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“Where have they been the past 20 years?”

“Why have the ‘obstructionists’ waited 30 years to open their mouths?”

These questions have become commonplace in Buffalo Niagara, particularly since “Old North” and the Central Terminal have faced the chopping block or are in search of restoration funds. Personally, I have answers for those who have questions.

“With all due respect, sir, I was in a Southtowns kindergarten classroom 20 years ago.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but I wasn’t alive 30 years ago.”

I recently moved back to Buffalo from overseas, and I’ve found something incredible. While the past was largely ruled by apathy, there is now well-informed and often ferocious debate about the future of the region. People care again. And in large part, the push is being led by people who were still learning how to read and write when Buffalo’s envy-inducing historical structures were going through their most intense period of neglect and decline.

During my four years in Europe, it would have been foolish to not explore the treasures on that continent. Walking through Borough Market in London, riding the Ringstrasse in Vienna, or visiting Gaudi masterpieces in Barcelona, one has to be thankful that Londoners, the Viennese and Catalans fought to preserve the history built into their urban fabric. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it did go through 1,000 years of severe decline without being demolished.

There is real value in embracing what you have inherited from previous generations. The things we still have in Buffalo – from Richardson/Sullivan/Lloyd Wright to Ellicott’s plan, from the Art Deco masterpieces and minor works to contiguous urban streetscapes and grain elevators – are classic Americana. Buffalo is one of the few cities in the country that can boast a full combination of history, culture, tradition and the physical urban infrastructure to back it up.

Many members of Buffalo’s esteemed older generations call people like me “obstructionists,” but I’d call myself a citizen, voter or young professional. Western New York’s newest voting generation has realized that we’re not inheriting a “dying” city, but a chest full of some of the greatest treasures that America has to offer. It’s as if we’re climbing up to our parents’ and grandparents’ attics and finding priceless objects packed away long ago. By brushing off the dust and giving a bit of elbow grease, we know just how prosperous our city and region can become.

We are more than just dreamers with empty pockets. Many of us are just too young to have amassed the financial resources necessary to bring back the Central Terminal, Old North, the grain elevators, Polonia’s churches, Trico and the innumerable buildings that have, until recently, been forgotten by so many.

Buffalo has history. We don’t preserve or fight to maintain our structures simply because they are beautiful. We fight to maintain and reinvigorate them because we are not “Buffalo” without them. My generation wants a different Buffalo than our parents had. We want a 21st century city that will be vaulted into the future, in part, by paying homage to our past. Give us that chance. Give us a few years to build our own capital. Asking where we were 20 years ago won’t get us anywhere. Asking us where we’ll be in 20 years; now that’s another conversation altogether.