To New York with Love from Buffalo

By Griffin Jones

In last week’s post, Buffalo filmmaker, David Jackson, made the distinction between what Buffalo means to people who want to create art, vs people who want to make a living from it. The demolition of the 5 Pointz warehouse in Long Island City, Queens, is the latest example of how other cities are increasingly unaccommodating to people who want to create art.

The people who spray painted the 5 Pointz Warehouse weren’t paid to do it. They wanted to create something of their own. The owners of the building have every right to tear it down, they own it. But it doesn’t serve the market of people who want something other than “bland, boring towers of boxes and glass.” This is where we offer our condolences.

Dear New York City artists,

We’re sorry to hear about your loss. We’ve read over and over again about the confiscation of your art space. We continually hear  that what made your city what it is, has been painted over, torn down, erased. That must be frustrating. It must be incredibly hurtful because New York City is known as the nation’s cultural capital, because of you. Your imagination, daring, curiosity, collaboration, and vision is why everyone wants to live in New York. And now it’s not yours anymore.

Regretfully we cannot offer you a world-class, arts metropolis in its stead. We cannot give you an entertainment economy that allows you to make a career of your craft. We don’t have an influx of millions of people from the world over to sustain your creative process.

We hope we can extend to you, however, a hopeful consolation in this difficult time. What we can offer you is 16,000 vacant lots and abandoned structures. Among them: Victorian houses, factories, warehouses, greenspace, brownspace, grain elevators, churches, hospitals, government housing projects, schools, and a train terminal. We promise to fight you on whatever you propose to do with them, but if you can persuade us with your talent and vision, we’ll find a way to let you win.

Now you may have heard about Buffalo’s rejuvenation over the last five years or so. To be transparent, it is true. Housing values have increased, large-scale developments are under way in our city center, and businesses are starting to venture into blighted neighborhoods. This may sound familiar to you. You may be concerned that you’ll once again be forced to relocate after contributing to your city’s glory.

Don’t get us wrong, we would love that. But it’s unlikely to ever happen. The proposed tower at the 5 Pointz site is taller than our tallest building. There is no nearby Citi Bank Tower to cause rents to go up. We pretend to worry about gentrification, but the truth is, we have no idea what it means. At least, not in the way you do.

Full disclosure, you will not be among the first pioneers. Sorry. An arts festival in Buffalo’s industrial grain elevators with dozens of artists and over 12,000 attendees is entering its third year.  Two micro-breweries already operate out of old commercial space, and two more are opening now. A small business incubator, serving New York’s largest refugee community, Thai, Peruvian, Burmese, and Ethiopian restaurant kiosks opened in the last year. There are now more than half a dozen urban farms and dozens of community gardens.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg that you’re used to. We cannot offer you the brilliant masterpiece that you once saw in New York. Neither can they. All we can offer you is a space to use your bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo.

Again, we are deeply sorry for your loss. New York was completely unlike anywhere in the world because of you. We hope we can give you a chance to make something completely unlike New York.

Keeping you always in our thoughts,

Buffalo

P.S. In the nearly impossible event that Buffalo becomes TOO commercially successful…Detroit is only four hours away.

Painting the wall at Silo City.

Painting the wall at Silo City.

This 1700 sq ft house is on sale for 50 grand.

Looks a bit like 5Pointz actually.

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This 1700 sq ft house is on sale for less than 50 grand

Party in the abandoned Central Terminal.

Party in the abandoned Central Terminal.

How To Improve Education: Be a Friend

By Griffin Jones

“Education” might be the most talked-about social issue right now. It’s both  a cause-celeb and a genuine, desperate, struggle for improvement. Most people agree that the US education system needs to be reformed or replaced. But because education is as broad of a concept as “poverty” or “disease”, any proposed solution is extremely controversial.

Hundreds of people who donate money, time, or both to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Erie County.

Hundreds of people who donate money, time, or both to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Erie County.

Every time new changes enter the school system, they seem to get a negative response from teachers, students, lawmakers, parents, administrators, or the public at large…usually all six. With so many different people with as many different ideas and interests, it is a massive institutional problem both in Buffalo and in every city in the nation. So I have to wonder, when will more people turn to mentoring to offer a solution?

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Erie County held their annual fundraising Gala on November 16. BBBSEC CEO, Tom Guagliardo and Board President, David Hore, shared a few impressive numbers. More than 98% of “Littles” are promoted to the next grade level. More than 90% who were eligible, graduated from high school last year.

Yet these children go to the same schools with less involved parents, frustrated teachers, and inefficient testing as all of the others. The power of mentoring is exactly that; a small-scale, hyper-local solution to very large-scale, societal problems.

At one point during dinner, Guagliardo asked all of the current and former Big Brothers and Big Sisters to stand and be recognized. As I scanned the room, I felt humbled and honored. I was so proud of my fellow Bigs and I’m so inspired by their example. I saw dozens of other people who admitted that they couldn’t overhaul the education system of the United States (or even the city of Buffalo). They can’t make America’s children world leaders in math and science. But they can help one child with their math and science homework. They can expose one child to many more experiences they would have had otherwise. They can nurture and preserve the curiosity that every kid starts with.

The greatest “help” any human being can provide to another is to take an active, personal interest in them. That’s all Big Brothers Big Sisters is. If institutional problems could be solved by institutional solutions, they would have been resolved by now. The larger the problem, the more necessary a mentor.

If the number of people who demand a solution to our education problem is growing, the number of Big Sisters and Big Brothers should be growing as well. Large-scale responses may be necessary to improve children’s futures, but Big Brothers Big Sisters is proven and ready.

“You may only be one person in the world, but you may be all the world to one child.”–Fr. William B. Wasson

Opportunity at the Bottom: Five Points Bakery in Buffalo

By Griffin Jones

“When you’re at the bottom, you either die or pick yourself back up. And I think that’s what happened here.”

Of any metaphor you could use for Buffalo, Kevin Gardner’s is as apt as any. Last month, I wrote about the business side of Five Point Bakery, started by Kevin and his wife Melissa. But the Gardners are a good snapshot of the target “customer” for what Buffalo has to offer.

Five Points Bakery is an example of how pioneers can take advantage of Buffalo.

Five Points Bakery is an example of how pioneers can take advantage of Buffalo.

Kevin grew up on the west side. His parents moved to the suburbs. Businesses were closing. People didn’t feel safe anymore. “It was really depressing,” he said. This is the same man who opened a profitable bakery in the heart of that very neighborhood. What made Buffalo so unattractive to hundreds of thousands of people who left, is what meets the needs of people like the Gardners. “Because it got so bad, there was so much opportunity here.”

Kevin cited the extremely low cost of living, the house that he bought on the west side as the reason they were able to take a risk in pursuing their own venture. “If (Five Points) went under, we could pay our mortgage by working at Seven Eleven. When you have that kind of freedom, you can do things you could never do.”

The Gardners aren’t the only people taking advantage of this. There are more new restaurants, shops, and renovated houses on the west side every year. But like Buffalo as a whole, it’s still for the people who want to start something of their own, whether a business, a garden, or a home. That group is small, but it appears to be growing.

“Entrepreneurs and artists, and all of these really incredible people started coming here.Whether or not it continues is up to the people that are here.” At that moment a customer came in to the bakery who was thrilled to announce that he had just bought a house in the neighborhood. “You see that?” Kevin asked me. “He was excited that he bought property over here. No one would have been excited to move here five years ago!”

Kevin wasn’t always in this new target market. He mentioned he traveled aimlessly for six years, and even squatted in Buffalo. Finally, he told himself that he was part of the problem. “That attitude creates the very things you don’t want. I realized I could do something. You’ve got to take that risk.”

He’s right. It is 100% reasonable to want to fulfill your own dreams and ambitions. For many careers and life choices, that will lead you away from Buffalo. But for those select few to create something of their own, who want to make a personal commitment against the problem, there are examples to follow.

Every person who decides to be a part of the solution makes it easier for everyone else to be a part of it. Special thanks to Five Points Bakery for being among those who took the biggest risk. It paid off, for us.

Individual Significance: The Ability to Make an Impact in Buffalo

By Griffin Jones

There are more remarkable things in Buffalo than most people realize. But when we brag about the Allentown Art Festival to someone from San Francisco, or rave about the Elmwood Village to someone from Manhattan, we sound like the mayor of Flint, MI in Roger and Me. It’s not that these things aren’t great, they actually are, they just fail when positioned incorrectly. Buffalo is positioned correctly with these five new marketing attributes. The second of which is individual significance, the results one person can initiate and the meaning it gives to his or her life.

In most cities, Larkin Square is just a few renovated buildings. What has it meant as a  statement for Buffalo?

In most cities, Larkin Square is just a few renovated buildings. What has it meant as a statement for Buffalo?

“You can get involved in larger areas, but your ability to have an impact might be limited. Buffalo is ripe with opportunity,” is how Justin Booth, director of GOBike Buffalo, described part of his decision to relocate to Buffalo from the New York City area. How much better do our streets look with a little extra paint on them? Our new bike lanes make Buffalo more connected, progressive, and marketable because one man and his small team aggressively pushed for the changes.

If Kevin and Melissa Gardner of Five Points Bakery opened a locally-sourced bakery in Chicago’s gentrifying Logan Square, no one would bat an eye. But one couple revitalizes one strategic corner on Buffalo’s west side and it’s reinforced the desirability of the whole neighborhood.

Someone opens four avant-garde restaurants in five years in Washington, DC and they are like every other restaurateur. Rocco Termini and Mike Andrzejewski do it in downtown Buffalo, and it breathes life into our city center.

Boutique marketing agencies in Brooklyn follow norms set by their competition. On the 700 Block of Main Street, Patrick Finan and the talented people at Block Club are changing Western New York business culture for the better.

Everywhere in the world, there are forward-thinking people who are frustrated that they can’t disrupt the destructive habits of our universal human culture. Look at national politics, international affairs, and vast sprawling cities. Is your picture of the world brighter when the scale is larger or in focus?

Buffalo is for people whose hope for the world is framed by their own role in making it better. Anyone with ambition can collaborate with others to create small victories. Now Buffalo didn’t see sixty years of decline because change is readily accepted here. Yet, that’s what compounds the significance of every little improvement.

The big fish in a small pond analogy doesn’t fully work here because it doesn’t have anything to do with the fish. It’s about the change it makes on the pond.

Hate This City: Artistic Freedom in Buffalo

By Griffin Jones

Hate This Films is a  metaphor for Buffalo’s art scene, a very impressive showcase of talent that most of us had no idea was here.

Hate This Director, David Jackson, thinks that Buffalo’s art scene is about realizing how much of it exists. “It’s either big or it’s growing. When I started Hate This, I thought I was the only person in Buffalo with a camera,”

Actress Shana Rose. Totally robbed from hatethissite.com.

Actress Courtney Janicki. Totally robbed from hatethissite.com.

Jackson’s choice to be a filmmaker in Buffalo follows what I call the city’s fourth marketing attribute, artistic freedom“If I was in LA, I would be making commercials or music videos. Don’t get me started on music videos. Living in Buffalo allows me to work on something I’m passionate about. Where, if I lived in New York I would just be trying to make ends meet and not working on something I’m proud of.”

Then why the name, “Hate This”, for a group that makes Buffalo proud? “If I told everyone to like our movies, they’d hate them. I don’t care if people are negative about our movies. We’re out here doing things.” 

“Doing things,”is pretty much how Seth Godin defines art, “the work of an individual seeking to make a statement, to cause reaction, to connect.”

Jackson’s cinematography and design allowed him to connect with other talented people who wanted to make a similar statement.  “We try to do our best. Anyone with a camera can make a movie, so we try to set ourselves apart. Animation is a big part of that. As we grew we started attracting more people who knew what they were doing. Now we have a big team. It’s cool to see it grow.”

To effectively market Buffalo’s benefits, it’s better for Buffalo to admit what it is not. Jackson agrees that Buffalo is a great city to create art, NOT necessarily make a living from it. “We all have full-time jobs. We try to find people who aren’t in it for the money. This is our release from our 9 to 5,”

As an artist, Jackson says he’s motivated by what I’ve called Buffalo’s second marketing attribute: individual significance. “If you stay here, you’re going to help (the city). You can make a real impact here. I want to be a trailblazer. I want to MAKE something. I don’t want to be told what to do”.

That’s Buffalo third new attribute, active participation. If you want to be a part of a movement of change, Buffalo is what you’re looking for. If you’re waiting for large-scale improvements, you’ll likely be dissapointed. “Buffalo is a little too hopey,” Jackson said. “What I would like to see more of is just completed things. Whatever is the next big idea, I want it now.”

The artists here are the new Buffalo. They have created something for us to be proud of. Every small work of art created from nothing is worth more than any ambitious project that may or may not come to life. Hate This Films captures this picture with stunning clarity.

“It’s all about passion. We don’t make a dime. Buffalo’s got talent. It’s just scattered all over the place. We’re trying to be that portfolio for Buffalo”.

Ten Conclusions Regarding the Generation Gap in Buffalo

By Griffin Jones

These are by no means direct quotes. I am paraphrasing from memory from the “Bridging the Gap” event at the Mid-Day Club of Buffalo on November 5, 2013. In no particular order, these are ten interesting thoughts considering the Generation Gap from people who are actively working to make Buffalo a better place.

  1. No matter which generation we come from, we all seem to be bound together by a genuine love for Buffalo. We all have a deep civic interest in bettering Buffalo in business and community. –Scott Murray, Lumdsden & McCormick, Mid-Day Club of Buffalo
  2. We have to occasionally revisit and reform our etiquette of how we communicate with each other. Technology shouldn’t hinder respect in communication. Social Media and mobile are tools. They are the means but not the message. Ultimately, in-person communication is still the very best.–Tony Maggiotto, Buffalo State College Small Businesses Development Center, City Love Clothing
  3. Millenials are not the only people who are eager for changes in workplace culture/market practices. Many Baby Boomers have been eager for change for some time and have longed to have their voice heard. –Althea Luehrsen, Leadership Buffalo
  4. Communication is what binds all generations together. Everyone from each generation wants to be heard and acknowledged. When we come in to discussion with demands, that’s when we meet resistance .If the vision coming from the leader is a shared one, generational differences won’t matter.  They will help –Tim Finney, Alcott HR Group/infoTech Niagara
  5. We have to be willing to listen. A lot of times, we (Generation Y) want to be the leader and the star. But there may be several other people already doing what we’re trying to accomplish. Sometimes we have to take the time to learn, and to put in the work, before we can jump ahead.–Liz Callahan, Buffalo Niagara Partnership/B-Team Buffalo
  6. Generation Y “knows” everything but we’re usually not focused on anything. We need to have a clear statement of purpose and focus on that.–Louis Benton, AXA Advisors
  7. We (Generation X) follow a legacy of litigation from our parents’ generation. So while we want to make speedy changes, grant more autonomy, and try creative approaches, we’ve learned to be cautious of the consequences that come from such a quickness to litigate. Brian Kulpa, Mayor of Williamsville
  8. “Let’s do each other a favor and start the conversation and find some common ground. Let’s bridge that gap between generations, learn from each other, and empower one another to lead our communities toward the creative and successful future that we know it has the potential of reaching”–Katie Costello, Buffalo News. (That one is a direct quote).
  9. Each generation seems to have the same concern about the next generation, as the previous generation had about them. Is this the same thing, or is something actually different? Chris LaFleur, M&T Bank
  10. The cardinal difference  between Generation X and Millenials is having grown up without the internet. The experience of using a phone book, having to call someone at their house, and not having everything on demand is a very identifiable mark on the generational timeline. Charlie Fashana, First Niagara Bank, Advertising Club of Buffalo