Sunday, October 23, 2011

Buffalo Defining Rust Belt Chic

We are born into the love affair of family. Marriage is the love affair we choose. That's the biggest image problem facing Rust Belt cities. Only natives love them. In Buffalo, that's changing:

"It's the most wonderful city I've been to in a long time," said Dieter Meyer, a Leesburg, Va., architect. "There's great architecture there, but there's really cool neighborhoods, like the Elmwood neighborhood and Allentown."

"The conference was one of the best, and I've been to a dozen of them," said Andrew Potts, a historic preservation attorney in Washington, D.C.

Then he added this: "The historic building resources in the Buffalo region are just incomparable in the United States."

"Incomparable." For years now, frontline publications across the country have been singing Buffalo's praises as a top-tier destination for architecture, history and art.

"Buffalo has a kind of power, the power of the authentic place," architecture critic Paul Goldberger of the New Yorker has said.

Emphasis added. The National Preservation Conference was in Buffalo this year, thus the above glowing reviews. By now, the Rust Belt Chic connection should be obvious. The geographic aesthetic is authenticity, something sorely lacking in most Sun Belt boomtowns or hipster destinations such as Portland.

Growing up in Buffalo must be like having a stunningly beautiful sister. Familiarity breeds contempt, "What's so special about her?"

To outsiders, Buffalo is exotic. To most insiders, the city is the dull place you can't wait to escape. Buffalo is best seen with a rear-view mirror.

You go where you know. To almost all of America, the Rust Belt is either Flyover Country or a region to avoid. Hence the surprise that Pittsburgh is a top-20 destination in 2012 as ranked by National Geographic. Can a neighborhood be "cool" if no one has heard of it? As more outsiders discover these gems, Buffalo and other shrinking cities will get on the map. The Creative Class will flock to the Rust Belt.

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