I have to admit - the last time I was in Buffalo was three years ago when I stopped by a Taco Bell on my way to New York. Technically, it wasn't really Buffalo. Just the side of a highway. I haven't even been to a Bills game. Or gone shopping there. Ever. I'm a Buffalo neophyte.
So, it was with great interest (ok, interest) to discover a blog called Buffalo Rising that seems to chronicle the hip and happening in what was once billed the friendliest city in the United States.
Intrigued, I fired off an email to George Johnson Jr. who was kind enough to answer some questions about his site and to enlighten me about what makes Buffalo so great.
Q. Even though it's only a short drive from Toronto, Buffalo isn't top of mind for a weekend destination. What am I missing out on?
GJJ: We head to Toronto every once in a while and we can honestly report that the food in Buffalo is something you're missing out on. We're proud of our cuisine, and we're also very proud of our architecture (major work by Frederick Law Olmsted, Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, H. H. Richardson, Stanford White, Richard Upjohn, Eliel and Eero Saarinen, Daniel Burnham, Carrere & Hastings, Rapp & Rapp and Minoru Yamasaki are all why historians consider the city an architectural museum).
Seriously, if you want to see some of the most beautiful houses, then come to Buffalo. You can even stay in an affordable Mansion-turned-hotel that was recently featured in Architectural Digest. You may have heard about Ani DiFranco's latest renovation of one of the city's most magnificent churches...it's now a concert hall called The Church. We also just landed the incredible $16,000,000 Artspace project slated to begin this summer. A new modern gallery is being built across from the world-famous Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Recent renovations to Shea's Theater have leveled the playing field so Buffalo now attracts big shows.
The Olmsted Park System in Buffalo is first rate and the city's picturesque tree-lined streets (in Allentown, Elmwood Village and West Village particularly) are dotted with coffee and tea shops, bakeries, artist studios, fashion boutiques, mid-century modern/antique shops and bistros. And there are all those cool affordable to luxury loft-conversions downtown.
Q. Which of the following stereotypes are just plain wrong? (1) There's nothing to do in Buffalo (2) Nobody forgives Scott Norwood (3) The wings are the best in the country.
GJJ: Scott Who?
Live music everywhere you go (Robby Takac of the Goo-Goo Dolls recently renovated a cool recording studio), independent films showing nightly, skiing and snowboarding in our own backyard, windsurfing all spring, summer and fall on Lake Erie, bars that never sleep, a nature preserve within the city limits, a world-class orchestra that performs in a Saarinen designed music hall, Frank Lloyd Wright galore, indoor BMX/skateboard arena, professional football, hockey, lacrosse, AAA baseball and now Rapid's Basketball.
Buffalo has a festival or celebration almost every single weekend of the year. Last weekend it was Shea's Martini Gras, and this coming weekend is Polar Bites, a gourmet event to benefit the Zoo. The cost of living here is very affordable, which means artists can afford to live in the city and there are art-related events just about every weekend. There is a large college population in Buffalo that keeps the resurrected Chippewa red-light district hopping. We also have Japanese and botanical gardens if you want to relax.
One of our newest writers lives in Toronto and writes about all the things he likes to do when he comes here. Tomorrow he's posting "Buffalo Run" about his coming to Buffalo in order to stock up on items he has a hard time finding in Toronto. We also have our own version of Guerilla Gardeners. There's plenty to do in Buffalo if you give the city a chance. A lot of people don't.
Our wings are the best in the country...but there are so many other types of food that Buffalo could be known for it's silly. We have killer Italian restaurants, our German eateries rock... tapas, sushi, Greek, French... you name it. And we're not posturing. The food culture here is intense. As a matter of fact, how cool would a friendly version of Iron Chef between our two cities be? (Editors note - do we really think anyone in Buffalo can top Susur?)
Q. I've seen some amazing pictures of a train station and other abandoned or industrial sites in Buffalo that are just sitting vacant and unloved. Any plans a foot for an urban renewal?
GJJ: The renewal has begun. In addition to a full-blown turnaround on the city's West Side, downtown is experiencing a renaissance. We're answering this question with a series of links not just because we're shameless traffic whores, but because answering this question in a way that really captures Buffalo as it truly is is what we're all about.
* Here's the most recent Downtown Buffalo Project Summary. And it's not just plans. Many of these projects are done or near completion.
* IS Lofts
* Quick Lease-Up at Oak School Lofts
* Ani Difranco's Church (Innovative Re-use, Restoration & Transformation of a church to a multi-use arts building including a concert hall.
* Karpeles Manuscript Museum (Beautiful Re-use)
* New Era on Delaware Avenue
* Frank Lloyd Wright Boathouse
* Artspace in Midtown Buffalo.
* Erie Canal Harbor Project
* A Solar-Powered Carrousel on the Waterfront
* GraniteWorks: A Great Reuse and Renovation Project.
Q. What's coming up in Buffalo in the next month that we should know about?
GJJ: Our front page "NOW" features a select cut of the cool stuff going on in Buffalo. More can be found in TREND and ARTS. More functional calendaring is one of the features of our upcoming (pun kind of intended) release. In the meantime, if you're thinking of going someplace different and cool for the weekend, check us out.
Q. What's next for Buffalo Rising?
GJJ: We're in the middle of development of the next version of the site. In addition to fixing some bugs and addressing some user findings, we're introducing some pretty neat tools that will help us to better deliver content and, more importantly, better facilitate a community conversation. More utility, increased dialogue and more interaction with and among our audience.
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