The longer you're away from Buffalo, the more cherished (and distorted) your idea of it can become. It can become as romanticized as your past, with details and descriptions changing to suit whatever feeling you want to have about it. If you're from the Southtowns, you'll talk about Blasdell Pizza like it's a panacea for depression; if you're from the Northtowns, you'll talk the same way about La Nova. You'll remember Buffalo winters as ivory mosaics, and summers as yellow-hued embraces. You'll reminisce about the Bills dominance in AFC championship games, then find some optimistic angle to explain away their four crippling Super Bowl losses. And, the longer you're away from this city or region, the more likely it is that this idea you've created will become so comforting that you'll never dare shatter it by ambitiously merging the idea with the risk-filled reality of returning.
I've spent a good deal of my own time wondering why patrons of Steelers bars across the country remain so far from home. The above passage is from an essay designed to shake you out of your comfortable nostalgic apathy. Return to Buffalo and fix it now.
In any breakup, there is this moment when a person who was a part of you just an instant ago becomes a surrealistically familiar stranger. After that moment, inertia and denial can only delay the inevitable.On my last night in Bangalore I drank an egregious amount of my favorite takeout Chinese hot-and-sour vegetable soup, and I cried; I knew this second goodbye was final. When I first left India in 1996, I left for the U.S. When I left India in 2009, I left India.
In the three focus groups I conducted in Cleveland, I heard similar frustration from a number of repats. Ironically, the Buffalo Siren does a good job of listing the common sources of the dissatisfaction that will inspire repats to leave again:
There are absolutely no jobs; the politicians are corrupt; downtown crime is rampant; the city schools are terrible; the winters are unbearable; economic development is lagging; there's just not enough exciting things to do in the dilapidated region.
Everything you fear about your Rust Belt hometown is true. For some of you, that will be your experience. You will be driven to greener pastures, this time for good. Others, however, will find a new city of great possibility. I also heard that from focus group participants. The return migration was a resounding success. Other people should try it, too.
I don't think Buffalo, Pittsburgh, or Cleveland needs more return migration. Rust Belt repats should network with each other and impact the regional landscape. I suspect most repats would be surprised how many returnees are already in town. There are enough numbers to fix Buffalo now or revitalize Garfield. Don't worry about engaging the diaspora. Expatriates will seek you out as news of your efforts spread.