Perhaps Erie Should Take Note... Again

Categories:  BloggERy    Opinion    Community
Wednesday, October 9th, 2013 at 4:08 PM
Perhaps Erie Should Take Note... Again by Ben Speggen

Sometimes you need to get away to see what you can bring back. At least I wrote something similar to that when some of the Reader crew and I headed up to Buffalo to see what we could learn from a city in the midst of re-tooling its image, re-gaining its cool.

I did some recent traveling again, so that’s why that line is on my mind, but we’ll get to that more recent traveling in just a bit. First, let’s head north again up I-90.

If you remember from our trip north, we crossed paths with a fella by the name of Peter Burakowski. Peter, or “Buffalo Pete” as he’s known around the Reader offices (read: Absolutely no relation to any of the Buffalo Bills), handles PR for Visit Buffalo Niagara, an organization that markets the Buffalo-Niagara regional assets to attract visitors for tourism and leisure to benefit the city’s economy.

And we still keep in touch. In fact, he shared this video just the other day with us via Twitter (#BuffaloForReal), which highlights Buffalo’s strengths (amongst other things, a well-designed park system), resulting in the title: “Buffalo: America’s Best Designed City.”

But before you go getting all worked up over whether Buffalo’s the best or some other city is, consider the bigger picture: Design matters. Development matters.

After all, citizens can’t just pack up their cities and move them elsewhere. Think Seattle rains too much? Well, you can’t change that either. Think Orlando’s too hot? Well, you can’t change that either (well, you can delay it if we all take our collective foot off the Global Warming pedal we’re stomping down on).

But anyway…

While we can polish the surfaces and smooth the edges, we can’t take the rust out of places like Buffalo, like Cleveland, and like Pittsburgh. That rust defines us: In this part of the country, we're used to making things; this – this Rust – is our history, and we should be proud of that – like those folks in that video are proud of their city and its history.

What we need to do, like John Fetterman, the mayor of Braddock, Pa., who you may remember from his recent presentation as part of the Destination Erie lecture series, is stop thinking of “Rust Belt” as a dirty (pun only somewhat intended there) word or phrase.

Developers need to see the potential in communities already existing. That video Buffalo Pete shared featured the Zemeskys, who invested their own finances and turned a dilapidated part of town into a thriving cultural center. And their sustained vision matters because it’s making urban Buffalo sustainable.

Okay, so if you’re still reading, you’re probably asking two things: We’ve heard this before, so why are we hearing it again? And where did you take that other trip to?

First, I’m writing about it again because it still matters and we’re in the thick of it, as we try to shape a vision for Erie as Destination Erie continues forward. Second, I went to Washington, D.C. – a place I’d never been before – and thanks for asking!

“But DC is closed!” you say.

And you’re right. Kind of.

The government shutdown is still on as I write this, but the city itself could not have been more alive and vibrant, leading me to notice some things during my first trip to our nation’s capital.

Aside from getting the feeling while touring a monument or two during a government shutdown that a zombie apocalypse was occurring because of the overwhelming lack of people present, I couldn’t help but notice all the green throughout the city. DC, it became quite clear, has a damn good park system. And people were still managing to enjoy it (I guess you can’t shutdown nature…).

Open lands, just as much as memorials made of stone, serve as signals that sometimes grass and open space – even in DC, maybe especially in DC – matter more than new subdivisions. That a National Mall is more important than a strip mall.

Aside from the lush environment in the heart of a congested city, I couldn’t help but notice the bikers in DC. Man, they were everywhere! Left, right, ahead, behind – just pedaling away! In designated bike lanes. All throughout the city.

People – both residents and tourists – seem to bike just about everywhere. There are even stations where you can rent bikes and pay by the hour as you tour the city or shove off to work or happy hour.

Motorcycles? I saw maybe three the whole weekend.

Lastly, it easily goes without saying that a city so steeped in history as DC should find itself making good use of existing communities through development rather than solely sprawling outward farther and farther.

So three things: investment in existing communities; use of smart, eco-friendly transit; and the highlighting of a preservation of open land.

If you ask me, those three things translate from the Beltway to the Rust Belt and should be the focal point of cities like Erie as they plan future development.

But if you didn’t ask me, didn’t care what I thought, give this a read. Because even if you didn’t ask me or don’t care what I thought, you should give a damn about the city in which you live and its future that’s at stake.

Oh, and that “this” – that is the “Vibrant NEO 2040,” a “long-term vision for the region prepared by the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium, the biggest regional planning effort in decades in this part of the world,” (Sound familiar? Hint: Destination Erie) where the sustainability group is calling for a focus on… you guessed it: urban redevelopment, public transit, and the preservation of open spaces as the answer sprawl in Northeast Ohio.

So perhaps Erie should take note... again.

Ben Speggen can be contacted at, and you can follow him on Twitter @ERBenSpeggen.

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