Urban stall: Development failure in Buffalo and Western New York from 1980 to 2004
Webb, Daniel Walter, Jr
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The region of Western New York and its anchor city of Buffalo have undergone profound changes over the past century. Moving from a growth pole to an aging industrial hub marked by rampant decline, the Western New York region is one of potentially high interest to urban scholars. The recent history of Western New York holds much in common with the histories of other industrial areas in the northeastern United States: massive losses in industrial and defense economies; major changes in spatial development; population shifts within and among regions; and a general strain on the economic, political, and cultural fabric of communities in decline. In these and other ways, Western New York is another in a constellation of hard-hit urban areas in post-World War II United States. As is also the case with other areas, the leaders and citizens of Western New York have attempted to reverse their region's decline. With the aid of hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds and innumerable studies, meetings, and proposed projects, the region's population has battled to return Western New York to an area of relative prosperity. Over at least the past 25 years, there has been a steady and strong push to buoy Western New York and its anchor city of Buffalo. These public and private attempts over the years have largely failed. For this reason Western New York is unique and worthy of extended study. Through multiple large-scale development projects and proposals, the region's leaders and citizens have forged little progress. In the worst cases there has been regression. A disturbing trend has developed in Western New York: although there is constant energy expended in trying to better the region, most large projects fail to achieve their intended outcomes. This dissertation examines how one region's efforts to reverse urban decline were met with interminable delays, insurmountable roadblocks, and outright failure. Through a series of detailed case studies it is shown that--although faced with major structural impediments to growth--the leaders and citizens of Western New York continually hindered their own chances of development success through political provincialism, untenable expectations, mismatches between vision and action, a poor public participation process, and ineffective leadership. Through additional sociospatial studies of historical trends in the region's economy, politics, and culture, it is shown that there are several common and devastating factors that run through the major development projects selected for study in this dissertation. From a "terminal nostalgia" that threatens development projects to an entrenched and bitter political atmosphere that largely follows geographical lines, there are deeply seated issues in the region that routinely sidetrack or derail projects that demand cooperation, compromise, and punctuality. After careful consideration of the most damaging and prevalent issues commonly found throughout development projects in Western New York, potential avenues for positive change are briefly discussed. This is followed by a discussion of several recent projects undertaken in the region that are instructive models for successful development in the future.