kitchen table


the notchs on our rust belt
July 31, 2006, 2:02 pm
Filed under: Buffalo, City life

I grew up in North Buffalo and, later, its Northern suburbs. My drive into the city consisted of a quick ride East on the 33 or, more often, a slow ramble through the neighborhoods of Kenmore, University Heights, Hertel Avenue, Parkside, and the Elmwood Village. These were and are neighborhoods that have experienced relative prosperity in the wake of Buffalo’s industrial collapse. Most of the residents of the large, two-family homes are white, and the neighborhoods are marked with cute cafes and bursting gardens.

Occasionally we’d take Main Street on the way downtown and I’d glimpse the abandoned businesses. It didn’t feel like the Buffalo I knew, the one sprayed with beautiful, large houses and colorful lamp-post banners. Even more unfamiliar were the abandoned warehouses along the Niagara river–we saw those as we our way to my mother’s work, a health care facility situated on the West side, near the Peace bridge. I honestly thought they were the extent of the abandoned industry, all the notchs on our rust belt.

This has changed in the past couple weeks. I am seeing someone right now who grew up in the Southtowns. We’ve been talking for a good week about the differences between our respectives “drive-ins” to the city and what effect that has had on our feelings about Buffalo. As a kid, he witnessed the last good years, when Bethlehem Steel made the drive down Route 5 smell like rotten eggs. When the stacks were pumping out thick, black smoke. He also saw the break down as the plants closed, like dominos knocking each other out. And now, as he drives in to work every day in the city, he sees the skeletons of factories–and that’s really what they look like–stretched out along either side of the highways. It’s devastating.

Last night we watched the sunset from the town beach near his house and next to the city’s skyline I could make out the peaks of black mountains, falling off into Lake Erie: slag pits. I realized that this discovery is yet another (embarassing) example of my suburban shortsightedness, the blinders I didn’t even know I had on. The kind of absence of consideration that leaves me feeling like a child, muttering “whoa” and “wow” as she stares out the window.

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