buffalo; and now, the destruction of the Bethlehem Steel administration building.

Some will say that these lost pieces of our history were eyesores; that saving them was too expensive; that they stood in the way of progress.

However, these structures became eyesores only after decades of neglect by owners who refused to maintain their properties and municipalities that failed to enforce their laws.

Restoring these structures would have required major investments. However, one only needs to visit the Lafayette Hotel, the Larkin District or the Darwin Martin House to appreciate the financial and cultural return on investment that these historic assets provide.

The Regional Economic Development Council has identified tourism as part of our region’s economic revitalization. The exceptional architecture of our built environment draws visitors from around the nation and the world. However, no one wants to see a placard that commemorates a historic structure that is now an empty lot.

Important choices must be made as to how we invest our limited resources. Currently, our region is spending money it can ill afford to subsidize inefficient and costly sprawl development. We can no longer afford to build strip malls and cul-de-sacs on fertile, rural land.

One only has to look to Bethlehem, Pa., to see what is possible when a city values its unique industrial heritage. There, the SteelStacks redevelopment is currently paying cultural and economic dividends. That is real and beneficial progress. Our region, however, is left with more empty lots. How is that progress?

Dan Corbitt

Buffalo