The Urge to Merge
by Elizabeth Giles
In response to Bruce Fisher’s “Thought Leaders in Retreat” (Artvoice 2/28/2013), yes, it is an eternal frustration for the far-thinking that our suburban townships cling so fiercely to their fiefdoms—as if they could ever hope to thrive in any meaningful way by pitting themselves against other Western New York municipalities, not the least of which is the City of Buffalo, the urban core that they should all relate to as their mutual center of culture and commerce. The suburbs ought have no ambition other than being the quiet, green bedroom communities they were originally conceived to be rather than the concrete and tarmac jungles dotted with shopping malls, strip plazas, and office parks that they’ve sadly become. Who ever would have thought we’d evolve into a hodgepodge of car-dependent mini-cities, each uglier and more purposeless than the next?
Given the obvious economic and social benefits that consolidating into one coordinated political entity would be, there must be something else that keeps the suburbs from wanting to merge with the city—and that is the long-term negative associations that suburbanites harbor towards Buffalo, many mythological, but some based in fact, and all of them impediments that need to be addressed.
The only realistic hope for metropolitan government in Erie County is the dissipation of those negative associations, based on a transformation of the city’s brand image (the myths) and the proven viability of urban living based on the experiences of real, respectable city-dwellers-by-choice. Most convincing is the testimony of ex-suburbanites, whose newfound love of the city rings most credible to suburban city-skeptics. Only when suburbanites are entertained in their family’s, friends’, and colleagues’ fabulous city homes in walkable neighborhoods and hear how wonderful it is to have ready access to urban amenities, to be able to avoid driving everywhere, will the majority begin to come around to a new way of thinking.
So please don’t knock the “new movement of [pro-urban] consultants, planners, activists, and policy entrepreneurs.” They want consolidation of services and regional government more than anyone, but they know they can’t force it and are meanwhile busily engaged in affecting what they can: hammering away at improving quality of life issues in the city (block by block, project by project, one transit extension at a time) and celebrating the fun of city-living while drawing attention to its common-sense environmental, health, and financial micro-and macro-benefits. It is only by swaying public opinion, admittedly a gradual process, that the tipping point toward unification of Greater Buffalo under common goals can be reached.
> Elizabeth Giles, Buffalo
Just wanted Bruce Fisher to know I completely agree with him on the issue of mergers of city and town governments. Prior to my retirement, I was the president of Branch 3 of the National Association of Letter Carriers. Our Local covers WNY from the Canadian border to PA and east to Batavia and Olean. We thought as one union in WNY, we didn’t make separate decisions for Buffalo, Hamburg, etc. As a citizen I’ve written letters to the editor of the Buffalo News supporting mergers but this area is completely resistant to change. I live in the Town of Amherst; this should be North Buffalo; all of Erie County should be part of the city.
I think the downsizing that Kevin Gaughan proposes is a half-assed measure that is counterproductive. It maintains all the status quo expenses of different municipalities, and shrinks the decision making bodies to less people.
The elected officials of WNY will never go for mergers because they’re worried about losing their own personal positions. And the people follow that lead. So I guess things will have to get much worse around here budget-wise before anything dramatic is done to make progress.
> Robert J. McLennan, Amherst
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