More than its government, its buildings or its streets, a city is the people who live and work in it. In the cumulative impact of mind and muscle lies the success or failure of neighborhoods and the cities they comprise.
It's a lesson that plays out over and over around the country, and is doing so again on Buffalo's West Side. Connecticut Street, a once lovely thoroughfare that succumbed to the worst of human behavior, is coming back. The reason: Its inhabitants had had enough. They acted to rescue the street from the depravity in which it was suffocating.
Because of the attention of residents and groups like the Connecticut Street Business Association, crime is down and interest is up. As much as anything, it was a matter of people deciding to take pride in the streets, of claiming buildings left to deteriorate. Instead of fleeing, they reinvested. The venture is paying off.
Individuals didn't do this alone. Institutions, governmental and private, are playing an important role. D'Youville College, for example, on adjacent Porter Street, is in the midst of an $11 million expansion that includes a Connecticut Street dormitory for 180 students. In addition, the city has installed new street lights and several property owners have taken advantage of the city's facade improvement program, which pays up to half the cost of improvements.
In the end, though, it was the determination of those who care about the street that made the difference. Their focus and their sweat are making the difference. They are the one who rolled up their sleeves and drove the improvements.
Similar successes, to varying degrees, have also occurred on Hertel Avenue in North Buffalo and on Seneca Street in South Buffalo. In each of them are lessons for the residents of other stressed neighborhoods, in Buffalo and elsewhere around Western New York. It is this: Save yourselves. Others may be able to help, but those who wait for someone else to come to their rescue are likely to be in for disappointment.