Cool Buffalo?

by Al Uthman

Last week, I read what has got to be the stupidest article I have ever even heard of regarding revitalizing our woefully depressed and wasting city (and that’s saying something), called "The Smart City." It was printed in "First Sunday," an insipid insert in our one-paper town’s one paper.

At first, from the title, I thought it must be a travel piece. But the only traveling going on here is the fantastic mental voyage embarked upon by its authors, to a magical land where anyone, even an entire city, can be whatever it wants, as long as it pretends hard enough. All we need to do in order to be a bustling metropolis is act like it already is! This new theory of municipal renovation is either genius or total bullshit, and it ain’t genius.

The article points to a specific segment of the city’s population for answers to the city’s myriad difficulties: Artists, people who work in bookstores and coffee shops, and of course, Ani Difranco. Well, I work in a bookstore, one of those mentioned by name in the article. I have also worked in a coffeeshop or two. Many of my friends fit one or another of these descriptions, except Ani Difranco, I’m afraid. I hate to be the one to tell you this, everyone, but most of us are still here only because we’re so damn poor. Don’t look to we bohemians to solve your financial difficulties, Buffalo; we can’t even save enough money to leave!

Vogel and Rey have an infuriating knack for hitting the nail on the head in one sentence, and then profoundly missing their own point in the next. For instance, near the end of their pathetic wheeze, they point out that "A hip city is a place that's authentic - it's genuine right down to the bone, and comfortable in its own skin." Very true. But this is exactly why their bonehead ideas are utterly worthless—it’s all about not being comfortable with what Buffalo really is. We are not hip, folks; sorry. But we are cool. Buffalo is cool because it is the City of No Illusions, not "The City of Mass Pretension." Being cool is all about knowing that you’re cool, and not giving a damn what anyone else thinks. New York, San Francisco, Boston—these cities are cool because they know they’re cool, not because they’re desperately flailing about for an angle. Desperation is the very opposite of cool, and the "Smart City" concept reeks of it. Far from being comfortable in Buffalo’s skin, these two are clearly looking to pretend to be what we’re not, and that never really works. When the poor fat kid that everyone makes fun of walks into school with a cool haircut and cool new clothes, everyone just laughs at him harder. Don Esmonde’s suggestion in the next day’s News that Buffalo’s personification should be a "metrosexual" not only made me gag, it also displayed his total lack of affinity for his own town, as well as his willingness to jump on the lamest bandwagon in town.

But back to the First Sunday piece. The authors also make the mistake of thinking that our woefully low property values are a big draw, again making us "cool." But they seem to skip over the fact that the rent is so cheap because nobody wants to live here. All of the actually hip cities mentioned in the article are insanely expensive, because they have thriving economies. Hear that? They are hip, smart and cool, because there is money to be made. Vogel and Rey aren’t just putting the cart before the horse; there is no damn horse. We can all blow our money on Ikea furniture and BMW Minis, and we still won’t draw a single young hipster until he can get a damn job. That’s got nothing to do with how cool Buffalonians are and everything to do with how cool our leaders are. While the article refers to loosening red tape and restrictions on "setting up shop," it offers no actual pragmatic solutions, rather referring to an imaginary "group of energetic young people who understand business and how the law works." These theoretical kids (one can just picture them, all riding around in an obsessively clean van, "the Privatization Machine" painted on the side), if they did exist, are exactly the kind of people that cool people want nothing to do with anyway.

Their next suggestion is damn hilarious: "Let the mayor and county executive tap into [young people’s] ideas and talents." Hah! As if these guys could give a rat’s ass. In case you guy’s haven’t noticed, Masiello is pretty much out of a job; the Control Board

Is running the show now, and I get the feeling that all they’d want to do with a bunch of young people is get them drunk and take advantage of them, like they’re taking advantage of the rest of us.

But maybe they really have something here. After all, the only other suggestion I’ve heard is from some guy who e-mailed us with a plan to blow up downtown and blame it on the terrorists, thereby reaping a disaster relief and homeland security windfall, like a destitute business owner burning his store for the insurance. While this is clearly a much more feasible and logical plan than the "Smart City" nonsense, I can’t help but think it’s still a little too drastic. So here are my top ten "coolifying" suggestions for Buffalo; go forth and pose!

  1. Issue leather jackets and sunglasses to all city residents, and require that they be worn outside at least 50% of the time

  2. Hire poor, yet handsome young residents to ride Honda scooters around town wearing glasses and skinny ties, and carrying laptop computers and briefcases. These "faux professionals" will be instructed to congregate around tourists and visiting celebrities in order to present a hip, employed image.

  3. Invoke a citywide ban on all Zubas, frosted hair and excessive tanning. Offenders will be placed in a reeducation program involving shopping trips to Toronto and repeated Dido listenings.

  4. To ensure necessary proliferation of oh-so-essential coffee shops, add a small but potent amount of police-confiscated cocaine to each pot of joe and each shot of espresso. This will ensure a devoted legion of hopelessly addicted mud-suckers, and, in turn, produce a more motivated and effective work force.

  5. Mandatory guitar, juggling, or tap-dancing lessons for bums; withheld alcohol to be relinquished upon completion. No blues, country, or R&B.

  6. Relegate fat people to specifically designated "blubber ghettos," and only let them into "cool zones" to work in sealed areas.

  7. Fit lone area celebrity Ani DiFranco with an electronic-tether ankle bracelet, which will shock her with increasing severity the farther she gets from the intersection of Bidwell and Elmwood.

  8. Issue a citywide ordinance imploring residents to "resolutely ignore" the ghastly 198 expressway tearing an ugly gash through Delaware park.

  9. Pretend the embarrassingly limited subway is a myth.

  10. Bring back the Courier-Express.

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© 2004 The Beast