Buffalo & the Millennials

17th April 2013

FOR FULL GALLERY SEE: http://www.defleuriot.com/photo/buffalo-old-young/

Few cities sketch the economic struggles of North America, still gripped in the clenched fist of 19th century industrial revolution, as does Buffalo, NY, 100 years ago the largest grain port in the world (http://csac.buffalo.edu/schlegel/Schlegel.pdf - page 8). We would have expected either a northern gateway of forests and lakes, or at least some visible signs of its early-1900’s economic success, but instead, thrust into the sky are empty mechanical grain elevators, and concrete silos once the Thruway’s fulcrum and the city’s financial life-blood, now the reminder of the woes of economic transitions. No longer do the brightly painted warehouses of the previous century reflect the setting sun; greyed and browned with dust and disuse, they stare blankly over lake Erie like eye-less ghouls left in decaying silence to tell the story of the life they once gave.

A walk down Buffalo’s city streets prompts the question: How are its young doing? Or, what will lift the burden placed on their shoulders by their forebears? Everywhere I looked,  they stood in groups, face down, or hunched in muted conversation. Even the city centre once buzzing with economic activity seems on pause waiting for fresh change.

Jeremy Grantham, the legendary economist, whose ideas are always worth noting, announces that the future is about to worsen, “Someday, when the debt is repaid and housing is normal and Europe has settled down, most business people seem to expect a recovery back to America’s old 3.4 percent a year growth trend, or at least something close… A declining growth trend is inevitable and permanent and is caused by some pretty basic forces.” More at:


And yet, I see a blessing even in the collapsed verandahs, deserted houses, dilapidated church buildings, the overgrown yards, and unkept streets: it is the character of the human. In times of crisis, personal, climactic, or economic, the human spirit bands together. I was deeply moved this morning by thousands of hockey fans gathered in a Boston arena singing the American anthem in answer to the attack at the Boston Marathon. Everywhere in Buffalo, and in every other city in North America, the old that have transitioned are helping the young, and the young are birthing the new from the old, and lighting the flames, seeding what is inside, not what will come from outside, but, we must accept that change is here to stay! Buffalo, through all its history, has all it needs to represent that change in the future!

Honesty, faith, grace, humility, hard work, and truth are the best policy for healthy change. In two words, John Henry Schlegel, Professor of Law, State University of New York at Buffalo, calls for the city to “Grow Up” (ibid, p 18)!

What others may still experience, Buffalo has seen; to this extent, it has an advantage. In want or in plenty, however, we should prepare with faith for this generation of young Millennials whose task will be to lead the next seasons. Schlegel’s “Grow up” injunction is prescient and applicable to all if we will not miss fresh opportunities.

I offer this gallery of shots as an encouragement: the lessons of the past can become the opportunities for a different future made possible by faith, humility, honesty, grace, truth, and hard work.



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