By Griffin Jones
The relevance of Buffalo’s revitalization to the world, is its impact on the environment. If we rehabilitate urban spaces like Buffalo, we reuse existing infrastructure and consume less of the planet. Since this is a cardinal position for Buffalo, it’s important to represent that position in some kind of event.
The Conference on the Environment, which rotates throughout New York State, finished Saturday with 192 attendees and 35 presenters.
The keynote speaker was Tragically Hip front man, Gord Downie. I was skeptical of the theme, which was an evening of conversation and song. I thought that it would either fall short in substance of the topic, or entertainment of the music. No way. It was perfect.
As conference coordinator, Peter Rizzo, put it, “The weaving together of song and anecdote gave way to an experience that appealed to all in the audience. We received the same rave reviews from both Gord fans and those who had never heard of him before,”
Downie’s passion for Lake Ontario was amplified through his music and backed up by his rigorous understanding of the politics and the science involving the fresh water of the lakes. Downie describes himself as a Lake Ontarian. He reminds Buffalonians that we are citizens of the Great Lakes.
The swimability, drinkability, and fishability, of Lake Erie, and subsequently all of the Great Lakes, are directly tied to Buffalo’s marketability . Quality of life is currency in the Digital Age, and Downie’s mantra of “Swim, Drink, Fish,” is the benchmark for that currency. The rehabilitation of Buffalo is at least in part dependent on the health of the Great Lakes. People will move to areas where fresh water is more readily available.
As water supplies across the world become more stressed, more attention will be paid to Lake Erie. If Lake Erie is rehabilitated to the “swim, drink, fish” standard, Buffalo’s economy is poised to benefit. If waste and chemicals from Canada and the United States continue to contaminate our fresh water, Buffalo’s rebirth will be limited.
We must not only halt the current destruction to the lakes, we have to shift the baseline of health back to where it was before a century of industrialization. Cities that can best preserve their natural surroundings will be the most marketable in the decades to come. As Portland is seen as an access point for the woodland of the Pacific Northwest, so too must Buffalo be for the Great Lakes.
We are very late to the game. The science is daunting. The politics more so. But all of my optimism for the world comes from trying to improve Buffalo as much as I can by helping a few unrelenting people. I looked for a glimmer of hope. I asked Rizzo if it was fair to call the conference the most successful in a decade, when it was last in Buffalo.
“It’s fair to describe it as the most successful CoE, ever,” he replied.
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