News, by definition, counts as some kind of deviation from the norm. That accounts for the sense, held by many, that news is too often negative. Normal is paying your bills on time. When Congress threatens not to do that, it’s news. When child protective workers don’t protect children, and children die, that’s news.
But what if the norm is already negative, and the deviation is something positive, even cheerful? In Buffalo, for decades, the norm has been a glum acceptance that we live in a second-rate city with a fourth-rate economy and that there was nothing to do about it but moan. And moan. And moan.
What if, over the course of a year or so, the pall lifted and Western New Yorkers started to regain confidence in their city and the direction in which it was headed? That would be news, wouldn’t it? It might even count as revolutionary.
That’s what has been happening in Buffalo for a few years now, but the change gathered force in 2013. In many areas of the city, the transformation was evident and under way.
You can see it at Canalside, where construction cranes have been at work all year, turning the old Donovan State Office Building into a hotel and law office and, across the street, constructing a hotel and hockey rink complex that stands to draw visitors from hundreds of miles away. Along the waterfront, people gather to listen to concerts or just enjoy the view.
Farther north, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is expanding, creating a new high-tech health economy. To the south, pending projects will soon open the outer harbor for greater public use. The same goes for the banks of the Buffalo River. To the east, Larkinville is thriving, and developments closer to downtown offer the hope of connecting the two neighborhoods.
The city’s new confidence – bursting, yet sober – is well depicted in a 12-minute film called “Buffalo – America’s Best Designed City.” It’s an infectious but realistic look at what is happening in Buffalo and what still needs to happen (www.bestdesignedcity.com). Five years ago, it’s doubtful anyone would have wanted to make this film. Today, someone did. That’s news.
Of course, other things happened, some good, some terrible, some just predictable, but generally of the sort that anyone might expect in any given year. In Albany, more officials were outed for intolerable behavior, among them, Assemblyman Dennis H. Gabryszak, D-Cheektowaga, who has been accused by three former staffers, and one current one, of a pattern of gross sexual harassment.
Delays sparked a brief war over the Peace Bridge, and while the dispute was ultimately settled, it is still smoldering. In Washington, the rollout of the health care reform act was disastrous except in a few places, among them, the state of New York.
In Niagara Falls, the City Council threatened to kill a hopeful economic development project by demanding more money from Buffalo developer Mark Hamister. Finally, after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo intervened, one member changed his vote and the project was saved. But here’s a question: In Niagara Falls, does governmental self-destructiveness qualify as news?
Still, good things are afoot there, as well. The state and the Seneca Nation of Indians settled their dispute over casino competition and revenue. Niagara Falls State Park is getting a much-needed makeover. Plans were announced to remove a chunk of the well-hated Robert Moses Parkway. Definitely news.
But everything pales next to Buffalo’s resurgence and the palpable change in how residents view their city. That’s transformational and, it says here, it qualifies as the story of the year. Maybe the decade.