By Griffin Jones
Most of us probably know that Buffalo is a more positive and active city than it was fifteen years ago. There have been some very cool improvements around town, like a better cycling infrastructure, renovated buildings for lofts and hotels, more urban gardens, and finally a nice simple park by the water. More so, the zeitgeist is more patriotic, more tenacious, and less self-defeatist.
Those are all incredible victories considering they are mostly the fruits of a relatively small number of women and men who labor tirelessly for our city. But to my experience, most people from larger, more cosmopolitan cities simply aren’t impressed when they visit.
And that’s because of Buffalo’s positioning. We have tried for decades to position Buffalo as having everything the best cities in the world have to offer. But Buffalo cannot win in a face to face comparison with Toronto, Philadelphia, San Francisco or New York. We cannot win in any of the broad categories of art, innovation, dining, or night life. (Their) perception is reality.
“Positioning” means taking the opposite side of the same axiom of truth. That means we have to admit and acknowledge the perceived truth that Buffalo is not a major city, and therefore does not have most of the attributes of a major city.
Once we’ve done that, we can correctly identify the attributes that make that truth a positive instead of a negative. But don’t start with affordability and lack of congestion. While highly valuable they can reinforce an existing negative perception if they’re the lead attributes.
The five most important attributes of Buffalo are in this order
1). Environmental Stewardship. Most major cities are at maximum capacity with their existing infrastructure. In order to grow, they must expand their metro areas; developing farmland, wetlands, and woodlands– contributing to the rapid destruction of our environment. To protect our planet, we must conserve and rehabilitate unused and readily available space in urban areas like Buffalo and the rest of the Rust Belt.
2). Individual Significance. In a metro area of of 10 million people, one person’s ability to have an impact may be limited. In a city of a quarter million people, small changes go a long way (i.e. Massachusetts Avenue Project, Five Points Bakery).
3). Active Participation. You can move to a city that offers a unique, engaging, environment, or you can help to create that environment. Self-actualization in this civic form is an extremely fulfilling feeling.
4). Artistic Freedom (Affordability). Ultimately the culture in wealthier cities will suffer because artists on the fringes cannot afford to live there.
5). Freedom of Movement (Lack of Congestion). Traffic is the enemy of quality of life.
These are the five attributes of Buffalo’s authentic marketing position. They are genuine, and they are based off of the same axiom that people already accept; the same one from which people have used to build negative opinions of Buffalo for years. I want to put some effort into activating this brand position, but frankly we need a range of talents. Who wants to make this happen?!