City of Light

An ode to a forgotten city.

From the outside, you may look at Buffalo and see a slowly dying city. Regretful grey skies, punishing winds, and hollow buildings all contribute to the slow freeze of your gut. You’re polite; you gratefully accept its chicken wings, but behind your grin you’re wondering how long you have to stay here before you can go visit Niagara Falls or something. Buffalo is ashamed of its old, wheezing body. Like a former high school football star, it wants you to see it for what it used to be.

“The City of Light!” it cries. “That’s what they used to call me. Not Paris – me! I was the first American city to be completely lit by electricity. Tesla used it to wow the world when I hosted the Pan American Exposition. That’s right, a World’s Fair! I was a big deal, you know. The eighth largest city in the country.”

Must have been swell, you say.

“I came up with Cool Whip! Did you know that? They don’t tell you that in school, but it’s true! Really! The City of Light!” it cries again, calling for its own encore. “Not Paris!”

Buffalo was a real superstar, you admit.

“And I still could be! When the steel industry left, everyone said my life was over. But look at me – I’m still here! What do they know? And I’ll be Number Eight again. All I need to do is make this place more attractive for businesses. I’ve prettied up the airport, and now I gotta work on the waterfront. Business loves a waterfront!”

What about just trying to make your life more comfortable? Find out what makes you happy and nurture that. You’ve got a really vibrant independent arts scene, maybe if you focus your resources on that, the city will flourish.

“I’ve got some big money sponsoring the next Albright-Knox show! It’s called ‘The Art of Getting Real,’ featuring thirteen reconstructions of the houses from MTV’s Real World!”

Uh, no, I mean you’ve got a community of poets and artists who–

“Phhhhh! Since when did they create jobs?”

Well they’re the ones who are thriving, in spite of your mediocrity and repeated failures—

“Hey! I invented the disco floor!”

All I’m saying is they make you interesting. You aren’t cool to live in. You’re a corrupt old man who reeks of desperation. But you have a creative side that is worth celebrating and supporting; these are the people who will prolong your life. These are the folks who will make you attractive, theirs it the culture that will make you fun, that will attract commerce, that will stop your college students from running away. If you don’t invest in them, you’ll continue this slow death and no one will show up at your funeral.


Look, just come to the Buffalo Small Press Book Fair on March 19th and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. It’s at the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum from noon to 6pm. It’s a beautiful building full of poets, authors, small presses, artists, zinesters, oh and cartoonists (including Jason Viola). It’s a really special event; last year was completely awesome and I’m sure this year will be even better. Come and check it out.

“Hahahahahahahahaha! You expect me to believe that? As if any of my libraries are still open!”

(To be fair, not all of Buffalo’s library branches have closed yet. But they’re working on it.)