Let’s Have a Frank Discussion About the Geographical Divide

With the Congress for New Urbanism (#CNU) making a stop in Buffalo this week, it got me really thinking about the often vicious mental and geographical divide between city and suburb. It’s not just in Buffalo, it’s everywhere, and truthfully, it will probably always be there. I’m cut from the, “why can’t we all just get along and support each other?” cloth, so it’s hard for me to understand when people get into actual fights over where a giant artisan market is placed, or where the best place is for young families to buy a first home.

I had the opportunity this morning to hear more about my own family’s history from my mom. Starting with my great, great Italian grandpa Nanu (adorable!), who traveled by himself at eight years old and landed in New Orleans, all the way to the then new-build home my grandparents bought in the center of Cheektowaga, my family went from city dwellers to suburbanites. Back in the 50’s and 60’s, that wasn’t all that uncommon, and as my mom put it, it was a sign of your family’s success. “Movin’ on up to North Buffalo, movin’ on up to Kenmore, movin’ on up to West Seneca… that’s just what people did at that time,” she said. If your family lineage doesn’t trace through the west (or east, or south) side of Buffalo to some bordering suburb, your family is in the minority.

My mom went on to say while she grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, many parts of the city were in real trouble, and many of the new suburbanites didn’t spend much time there because of the dangers it posed. Now, I wasn’t around back then, so whether these were real dangers or perceived dangers, I can’t speak to. People developed a true fear of the unknown, and it stuck with them for decades, leaving us with a generation of baby boomers who are used to suburban living, and comfortable with it. My family is among those who didn’t spend a ton of time city dwelling while I grew up. We actually did have some balance, much in thanks to my dad, city-worker and national traveler. He took us on “the train” downtown, took us to the naval shipyard every summer (I hated those smelly ships back then,) and plenty of Bisons games. But, we were lucky to have our house, a pool in the backyard, and plenty of room to play and roam free outside. We loved it, and I certainly wouldn’t have wished for anything else.

Despite being raised a suburban girl, I came to appreciate the benefits of city life. Attending Canisius College and living on campus was an eye-opener for me, not only about the benefits of living in an urban setting (hello, short subway ride to happy hour,) but also to the real problems that many of those urban dwellers faced on a daily basis. Canisius borders up to both a very affluent urban community on one side, and to a poor, challenged urban area on the other. I’ve spent time in the somewhat uppity city of Ann Arbor, the outskirts of a devastated Flint, and the quaintness of hillside Irsina, in Italy. I’ve had the opportunity to see a little bit of everything and here’s what I discovered: none of these places are the “better” place to live, raise a family, and work. They are all the best places to live, to the people who live there. It really bothers me when impassioned city folk attack suburban or rural dwellers, AND vice versa. It happens BOTH ways. I don’t understand it, and I think we should work on keeping an open mind, for the betterment of our entire region.

So, next time you, suburbanite, want to bash something going on in the city, talk about the infiltration of “hipsters,” or complain about city parking tickets, be kind. How much of that is what you imagine going on in the city, and how much of it is true? Without the city of Buffalo, you wouldn’t have a sprawling Williamsville, Clarence, or North Tonawanda. Next time you, city dweller, complain that no one builds anything within the city limits, that you can’t understand why everyone can’t just embrace a city home in a Buffalo Public School District, remember that perhaps not everyone has the means to afford a comfortable city lifestyle, even if they’d like to. No matter where you live in this region, we are all Buffalonians.

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