Beware the romantic Rust Belt

Buffalo is my Rosebud (without the sad ending). Contrary to popular perceptions of a snow-bound, Rust Belt wasteland, I remember my five years in Orchard Park and Hamburg as safe and glowing, a perpetual sunny autumn. I remember walking to kindergarten, swinging in our tree-filled yard. I remember listening to Bills games on a transistor radio and riding my Big Wheel around the block. I remember hot oatmeal and my cool upstairs room.

Of course, Buffalo is, in many ways, a snow-bound Rust Belt wasteland. But that apparently has its charms, as this New York Magazine story points out.

Artists and other creative, non-geographically bound people are moving to Buffalo for the cool, decayed landscape and cheap rents. Many in the city are apparently using this book – The Rise of the Creative Class, by Richard Florida – with its blueprint to more bike lanes and eco-initiatives – to lure the young and vibrant back to Buffalo . But one warning, in the book, out of 49 cities, Buffalo ranked 47th in tolerance and 48th in creativity.

This matters. In 2005, my Swedish wife and I moved from Stockholm , Sweden to Port Jervis, New York . We bought a house in this out of the way, dying railroad/river town on the edge of the Catskill Mountains . Port Jervis was the end of the New York City train line. It had new coffee shops, antique stores, a rambling Victorian house in just our price range. I had a good job nearby. Iza wanted to fix up the house, take a break.

And everyone loved coming to visit us for a day. The city was charming. Blah, blah, blah. People matter. The fact that no one walked the streets mattered. The fact that there was no creative culture, no neighborly openness mattered. This is a place where you are still an outsider 25 years after you move there. You need family, as the main characters in the New York story did. Try having a baby in a place like Port Jervis all alone (it didn’t help that the house was filled with rats and bats). Awful.

I still tremble at our good fortune to escape, that our house sold, that I got a job back in Stockholm .

I love the Midwest . In another life, I would live in Buffalo or Detroit .

But now I know that it is a mirage. At least for us, as my immediate family is all in the West or South now. I hope Buffalo succeeds. I love to visit, and I don’t want the Bills to leave.

Anyway, here is the house that sucked us in.  Not bad, right?


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