To extrapolate on where I currently live, I moved to Buffalo two years ago after spending a year in Pittsburgh, and after spending a year in Portland before that. I used to absolutely hate this city, and treated it like a dump on my commutes to Toronto. While I think Buffalo has obvious challenges to economic growth (although right now its doing better than the national average and only has 7.5% unemployment, with a metro net increase of 3,000 jobs since last year according to the last stats I read), the truth is Buffalo has a very nice old core.
The downtown has a lot of work to do, the main street transit mall is a strip of shut down businesses and largely void of people unless the workers are heading home from the office or a few of the bars downtown, or during sports events... But the entire north end of the city has a true vernacular, cohesive homes and a real urban environment. It is served by a good transit system for an American city. There is the Buffalo Metro that runs for 7 miles through the core of the city, and bus services are frequent, and despite it's rustbelt image, all the homes in the north end are far from boarded up. Most are *very* nice and well kept, and many are mansions from the early 1900's, along with more middle class style living.
But people won't move to Buffalo for it's genuine vernacular, and the fact that a real city still exists here. Everything seems to get compared to Detroit in the "rust belt" but the truth is, you can go from downtown Buffalo along Delaware Avenue all the way out here to Tonawanda in the north towns where I live, and not a single block is a "ghetto" or bad in any way. Buffalo has an entirely cohesive, middle class, livable environment. The only 'ghetto' is the East Side, some western communities along the river (aka Riverside, Black Rock), and some of the old irish communities in south Buffalo and the Lackawanna area is a little rough as well. The entire rest of the metro area (save for Niagara Falls, which can be rough) is middle class, well off, and filled with cohesive neighborhoods. Yet people think of Buffalo with some akward nastiness, as if it is some town with nothing to offer. Yet it is more urban with better transit than 90% of American cities. You can catch a bus literally in any neighborhood and be downtown within a reasonable time, or use Metro Rail if you're in the city proper.
All these things we talk about on here mean nothing to the vast majority of people. They buy what is sold to them. Suburban office parks, suburban shopping centers, and suburban single family housing is what they buy.
Until this marketing machine changes, we'll forever be in a suburban nation. Even with fuel at $6/gallon... Americans will gladly embrace a huge race to natural gas powered vehicles and electric plug in technology before they leave the automobile.
So the moral of the story is this: don't expect high gasoline prices to push people back into cities either, Americans will gladly invest in natural gas and electric plug-in technology if they have to. They will continue the car culture, come hell or high water. It is here to stay.
Cities like Buffalo, with a true urban vernacular, aren't high up on the list for people to move to...
Speaking to Buffalo's vernacular:
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Architectural tour (my favorite building is at 8:45, which is an old bank building downtown):
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'This Place Matters' video:
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^Americans largely don't care about urban character, they care about rubbing on some tanning lotion so they can sit on some Florida beach for a few hours and then go eat at Applebees. The proof is in the movement of people, and it is clear we aren't even remotely headed into some new urban era. Although I give props to the new urbanists who have tried to make urban living look cool in America since the 1990's. The movement hasn't really effected much change, just a few communities here and there. At least a small drop in a sea of suburbanism...